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PANORAMA OF HELL
By HIDESHI HINO (Blast Books; 1982/89)

A pitiless vision of Hell on Earth, manga style! Hideshi Hino, who's scripted and illustrated dozens of manga volumes, has a style and viewpoint as distinct as that of any artist. His slope-headed, bug-eyed personages are unmistakable, as is his love of blood, mutation, insects and hyperbolic close ups--all presented in stark black-and-white with garish sound effects. Blast Book's edition of PANORAMA OF HELL marked Hino's first-ever English language publication (the work of no less than five translators, among them the famed special effects ace Screaming Mad George), which is fitting. I haven't sampled enough of Hino's work to proclaim this book his masterpiece, but nothing else I've read by him is nearly as remarkable.

     It is at once a black-humored gross-out spectacle and a deeply felt expression of personal anguish, with a narrative that parallels Hino's own life in many respects. It concerns an unnamed painter obsessed with blood and death, who like Hino nearly lost his life as an infant when his family fled from their native Manchuria to Japan in 1946. Also like Hino, the Hell painter went on to become an acclaimed, if irredeemably morbid, artist. The painter is now looking to create his final Panorama of Hell, which he promises will encompass the entire world.

     Before creating this masterpiece the painter fills us in on the particulars of his existence, in a house located next to a busy guillotine. Here countless people are beheaded each day, with the blood from the killings soaking into the ground and causing malignant blood flowers to sprout. There's also a nearby blood river littered with refuse and severed body parts.

     We learn about the painterís aptly monikered children Krazy Boy and Krazy Girl, both of whom share their father's love of blood. The painter's wife, meanwhile, runs a tavern patronized by the headless ghosts of those executed by the guillotine. As for his mother, she's a madwoman who keeps a maggot-ridden pigís head as a pet, while his late father was an abusive drunk with a living bat tattoo on his back. As if all that weren't enough, the painter's brother was severely beaten in a fight, and upon being released from the hospital turned into a featureless lump of flesh.

     All of this insanity is punctuated with extraordinary surreal imagery--the painter's mother carving mouths in the necks of headless zombies, a gambler reaching into his stomach and yanking out handfuls of dice--and an equally amazing succession of eye-popping carnage in a positively mind-scraping rendering of wartime trauma. The effect is numbing, yes, and not a little unpleasant, but also revelatory and cathartic. A similar effect was achieved in the art of Bosch and Goya, whose ranks Hideshi Hino confidently joins with PANORAMA OF HELL.

     

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