Shigeru Mizuki's The Dunwich Horror
By Zack Davisson
Shigeru Mizuki is Japan’s grandmaster of horror manga and weird fiction. Although his name is only now becoming known in the U.S., in his native Japan he is a household name on par with Walt Disney and Charles Addams. His yōkai comic Gegege no Kitaro (published in the US by Drawn and Quarterly as Kitaro) has been continually published since the 1950s and is responsible for almost every weird monster and bizarre bit of folklore to come out of the country in the post-war era. For fans of films likePacific Rim and anime like Neon Genesis Evangelion, the very first Giant Robot vs Giant Monster battle took place in the pages of Gegege no Kitaro. Shigeru Mizuki’s name is as synonymous with yōkai and monsters as H.P. Lovecraft’s is with cosmic horror.
Knowing that, it should come as no surprise that Shigeru Mizuki is well versed in world horror and weird fiction. Beneath his beneficent smile and charming penchant for cheap hamburgers lies the brain of one of the world’s great expects on mythology, folklore, and the weird world of monsters. He has a deep love for Western horror comics and weird fiction, and versions of classic horror tales pop up all over his work—either shoehorned into his famous comic Gegege no Kitaro or as straight adaptations in their own right.
Mizuki owned the book series Sekai Kyofu Shosetsu Zenshu (世界恐怖小説全集; The Complete Collected Short Fiction of World Horror Stories) which formed much of his education on world horror and weird fiction. The multi-volume series collected horror classics from all over the world, including French and Russian literature as well as American pulp fiction. Mizuki became acquainted with H.P. Lovecraft through this series. He first read the story Dunwich no Kai (ダンウィッチの怪; The Dunwich Mystery) in volume 5, which collected tales of kaiju (怪物; monsters).
The tale stuck with Mizuki, and in 1962, he adapted it for the rental manga market in a 300+ page comic published by Bunhana Bookshop. The rental manga market was the precursor of the modern Japanese comic industry that worked like a paid library. In post-war Japan, people had little pocket money so they rented their entertainment when they couldn’t afford to buy it outright. Mizuki decided that what the suffering children of Japan needed was a good dose of monsters and cosmic horror to take their minds off the actual day-to-day horror that they lived with.
Mizuki retitled his adaptation of The Dunwich Horror, calling it Chitei no Ashioto (地底の足音; Footsteps from the Depths of the Earth). He drew it as a more-or-less straight adaptation of Lovecraft’s original story, although Mizuki made a few alterations, presumably to make it easier for a Japanese audience.
The main change is that he reset the story in Japan, and made the characters Japanese. The rural town of Dunwich became the mountain village of Hatsume; Wilbur Whateley was renamed Adachi Hibisuke, and runs around in a kimono to hidehis misshapen body; Professor Henry Armitage of the famed Miskatonic University is instead Professor Aoyama from Toritaka University. The Necronomicon itself became “The cursed Shiro Kaiki (死霊回帰; Book for Calling Back the Dead), written 800 years ago by the mad Arab Galapagos!”
Perhaps the strangest change of all, however, is that Adachi Hibisuke’s otherworldly father is no longer the dread Yog-Sothoth, but is instead the monstrous—Yōkai Yogurt!
Monstrous yogurt aside, Chitei no Ashioto is a beautiful combination of two masters of weird fiction. His plain-spoken dialog is far away from Lovecraft’s verbosity, but Mizuki’s own grotesque art style beautifully captures Lovecraft’s masterpiece of cosmic horror. Lovecraft has never adapted easily to comics, but Shigeru Mizuki’s version ranks amongst the best.
Along with Lovecraft, Shigeru Mizuki adapted many other classics of world horror and weird fiction. His works include versions of Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Narrative of the Ghost of a Hand, HG Wells’ The Crystal Egg, Richard Matheson’s Blood Son, F. Marion Crawford’s The Screaming Skull, and Arthur Machen’s The Novel of the White Powder. All these treasures lie hidden in musty old bookstores in Japan, just waiting for someone to discover them.
Zack Davisson is a translator, writer, and scholar of Japanese folklore, ghosts, and manga. He is the author of Yūrei: The Japanese Ghost and the translator of Shigeru Mizuki’s Eisner-nominated Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan. He also created the popular Japanese folklore website Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.