anamorphosisThey used to ask the foul-mouthed “do you kiss your mother with those lips?” For Japanese mangaka Shintaro Kago, the equivalent is “do you think about your mother with that brain?” This guy has made a career of being fucked in the head, and the Shintaro Kago Mental Pathology Express keeps on rolling down the tracks with Anamorphosis, yet another collection of the bizarre and the grotesque.

The centerpiece is a long-winded parody of House on Haunted Hill. A group of people must stay on a haunted movie set for 48 to win a bet. Not his most satisfying work, but quite enjoyable if you like black comedy and macabre slapstick. Unusually elaborate for Kago, too. It’s not every day he writes something that needs a dramatis personae. It also has a fair few kaiju/monster movie references, and the result is amusingly syncretic – as if Vincent Price and Godzilla had a baby together (in the world of Kago’s manga, such a thing is definitely possible.)

The rest of the volume contains a bunch of Kago one-shots. “Bishoujo Tantei Tengai Sagiri” is about a female detective who must solve a ludicrous murder. “Rainy Girl” stars a girl who attracts rain wherever she goes, and the complications this brings to her sex life. “A Small Present” returns to Kago’s much-loved theme of infant murder. “Hikikomori” is about students refusing to attend school – with nauseating results. Kago’s gross-out work gets all the press, but he’s a talented satirist, too. “Behind” uses a common real-life fear – doctors leaving surgical tools inside their patients – as its kick-off point, although obviously he takes it to strange and unwholesome conclusions.

“Previous Life” is rather clever. A girl is possessed by a snake, and a spiritualist discovers it’s because one of her ancestors killed a lot of snakes (karma, etc). Fortunately, the spiritualist is able to go back in time and stop the snake killer in his tracks. The girl’s sister sees a business opportunity, and manipulates other peoples’ pasts to help them succeed in the present. She has an swimmer’s ancestor kill lots of fish to improve her time in the Olympics. She has a mangaka’s ancestor kill lots of mangaka to improve his drawing skills (there’s a funny panel with Tezuka et all getting blasted with a shotgun). She also has her own ancestor kill buxom women so that she’ll have big tits (her father: “I wanted her to stay flat.”).

“Salesman” is about a girl who approaches the forlorn, and, rather than save them, helps them commit suicide in the most efficient way possible. “Changes” is a freaky gross-out story, archetypically Kago. “Weightlessness” is the volume’s finest moment. Such an unprepossessing little story, but the reveal at the end really took me by surprise.

The nice thing about Kago is that his comics, offensive subject matter or no, are always accessible and user-friendly. There’s none of the abstract Boschian ramblings of Usamaru Furuya’s Garden or the dizzying web of imagery that’s Suehiro Maruo’s Paranoia Star or any of the other excesses of most products described as extreme manga. Only Junji Ito beats him in mainstream appeal. With the title story Kago diverts a bit from his normal path, and it’s no coincidence that “Anamorphosis” is the only part that drags. Kago’s at his best when he’s on a roll – hitting you with shock after shock, not letting you breathe. The title story requires him to devote page time to subplots and characters, and you can feel some of his usual manic energy ebbing away.

But never mind. Kago’s a consistently entertaining mangaka, and Anamorphosis is another superior product from him. Step right up, and join the Kago Kult.

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necrology-jacket-02-100dpiIn 2012, a book came out that changed everything. It rose from the dreck like a dark grimoire of power, incipient and wrathful, ready to turn doubters into believers and believers into zealots. A book that shattered your expectations, remade them, and shattered them again. You finished the book a broken and humbled man, with one thought resounding in your skull. “So that’s why my knitted cardigans weren’t up to scratch.”

This, however, is not a review of Knitting from the Center Out: An Introduction to Revolutionary Knitting. It’s about another book altogether, Necrology.

Half of the book is written by Creation Books darling Kenji Siratori. My first exposure to this overrated fuck was Nonexistence, a clown car pileup of nonsensical words pretending to be an cyberpunk novel. I thought Siratori was a troll then, and I think he’s a troll now. You can search online for samples of his prose, but suffice to say he’s heavily inspired by William S Burroughs and other experimental authors. He seems to have reduced some of his worst excesses, but he is still not a readable writer by any sane standard. I hope to forget about him soon and often.

The other half is by Gary J Shipley, a man I hadn’t heard of. He turned out to be a pleasant surprise, and he actually ends up carrying the book. His prose style is similar to James Havoc (another Burroughs-inspired author), with vividly described and frequently incongruent imagery designed to stick in your imagination. You don’t need to do much except get carried along by the slipstream of his writing. To mangle Robert Christgau, you don’t know what he’s doing, but you can definitely see that he’s doing it.

So what’s this book about? Siratori’s portions of the book are lexical white noise, but Shipley’s seems to articulate a theme of life being another name for death. Lots of his metaphors speak to that: babies dropping dead out of wombs, middle age being equated to decomposition, etc. Portions of the book resemble a narrative (although you’d be an idiot to expect a story in this sort of book), with some dystopian, transhumanistic themes being riffed on. Necrology is all over the place and doesn’t fit well into a genre category.

To muddle the book’s purpose still more, there’s a third author. Reza Negarestani contributes an afterword, in which we learn of a barbaric Etruscan punishment (victim sewed body to body and mouth to mouth with a corpse), that manages to be disgusting but also thought provoking due to Negarestani’s metaphorical conclusions.

The idea of being sewed to a corpse seems unpleasant, but that’s the reality of believing in a soul…that we are all spirits tied to meat anchors. That when you kiss a woman it’s her soul that reciprocates the gesture, and you are locking lips with a corpse. It’s very interesting, although Negarestani’s writing is academic and not really a model of clarity.

Siratori is a waste of everyone’s time, but the book is worth getting for the Shipley and Negarestani portions. It will certainly be of interest to lots of people who like weird writing, and if it doesn’t impress there’s always the knitting book.

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stainedglassHave you ever read something and felt as if you’ve wandered into someone’s game of Broken Telephone? Have you read opinions or polemics that, though they may have made sense at one point, have been copied and memefied so many times by so many people that they have become distorted parodies?

Atheism on the internet feels like that.

What happens is that two factors start working in confluence:

1. People can’t think for themselves and can only repeat the arguments of other people
2. A “hive mind” that doesn’t tolerate dissent

The Marquis de Sade wrote a story while incarcerated called Dialogue entre un prêtre et un moribond, an interesting and concise manifesto of atheism framed as conversation between a priest and his dying charge. It’s been downhill since then. These days, you can read things like Why there is no god: Quick responses to some common theist arguments. They are very quick responses. It is recommended that you shout them at religious people out the window of a passing car because then they won’t have enough time to call you stupid.

1. “The Bible God is real.” He doesn’t discuss that at all, he just talks about mistakes and contradictions in the Bible. Clearly if a Jeremy Clarkson biography has logical errors then Clarkson himself vanishes from history. He talks about “selective interpretation”, as though the way we interpret the Bible has anything to do with the existence of God.

2. He argues that Jesus didn’t exist, and to back up his point links to a page that says Jesus existed. Safe to say that you’re not meant to click any of the links in this article. They often don’t back up what he’s saying at all. You’re meant to look at all those blue links and marvel at the author’s intelligence and rigour.

3. “The moment you disagree with a single instruction of the Bible…” No, thanks. There’s lots of ways to interpret the Bible. There are Christians who don’t believe everything in it comes from God, that it was influenced by the earthly politics of its time, or that various things in it have symbolic or metaphoric value.

5. In which we marvel at the shocking revelation that wealthy countries with lots of atheists are more peaceful than impoverished third world shitholes.

10. He uses George Bernard Shaw’s famous quote “The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one”…only it’s not presented as a quote. It’s included in the text without attribution or even quotation marks, as if he was the one who thought of it. I think this is generally his thought process. He doesn’t think for himself. Who needs to, when you can repeat memes and quotes and sound-bytes? Not that there’s anything wrong with that…but doesn’t it get depressing spending your whole life regurgitating other peoples’ lines?

11. He could have just said “what does beauty have to do with God?” and left it there. He argues about something completely off the point, and misses an easy and obvious response.

It goes on like that for a while. There’s stuff about Christianity being a responsible for every bad thing in the past million years, and a reminder that the bad things done by atheists are not connected to their beliefs in any way. Heads we win, tails they lose. Everything he writes is…wonky. Unpersuasive. It gives every impression being bolted together from various pieces of intellectual detritus from an atheist forum where nobody ever disagrees with anyone. And it continues.

“Copay [sic] every fact on this page you wrote. Make website. Paste. Then. the sheer amount of fact in one internet place will explode, spreading logic throughout the land.
Genius.” — zinc55

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