I highly recommend this book, but you shouldn’t buy it. It’s entertaining and well worth reading…just don’t spend money on it, yes? I do not offer this advice out of concern for your finances. Even if you are rich, you should acquire this book through through other means. Moving on…
There’s two things to review here, the work of Suehiro Maruo and the translation/editing of “James Havoc” and Creation Books. Maruo’s manga are brutal and nasty but very heartfelt and even strangely bathetic. They make you feel things. His characters are usually sweet, vulnerable-looking young people and his calendar seems permanently set in the nostalgic past.
His art is really interesting, there’s not too much I can compare him to except those 17th century Ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Maruo’s is a pure, unalloyed sort of manga, removed from all influences of Walt Disney and western iconography.
People call Maruo a mangaka/illustrator but I really think “illustrator” should come before the slash. Maruo draws manga but he’s more at home with stationary, tableaux-like images. He draws motion poorly, and whenever he tries a more stereotypical manga trick (like speed lines) the result appears artificial and disjointed.
“Putrid Night”, the earliest work on here (1981), is about sixteen year old Sayoko, who is married to a cruel and brutish samurai. He is hinted to have killed his first wife and soon we only feel glad at her fortunate escape, for marriage to this man is hell. Sayoko hatches a plan to kill her husband and escape with a young suitor, but of course, things never work out quite right, and sometimes all you can do is enjoy hell. “Shit Soup” is a gross-out comic, probably inspired by George Bataille, that features people having sex, drinking piss, eating shit, et cetera. Hard to believe that Maruo would just make a throwaway porn comic, I guess he wanted to make some kind of transgressive statement but needed to sex it up a bit before he could find a magazine that would print it. “Voyeur in the Attic” is about a man who witnesses infanticide, and rather than do anything socially responsible he becomes a participant in a dirty game. “Nonresistance City” is a 82 page comic set in post-war Tokyo, and is maybe the most mature and emotionally engaging thing on here.
I am a huge fan of Suehiro Maruo. Unfortunately, there’s a middleman here.
The book was edited by “James Havoc” (a pen name for another author), and he does nothing but fuck up the book. Sound effects aren’t edited into the art, they’re reproduced in awkward looking block text at the bottom of the panels. I wouldn’t mind too much if this was a scanlation, but come on, this is an actual product for sale. Some professionalism, please. The quality of the images looks faded out and weird, like bad quality scans.
Worst of all, he takes it upon himself to “improve” the book with extracts of his trademark “William S Burroughs on even more drugs” prose. “WE ARE BLACK SUNLIGHT, A VORTEX OF ANAL SWEAT IN THE SUCKLING SKY.” Oh, fuck off and leave the book alone. We’re here to read Maruo, not you. This sort of nonsense finds its way into nearly every single comic.
With the annoying editing, and the fact that Maruo likely has never seen a yen from this collection (tip: type “Creation Books” into Google), you’d be stupid to buy this. One hopes more (and better) English-language releases of Maruo’s work will be forthcoming. Treat this as a view into the world of one of Japan’s most provocative artists…however, you must look through a distorted lense.