Gritty Is The New Pretty: Q Hayashida’s ‘Dorohedoro’
Between Simon Bisley's fantastic turns on Hellblazer, Juan Jose Ryp's fantastically ugly art on Wolverine: The Best There Is, and Jerome Opeña and Dean White's moody, grimy work on Uncanny X-Force, it looks like the Big Two are ready to find beauty in the grotesque once again. I think this is great, but what about grit outside of the Big Two? Q Hayashida's Dorohedoro is more than capable of taking that crown for the manga side of the street.
The best phrase to describe Dorohedoro is "horror/comedy." It stars Caiman, a man with a lizard head who is searching for the sorcerer who ruined his life, and that search involves a lot of dangerous situations, ghosts, murder, and horror. Despite it all, Caiman is still pretty much just a regular dude -- he's deathly afraid of ghosts, addicted to gyoza, and likes hanging out with his buddy Nikaido. Nikaido is his gyoza hookup (she owns a shop) and his partner in searching for sorcerers. The two are fearsome in battle, but just normal enough to be able to crack jokes and get into comedic situations.
Dorohedoro is your good old fashioned manga about sorcerers, lizard-people, hot chicks, curses, and magical doors... kind of. Rather than featuring a cast of pretty young kids, like Harry Potter, or old dudes in robes like in Lord of the Rings, Dorohedoro is set in a city that's on the verge of collapsing, full of broken down buildings, thugs, and debris. The sorcerers wear masks and tend to dress rather stylishly, and rock everything from a nice suit (carefully unbuttoned for maximum "Oh, this old thing? I just picked it up, it's nothing" casualness) to motorcycle gear to pretty dresses.
The blend between horror and comedy is pretty close to on point. There are actual devils that appear in the book, and they're a little bit unsettling. Even stranger, when Caiman finds a sorcerer, he puts the sorcerer into his mouth, and a face comes out of his throat and decides whether or not that sorcerer is the one who cursed him. If the sorcerer isn't Caiman's target, he kills them, sometimes with the assistance of Nikaido. One sorcerer, Ebisu, was yanked out of his mouth early, leaving her brain-damaged and traumatized.
Strangely enough, Ebisu's brain damage is pretty representative of why Dorohedoro is so entertaining. Hayashida knows how to make something creepy, but also how to balance that creepiness with humor. She employs a borderline slapstick style of humor fairly often, such as Caiman's Scooby Doo-esque fear of ghosts. Ebisu is a recurring character, however, and her brain-damaged speech is best described as "adorable." She speaks in one-liners or broken sentences at various points throughout Dorohedoro, and her road to recovery is often derailed by things like turning into a zombie or spontaneous vomiting.
Dorohedoro's creepiness is heightened by Hayashida's art. She reminds me of artists like Simon Bisley, Tsutomu Nihei, and Katsuhiro Otomo (more for her faces than anything else--Fujita and Shin's boyish good looks remind me very much of Akira), and her panels are crowded with debris and details. Dirty, aged signs, overflowing dumpsters, bums, and the shells of derelict buildings litter the city, and characters are bulky, with slumped, broad shoulders and thick boots. It's not pretty, and even things like nudity or T&A are subverted (or sabotaged?) by Hayashida's thick linework and hefty characters.
The style is gritty, but not quite realistic. Ebisu is tiny; Caiman is broad; Nikaido is built like a running back, and En, one of the major villains of the piece, has long, spiky hair. Hayashida exaggerates the proportions of her characters, which makes the action seem even more brutal and ugly. What's worse: a normal sized fist hitting someone in the nose, or a giant hamhock of a hand bashing someone's head in and spreading brains everywhere?
This isn't to say that Hayashida doesn't use realism in her work, of course. When Nikaido goes to work out, she wears a sports bra under her tank top. The clothes in the series are layered and functional. If someone is going to use a hammer or knife, for example, there's a little loop for the hammer or a sheath for the knife (or knives, as is more often the case). Clothes hang on the body of characters like they would in real life, ranging from baggy and loose to skintight but functional.
All of this makes for a book that just looks good. It's skin-crawlingly creepy in all the right ways, but a there's a nice layer of comedy threaded through the book to keep things interesting and give you a break from the horror. It's a book about wizards and lizardmen for people who don't usually care to read about that sort of stuff, and a book with enough violence and jokes to keep anyone entertained. It's gritty, but it looks great. Flipping through the book just to gaze at the art is almost as rewarding as actually reading it. There's a lot to take in, and while it's often weird, it never fails to make visual sense.