Book Review – The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits by Matthew Meyer

★★★★★ 5 Stars

Full Title: The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits – An Encyclopedia of Mononoke and Magic
Genre: Mythology / Dark Fantasy
Publication Date: June 1st, 2015
Publisher: Independent

Don’t ever practice demonic rituals without the guidance of an expert, kids.

The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits is a sequel to Meyer’s yokai encyclopedia, this time delving into more occult aspects of Japanese mythology, such as curse and blessing practices, ideas of hell and heaven, and particularly infamous phantoms. Unlike your standard run-of-the-mill yokai, have the misfortune to come across one of these and you’re pretty much screwed.

There is an entire section on my homeland… I mean, a horrific place I’d never heard of and certainly don’t own a summer home there – Jigoku.
You could call Jigoku the Japanese equivalent to Hell in western religion, and is heavily intertwined with Buddhist philosophies. Descriptions of Jigoku make Dante’s Inferno look like a jolly walk through the park. Like Dante’s Hell or perhaps a foul-tasting but elaborate cake, Jigoku is made up of increasingly unpalatable layers of suffering.

“Mugen Jigoku, the hell of uninterrupted suffering, is the eighth and deepest circle of hell. […] The souls down here are so hungry and thirsty that they tear apart their own bodies and drink their own blood in a useless attempt to ease their suffering. Words literally cannot describe how awful this hell is; if Mugen Jigoku were ever accurately described, both the reader and the writer would die from the sheer horror of it.”

Ushi no toki mairi is a pretty notorious ritual this book talks about in-depth. I knew about it before, but did NOT know how bad the implications of it were. It shows up in a lot of classical Japanese art as well as manga and anime – if you’ve read anything by Junji Ito, you’ll probably know his character Souichi, whose signature is the ringlet of candles and nails associated with the practice. I found the similarity to voodoo fascinating.

That’s just touching on a few strong points, really the whole thing is full of interesting curiosities and superstitions.
Unlike Meyer’s previous yokai book, probably not as many people are aware of these parts of Japanese myth and ancient religion. This is also an especially cool and professional book, and it’s not once boring. Meyer also created paintings for each entry, all of which are great.
Sadly, as I mentioned in my review of The Night Parade, these can be hard to come by in physical print. You can still get eBooks readily, but this is the sort of book the coffee-table format is made for.

Book Review – The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons by Matthew Meyer

★★★★★ 5 Stars

Full Title: The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons – A Field Guide to Japanese Yokai
Genre: Mythology / Dark Fantasy
Publication Date: March 1st, 2012
Publisher: Independent

Remember, phantoms are more scared of you than you are of them. Well, except in the many cases in which they aren’t. In which, tough luck!
Yokai are “ghosts” from Japanese mythology. I say “ghosts” in “quotes” because the meaning of yokai can be rather vague, and can extend to monsters, human ghosts, animal spirits, cryptids, demons and more tangible curses alike. They range from adorable and welcome in the household, to elusive and oddball, to violent and vindictive should you dare to seek them at the crossroads.

There is a yokai for every niche, anxiety and injustice you can blurt out. Pick out a nightmare you remember some imagery from, and there’ll be a yokai to match it.
My personal favourite is the bloodthirsty tree, Jubokko. I also enjoy the company of Jikininki, but find craving fresh humans to eat for all eternity to be a melancholy way to exist. Every time I talk to one, I’m grateful that cannibalism is a choice rather than a necessity for most people.

I’m also rather fond of the Nuppeppo just because its history is weird, to say the least. The Nuppeppo is essentially a great stinking wad of unused human-like meat and there is more than one recorded case in history of people coming into contact with it. Supposedly if you can catch it and cook it, it and will make you live forever.
If you could stomach the rotting, slithery mess… Ugh, nevermind. No thanks.

I have to say, a comprehensive book on yokai was much needed and The Night Parade is exceptionally awesome. As rich as the source material is, there is a surprising barrenness of solid Japanese mythology books in English.
The effort and talent that went into this guide is phenomenal. It’s organized, heavily researched and the author’s paintings are crisp and beautiful. Unleaded creative fuel.
I’ll always favour the visuals in books like this, but Meyer’s artwork really is cool. I didn’t even realize they were digital pieces until it was mentioned.
Some of the more obscure yokai you can’t actually find creative interpretations of anywhere, even in classical paintings.

It’s depressing that The Night Parade is hard to find in print. A vibrant, colourful collection such as this ought to be in physical print. It’s still on Kindle though, so not all is lost.

Art Book Review – Autopsyrotica by Chad Michael Ward

★★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Photography / Horror
Publication Date: May 1st, 2006
Publisher: NBM Publishing

Ward’s art is daring and sinister. Its human skin is sepia, like an antique photograph found in a secondhand music box stolen from a dead woman’s vanity.
As for horror, it’s subtle and leans more towards gothic burlesque and steampunk than anything, with a touch of Victorian occult smeared in there. I found Autopsyrotica (how exactly is this pronounced?) by chance. My buglike antennae start beeping whenever oddball horror artbooks are present, so I was intrigued when they scouted this out.

The positive is of course, the photography. It looks straight out of a back alley surgery or a seedy velvet-curtained stage in an alternate early 1900s. Wherever Ward found all these rotten experiment chambers and unhallowed vampire tombs, his work on capturing their residents is darkly beautiful.

Image result for chad michael ward autopsyrotica

For the negative, it seems awfully small for its cover price. The paper quality is decent, but half of the book is blank-ish pages with a small blurb of commentary on them. As if to tease you further, the last page is a collage of artworks that weren’t fully pictured in the book. Cruel.

Brief Update on Art and Art Books

A Jack, or should I say Jane?, of all trades, I have multiple cakes scorching in multiple stoves right now, an important one of which is improving this blog. I don’t think it’s terrible by any means, but anything can be further perfected upon, and this needs a new wardrobe rather desperately. A major point I feel has suffered neglect is all of the art portion of the site – including art books, which like the rest of my reviews are getting a makeover to make them more engaging and just slightly more elaborate. Starting with the next art book review, ones I own will get inside photographs.

As for my own art, rather than just showing the picture in a batch or snippet, I’ve thought of writing a short article to accompany each, also with the goal of making this a far more engaging blog for multiple creative interests. Some of my ruminating lunacy may actually inspire someone, somewhere. Oh, and as a side, as of today (April 16th), I now sell prints on my DeviantArt page, mostly limited to tinted / coloured pieces but if the ink-only ones are popular enough I may add them.

Visit my art gallery on DeviantArt.

Book Review – Black Comix Returns by John Jennings

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Stylish, vibrant and extremely diverse mix of artists and graphic novelists – for an art or comics enthusiast it’s like being a kid in a candy store. Or I guess I should say an art supply store.
This collection features mostly indie artists, but of all mediums – digital or traditional, cartoon or realistic, full colour or monochrome, you name it.

While it’s true of any multi-artist gallery that some of the styles won’t be my favourites, I can’t deny that everyone in here has buckets of talent. Seriously, the work here is pure, gleaming eye candy and is fantastic. I also thought the essays featured were well-written, as well as important – especially the one regarding diversity and artists, and that while it’s vital to have diversity in fiction, it’s even more vital to have diversity with its creators.

But just to add, it’s not a book of short stories. They do talk about the books these artists have worked on or written, but there aren’t many full comics featured. Most of the comics are snippets from larger works. That’s not to say they aren’t lovely, though.

I received a free copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review – Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini

★★★★★ 5 Stars

Dreamscape compatible, human-friendly Earth literature… Mostly. One of the most bizarre books ever to be salvaged from a crashed spaceshi… I mean, published.
Codex is a homegrown, hand-drawn field guide to somewhere we can see from afar in the little corners of our eyes but never reach. Rings of blood become ladybugs, every insect, mammal and metal are all born from flowers, and most importantly – carrots can be siphoned out of potatoes. Marvelous.

Unlike its inter-species ancestor, The Voynich Manuscript, which was clearly written by an alien for aliens, Codex tastes better with lentils and doesn’t have as many side-effects. This book also enjoys being taken on leisurely strolls across the surface of Neptune, as you’ll know.
Though it’s beautiful and shows some truly intense dedication, unfortunately it’s not human-friendly enough to actually “read” it. Well, not without the same amount of dedication that went into writing it, at least.

Legible or not, truly awe-inspiring piece of raw, unadulterated imagination at work.

Book Review – Ax : A Collection of Alternative Manga by Sean Michael Wilson (Editor)

★★★★ 4 Stars

“From deep within the damp earth, rotten tree roots and strange demons, comes a fetid gasp and a scarlet stare. Come, come closer and discover my mystery…” – From “Into Darkness”

A great menagerie of equal parts deliberate grotesque, schizophrenic stray thought and a bit of surreal fever dream. That 4-star is a very unevenly rounded star. It’s more like a blobby mass of squashed mushrooms than it is a star.

About a third of these short manga are aggressively “WTF” – drawn for the sole purpose of being offensive. People can draw what they like, but in my opinion that is still one of the worse reasons to draw something. Doesn’t keep some of them from being enjoyable, but keep in mind that they are quite out-there, and shy away from nothing.

The other two-thirds were creative and boggling of the mind, in the best way of course. A broad and for the most part, quality showcase of alternative artists working in gekiga (lit. “dramatic pictures”) and its evil twin ero-guro, genres that seem sadly to be in perpetual obscurity outside of Japan. Some that stood out, for good or bad:

“Into Darkness” by Takato Yamamoto – A piece of nightmarish poetry set to Lovecraftian, BDSM-ish imagery. It is also unabashedly beautiful in every aspect. The fact that this is the only widely available work by this artist is an outrage, because wow! Easily the best of the collection. 5/5

“Conch of the Sky” by Imiri Sakabashira – This is where the true fever starts to kick in. A comic interpretation of a literal nightmare. There is no linear plot as would be in a nightmare, but really well-written and with a fascinating art style. 5/5

“Mushroom Garden” by Shinya Komatsu – So adorable! Everything about this comic is amazing – a very cool (and shockingly mild compared to the previous) short about a boy who decides on a whim to abandon his rock-collecting for growing fungi. 5/5

“Six Paths of Wealth” by Kazuichi Hanawa – Wonderfully raunchy horror story about two women who become the size of ants after an encounter with a strange being. The ink work in this is superb. 5/5

“Rooftop Elegy” by Takao Kawasaki – A mystery short with a fantastic twist and interesting art that looks more like a Western comic than a manga. 4/5

“Les Raskolnikov” by Keizo Miyanishi – Fascinating and surreal, elaborate and utterly beautiful drawings as well. 4/5

“Twin Adults” by Kotobuki Shiriagari – Simple but funny, with some insightful social commentary. 4/5

“A Broken Soul” by Nishioka Brosis – Drab-humour short about a man who loses his soul unexpectedly, so tries to revive it by sticking a hand drill into his brain. Apparently he also lost his knowledge of basic human anatomy. The art style is reminiscent of Tim Burton’s. 4/5

“Inside the Gourd” by Ayuko Akayama – Gentle and sweet. A man raises a cocoon inside of a gourd, which turns into a butterfly who leads him to the woman he will marry. 4/5

“Alraune Fatale” by Hiroji Tani – A man rescues a beautiful woman who dissolves to death those she seduces. Strange and provocative, if it did go a little over-the-top. 4/5

“Puppy Love” by Yusaku Hanakuma – A (human) couple tries to raise a litter of puppies who are actually their children, by some baffling defiance of biology. Kind of cute… in a demented way, and an unusual analysis on parenthood. 3/5

“The Watcher” by Osamu Kanno – Started out intriguing, then random nude dance routines ensue and it falls to pieces. The hyper-realistic detail on the characters’ faces is also oddly clashing with their stringy, unrealistic limbs, but the art is not terrible. 1.5/5

“Arizona Sizzler” by Saito Yunosuke – Probably the worst of the lot. It’s like if you extended restroom graffiti into many panels. 1/5

5/5 – “Into Darkness”, “Six Paths of Wealth”, “Mushroom Garden”, “Conch of the Sky”, “Les Raskolnikov”
4/5 – “A Broken Soul”, “Rooftop Elegy”, “Alraune Fatale”, “Twin Adults”, “Inside the Gourd”, “My Old Man & Me”, “Enrique Kobayashi’s Eldorado”, “The Rainy Day Blouse”, “Tortoise and the Hare”, “Up & Over”
3/5 or 3.5/5 – “A Well-Dressed Corpse”, “Push Pin Woman”, “The Neighbor”, “The Brilliant Ones”, “Black Sushi Party Piece”, “Love’s Bride”, “Stand By Me”, “Kosuke Okada and His 50 Sons”, “Home Drama: The Sugawaras”
2/5 – “Sacred Light”, “Me”, “300 Years”, “Haiku Manga”
1/5 – “The Watcher”, “Arizona Sizzler”

General Score – 4/5 Stars

(Would recommend 17+ – while a few of the stories are mild, most of them are extremely graphic in most aspects.)

Book Review – Ascending Peculiarity by Edward Gorey

“My mission in life is to make everybody as uneasy as possible. I think we should all be as uneasy as possible, because that’s what the world is like.” – Edward Gorey

If you’ve read any number of his morbid stories, you’ve probably familiar already with Edward Gorey’s many obsessions – ballet, fur coats, the Victorian era, silent films, androgyny and of course, literature.

Ascending Peculiarity won’t tell you anything new or surprising, but it is interesting to hear the thoughts of such a reclusive artist. Always too modest about his work, these are various interviews on how some of his books came into being – inspirations and base ideas behind them. Some are on other topics, and I did enjoy the one about the ridiculous amount of ballets Gorey had been to – so many that he might as well have been a member of the ballet crew himself – and his observations on them.

It’s not incredibly difficult to find anything from the Gorey library today, but in the past it has been, especially early ones when they were more of a niche interest. They do include many illustrations from these macabre not-exactly-children’s-picture-books, which is pretty cool. A collector or fan would be the ideal for this book. I think anyone would basically enjoy it, but in my opinion a straight autobiography and not just interviews would have been more interesting.

3.5/5 Stars