Better the Devil You Know Than the Devil You Don't: Yakitori / by Erik Sugay

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Serial killers on the loose, ill-intentioned scientists choosing their next test subject, Death seemingly collecting your soul through Rube Goldberg-esque series of events--horror stories in modern day media tend toward depicting situations that can very well happen (deaths resulting from the complexity of the third example are still rationally explainable). There’s this constant, unrelenting idea that what’s happening to the characters are very real threats. That’s where the tension would usually come into play, but this over-saturation of these genre stories can dull the experience. The pervasiveness of all this gratuitous violence can desensitize the viewer; that, if shown a disturbing situation, one would have no more than a fleeting bout of anxiety. You know how the story will develop. You know which characters are likely to survive. This predictability lets air out of what was once a tense balloon. Expectedly, it turns out that not knowing is actually more frightening than knowing. What you can’t see and what you can’t comprehend cause rigid anxiety. It’s why so many people fear what may lurk in the dark.

Andrea Tsurumi’s Yakitori reaffirms that menacing, creeping notion.

A cursory look through her various works shows that she has talented artistic range, but if you only read this short story, that wouldn’t be evident. The style on display is very inky and smudgy. It revels in how raw it is and it intentionally plays that crude feel to its strengths.

Yakitori foregoes traditional panels in favor of disjointed, yet still sequential imagery. The entire story takes place in a restaurant and the many intimate looks at random elements littering it--shots of meat cooking on a grill, dipping sauces, vegetables, plenty of tufts of smoke, random background chatter--do well to establish the scene. And while these elements appear very normal, the rawness of the art keeps the tone very ominous.

The story is only a few pages in length and the dialogue is minimal. It ends as abruptly as it begins, and while it might not seem like there is a point, that vagueness might actually be the point. It’s a mere glimpse into the lives of regular people who are put into a precarious and ambiguously dangerous, but most definitely unsettling situation. They deal with it quickly, whatever it is. There is no background story and the brief epilogue does nothing but confirm that the unknown entity they crossed paths with was just that: an unknown.

It is a moment of confusion and panic distilled. And the nebulous nature of the perceived threat is absolutely terrifying.

TL;DR Andrea Tsurumi’s art in Yakitori is intentionally grotesque and unsettling. I cannot remember ever being so disturbed by non-violent imagery as I have here.

Andrea Tsurumi is an illustrator, cartoonist, and graphic designer who self-published Yakitori. You can read it here, purchase it here, and make inquiries about freelance work here.

A review copy of Yakitori was graciously provided to Spandexless by Tsurumi.