Lafcadio Hearn was a Victorian-era European writer who, in his book KWAIDAN: STORIES AND STUDIES OF STRANGE THINGS (the most famous of his collections of Japanese legends and ghost stories), told a story of Isogai Heidazaemon Taketsura, a samurai who renounced his old life and became a wandering priest.
An adept warrior, Taketsura was more than a match for various supernatural threats such as goblins with detachable flying heads. HUNGRY GHOSTS is an expanded imagining of Taketsura’s story: a man of strength and lethal power seeking a more spiritual path, in the midst of post-war famine, Taketsura must face death, monsters, and of course ghosts – some of which are his own.
What inspired the creative team to write this story?
There aren’t a lot of days where you can point and say: “This changes everything.” However, I had one of those magical days many years ago when I saw the Akira Kurosawa psychological mystery Rashomon and the samurai anime Rurouni Kenshin within hours of each other. I have spent years watching Asian cinema (from Shaw Brothers martial arts films, to samurai epics such as Yojimbo and Kill!, to Asian horror films such as A Tale of Two Sisters and The Ring), watching anime, reading manga, reading about Asian culture, religion, spirituality, societal structures, history, and mythology. My interests eventually led my husband and me to get freelance jobs as editors/adapters with Viz, Toykopop, and Del Rey’s manga division.
When I was watching Asian cinema, I came across a beautiful, haunting supernatural film called Kwaidan (which is Japanese for “weird tale/ghost story”). Kwaidan led me to watching hundreds of Asian horror films, trying– with various degrees of success– to recapture that feeling I felt when I watched Kwaidan. The movie was based on a book of Japanese supernatural folk tales written by Lafcadio Hearn, a westerner who went to live in Japan in the late 19th century. He collected Japanese folk tales, and introduced them to the audiences outside of Japan. The stories were simple, graceful, and haunting. There was one about a samurai priest who battled oni (a Japanese term for demons and other assorted monsters). I was saddened that only one story had been written about the character. So, my husband and I wrote a four-issue graphic novel expanding the story, trying to evoke the feel of the era’s world of war, death, life, and the afterlife.
I wanted the graphic novel to look like the film Kwaidan, which was known for its unusual imagery, but as a samurai story, the work had to have a sense of motion and movement to it, like a Shaw Brothers film such as Come Drink with Me. I just about gave up, but then we saw Jeremy’s art. It had sophistication, but also had raw power. It used color in ways that were extremely moving. His work leapt from the page. It had style, grace, visceral action, and most of all, a sense of movement to it. Often in comics, action sequences look frozen in time, as if the characters had posed for a sequence instead of enacting it. Jeremy’s work made me feel that I was there, watching terrifying, exciting scenes of fighting not just for one’s life, but for one’s soul. I could almost smell the blood and sweat, could almost hear the swords clashing. It was a color movie come to life. I was reminded of the supernatural Asian folk art I had collected hanging around my house and on my computer. I couldn’t help but feel totally enthralled.
I’m proud of the writing my husband and I did for this work, but I am especially proud of Jeremy; his work is totally compelling.
– Barb Lien-Cooper