Monsters known as “yokai” have been part of Japanese folklore for as long as people have had reasons to fear the dark. The spooky creatures have proved so popular that not only are they still prevalent in modern popular culture, but have even welcomed contemporary monsters such as the Slit-Mouthed Woman or the half corpse of the Teke-teke, who first gained attention in the late ‘70s, into its fold. While comic-created Kitaro (inspired by a story card play) may not be an original yokai, he is credited with keeping the yokai spirit alive for over 55 years and has spawned numerous cartoons, shows, movies, video games, toys; basically anything you can slap that adorable little face on. Unfortunately, there’s almost no translated work for English readers… until now.
THE BIRTH OF KITARO is the second volume of Kitaro fun provided by independent publisher Drawn and Quarterly and, joining as a part of the Halloween Comicfest Free Comic Giveaway (at a comic shop near you!), they will be releasing a 32-page preview of the full graphic novel for fans of all ages!
For anyone who has read the first collection, simply titled KITARO, they are well aware of Kitaro’s bizarre life. A shorts-clad, one-eyed little boy, Kitaro spends his days fighting bad guy monsters who constantly scheme to pull one over on the unsuspecting human population. To help him, he is also endowed with jet powered sandals, a hair-based antenna that senses paranormal activity, and the power to blend into any background, rendering him invisible. But, not a lot is known about his background. Where did he come from? What does he really want? Thankfully, THE BIRTH OF KITARO answers all these questions.
The comic starts with Kitaro’s yokai parents telling the sad tale of the disappearing Ghost Clan and how his mother is pregnant with one of the last monsters of the modern age. The recipient of the story, a man in a smart suit and a nervous face, is incredulous to their tale, but when he returns nine months later and finds them dead, he decides to simply bury the mother and be done with the mess. Unluckily for him, the moment he turns his back, a child’s cry rips through the grave followed by the living body of Kitaro crawling out of the dirt! Hoping to leave the baby to die in the elements, the man is in for a morbid surprise, especially when Kitaro’s father gets involved.
THE BIRTH OF KITARO is a fantastically eerie read for both fans of Japanese folklore and readers who just want to read a creepy little tale about a weird boy and his eyeball father. Despite heavily influenced by the former, it doesn’t require a masters degree in Japanese monsters to understand. Though the creatures are unique to Japanese audiences, they do still envelope the universal traits of all monsters: odd looking, an unnerving presence, and, contingent on the temperament, in need of a good butt-kicking. But it’s not all serious: there is plenty of slapstick humor to round out the terrors, giving Kitaro a chance to explore the lighter side of human emotions and, depending on which story you read, maybe even a little romance.
While the Halloween comic will only preview the Kitaro’s birth arc, the collected manga out in March 2016 will feature an additional six stories all drawn and written by creator Shigeru Mizuki way back in the 1960s. These are some of the earliest Kitaro comics and are infused with Mizuki’s signature cartoon style. His art is much more similar to early manga style of stylized Disney art instead of the now popular doe-eyed, long-legged appearance. He has a great eye for shadow placement, coloring a black and white landscape with thick ink strokes. For long time readers, his early stuff is a great historical marker of his growing talent, allowing to see where this master artist got his start. Be sure to grab your preview copy before they’re all gone!