When discussing horror manga, one name almost always comes up: Junji Ito. The manga writer and artist is known for creating a wide array of terrifying series, from “Uzumaki” to “Tomie” to “Hell Planet Remina.” His manga has sparked adaptations and references, such as a newly-announced “Uzumaki” anime, and even “Steven Universe” referenced “The Enigma of Amigara Fault.”
Junji Ito was a guest of honor at Crunchyroll Expo 2019. We were given the opportunity to participate in an interview with him, where he shared his thoughts on horror, manga, and his experiences as a creator.
When he creates horror manga, Junji Ito’s first focus is using his artwork to create the atmosphere. “The story is very important, but first what attracts you is the picture and the art,” he explained. “So I try to create the art and bring the atmosphere from there.”
“In terms of how I approach projects, most of the times I don’t start with the plot. It’s more like something visual, a strong image, or an intuition I have. I’ll write it down on my memo pad. What’s easy for me is if I have an image, I can write a story around the image, or if I have the climax scene I can visualize in my head what kind of plot I can create and make it interesting. If it’s the opposite, like if I have a plot and I have to create a visual for it, it’s more difficult for me to do that.”
Ito is also an award-winning manga artist, with his manga adaptation of “Frankenstein” recently winning an Eisner Award. Adapting such a well-known story was not an easy task, but he was up for it. “I got an offer to draw a serialization a while back, so I didn’t really know much about it at the time; I knew it from the old-school movie, and when I researched it, I realized it was a highly scientific story. When you see it, it’s kind of like an artificial human character, so I wanted to convey that aspect of it.”
“As you know, in the original ‘Frankenstein’ story, the professor was asked to create a bride. I tried to put my own spin to it. I don’t want to talk too much about it, because it will spoil the story, but later when I saw the Kenneth Branagh movie, it was similar to what I had drawn.”
Of course, “Frankenstein” isn’t the only classic story he’s interested in. Ito described H.P. Lovecraft as an influence, and he’d have liked to adapt one of his stories as a serialization. When artist Tanabe Gou did his own adaptation of Lovecraft’s work, he decided not to compete for the Lovecraftian horror.
Moving away from “Frankenstein” for a moment, Junji Ito also discussed cats. He’s been known to draw cats in an entertainingly scary manner, but are there any other cute things he could draw in such a manner?
“Actually, I’m not really good at drawing animals,” he admits. “But because I have cats it was kind of easy to draw for me. So that’s why I created stories based on my cats. Right now my wife has a lizard, but I’m not sure if lizards are very cute, so I don’t think that will be adapted into any kind of story.”
Junji Ito is known for his horror manga, but would he be interested in trying his hand at something else? “I’d like to try comedy,” he said. “But I think that keeping up with the jokes would be very difficult for me. But also I’d like to do something like a love comedy. Even that one would be kind of challenging and impossible for me.”
There were also some questions about whether he had any interest in creating stories for games. “Actually, I’m not much of a gamer myself,” Ito explained. “As you know, my manga takes up a lot of my time, so I never really had a chance to get into gaming. And I know that if I did gaming I’d be hooked and I wouldn’t be able to draw manga anymore. So I haven’t really thought about doing anything with games per say, but in the past I’ve done a novel game, and I really enjoyed that. So it’s something that I’d like to try again maybe sometime in the future.”
Junji Ito’s work has been adapted into live action and anime on occasion. “Whenever my work gets adapted to film, personally I love movies, and that’s something that I’d really like to do (but I don’t have time for that). So I kind of try to portray my work like a movie, so when my work becomes a movie, I’m really really happy that it becomes something in a different medium. For me it’s like a dream.”
Ito started reading horror and drawing manga when he was young. Did his childhood influence his manga in any way?
“I grew up in a city next to Nagano, which was surrounded by a lot of mountains and sloped roads. In terms of growing up, there was a lot of narrow roads between buildings that were similar to like a maze, and also there were some old hospital buildings that were scary. Those experiences are kind of reflected in my manga.”
He stated that he was surprised and flattered to learn that Guillermo Del Toro was a fan of his work, although one can certainly see the inspiration come through in films like Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth.” But what of Ito’s own inspirations?
“There was a Lovecraft story, ‘The Color Out of Space.’ There was a scene where the meteor hits the Earth, and there’s a color that comes out that doesn’t exist on Earth, and the color consumes the stuff around it. That was something that was scary at the time. In terms of books, Koji Suzuki’s ‘Ring’ is something that was really scary. In movies, ‘The Exorcist’ was scary for me.”
One question that he was asked was if it’s more satisfying to give the readers hope of a good ending or to crush all hope. “For me, it depends on the length of the story. In a short story, I’d like to do a more horrific ending. If it’s a longer series, I know fan reading it get emotionally attached to the characters, so I feel like if that’s the case, I’d like to end it on a good note so people won’t hate the story. Personally, I like the short story with a more horrific ending, that’s what I’m good at.”
With his manga being adapted into an anime airing on Adult Swim, an art book recently published, and an entire gallery at Crunchyroll Expo dedicated to his art, Junji Ito is still going strong. Through all that, he remains humble and thankful for his fans, including his fans overseas.
“It’s great that the US market and English speakers are ready my works and companies are publishing them. I’m really grateful for that opportunity. I’m not really looking for more than that, I’m just happy for it. Growing up, I was influenced by a lot of American movies, so for me it’s like a dream that people in the US are reading my manga.”
We’d like to once again thank Junji Ito for taking the time to speak with everyone, and Crunchyroll Expo for providing the opportunity. Keep an eye on G33k-HQ for more interviews and coverage from Crunchyroll Expo 2019.