MENTAL INDIGESTION

A Review of Vitiators by Elytron Frass and Charles N., via Expat Press

If the brain is, as some claim, a digestive rather than cognitive organ, it follows that it can be afflicted by the same maladies; nausea, heartburn, and, indeed, indigestion. In light of recent studies linking the gut’s microbiome to autism and other peculiarities and eccentricities, this assertion is less bizarre than it first appears. A cursory search reveals that dozens of teams scattered around the world are now convinced that the mind is merely an adjunct of the intestine, at least in mice. But whether these findings are materially correct is immaterial, for there is, at the very least, a poetic affinity between the brute functions of the brain and of the belly that cannot be denied by any serious thinker. Even Dickens, writing well before the advent of modern gastro-/neuro-science, noted the seemingly inexplicable connection between the two organs in A Christmas Carol when Scrooge initially dismisses the specter of Jacob Marley as nothing more than a bit of undigested beef. Who are you to gainsay Chuck?

I myself have been suffering a bout of mental indigestion, brought on by Elytron Frass and Charles N.’s manga Vitiators. I am no less haunted than Ebenezer. Nearly three months have passed since I first read Vitiators, and I’m even less sure now what, exactly, I want to say about it than I was after confronting the manga’s final page. Other, more qualified, critics have contextualized Vitiators within broader conversations about horror manga and fandom to great and illuminating effect. But I came to Vitiators as a layman, a virgin; my exposure to manga starts and ends with the first Lone Wolf and Cub omnibus. Perhaps it is fitting that Vitiators corrupted and perverted me. I stand before you defeated. What follows, then, is not so much a review as it is a concession.

Vitiators concerns a reality rending event brought on by the machinations of a weebs; an event which transforms a small city into a “New Gehenna” crawling with chthonic monsters. Elytron Frass’s plot is complimented by Charles N.’s disturbing linework, which sits somewhere between Gustave Doré and restroom stall graffiti. It’s a heady combination, and one that is sure to unsettle and, as a quick look at GoodReads reveals, disgust many readers.

But while Vitiators fairly overflows with graphic imagery–an undeniable mark of quality insofar as a work of horror fiction is concerned–I cannot bring myself to cosign the manga’s assertion that engaging with its content makes the reader somehow complicit. For was this not the same argument leveled at rock, rap, and videogames by the likes of Jack Thompson and Tipper Gore? The oft discussed “transgressive artist” is actuated by the same anxieties as his or her most caustic critics. I’m of Oscar Wilde’s camp: “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.” And, despite my reservations, I must say that Vitiators is indeed, a very well written book.

— Dawson Wohler is a fiction editor at APOCALYPSE CONFIDENTIAL