07 April, 2017


Or, How I Finally Got My Hands on a Copy of Domu: A Child's Dream

Domu: A Child’s Dream was always one of those books that I was curious about. Lurking in the back pages of issues of Dark Horse Comics, I was always struck by the abject creepiness of the thing. It was Japanese. It was somehow related to Akira (a name I knew, but, at that point, not a film that I had seen). And it involved

 Luckily, after one of my podcasting partners went blind, I managed to fall into a spare copy of Domu. Among other things. It was well worth the wait. I mean, definitely not worth Alex going blind, but here we are. What are you going to do?

Written and drawn by Katsuhiro Otomo, Domu tells the story of a series of strange accidents and suicides at a modern public housing complex in Japan. It bounces around various residents of the housing complex, ranging from a newly arrived little girl to a local latchkey kid and on to the local detectives trying to make sense of this case (and to figure out whether it's really even a case at all). Eventually culminates in a sequence of urban destruction that only Otomo can pull off. Unlike Akira, one of the great epics of the medium, one of Domu's strength lies in its brevity. It's short, bloody, and brutish. And it's a damn good comic.

Me opening my Twitter feed.
Otomo, for lack of a better phrasing, is doing some next level shit. We're thirty years past this comic book coming out and it still looks like something out of a different sub-set of space and time. It’s like hearing violin music your entire life and then suddenly hearing what an orchestra sounds like. Otomo feels like he’s working from a different tool set than the rest of humanity. It’s amazing that a human being—a living human being, no less—can use a pen and pencil to pull off the things that’s he’s pulling off.

Usually when people describe comics as being "cinematic" it's because they secretly don't respect the medium*.
Personally, I find it kind of irritating. It’s reductive of the work itself. It’s a compliment that states that the work isn’t complete until it is something else (and something completely different). In the case of Domu, I’m not sure if that’s an insult (especially when you consider that Otomo has worked in film for the past thirty years).

These aren’t discreet drawings. They are a continuity. There is a flow from one image to the next without any visible or conscious break. It's a flow that moves beyond the mere aesthetics of Domu. There is a pacing of the panels, and a willingness to intercut between various plot threads that lets gives the impression of movement-- more than that, that the thing has energy. It has a pacing and a heartbeat that, again, I don't know that I've ever seen accomplished on this level. Part of me wonders if there is just something special about Otomo that I love or if Otomo is just working on that high of a level. Either is equally possible.

It accomplishes what film is supposed to do, which is transport you from your world into another world using the illusion of movement. With pure draftsmanship and design, Otomo has managed to do this with six panels to a page instead of twenty-four frames per second. In all of the important ways, Domu out cinemas cinema.**


  • Otomo is the best at drawing. He's just. . . Why the fuck does anybody else even bother?
  • Man, I haven't seen this many kids killed in a thing since Logan. Not that I'm complaining!
  • There is a sparseness to setting up the premise of the story that is almost invisible in how incidental it is. There is no wasted space in this comic. Both artists and writers could learn something from this dude. I know I can. So, again: It's cinematic. It's packing a lot into a little and he makes it look so easy.
  • I kind of want to hunt down a bunch of single issues from the original run on Dark Horse. I kind of want to huff those sweet, old comic book pages. I know that makes me a sick person.
  • Man. this comic is so goddamn good.
Unfortunately, it looks like Domu is back out of print. The rights moved from Dark Horse to another company and, now, like a lot of obscure works, it’s been relegated to the second-hand (and marked up) market. But it’s so good, damnit. It’s so damn good.

Domu is a compact, succinctly beautiful book that deserves to sit next to Akira as one of the great (Japanese) comic books of all time. It’s got beautiful art. It’s got a great story, with wonderful characters. It’s has horrific ultra-violence. It’s everything you want in a comic book. I mean, you know, if you like good comics.

*Though. I'm no hardliner. "Camera angles" makes a lot more sense than "panel angles." Camera, at least, gives off the sense of three-dimensionality. A panel, though? That's a flat picture. Let's not lose our minds in our search for purity.

 *And, as it turns out, Domu is being adapted into film. Along with Jordan Peele being in discussion to direct a long-awaited live-action Akira, Otomo has been having a nice little year).

James Kislingbury is a writer, a podcaster, a newscaster, a doodler, and a crank. If you are so inclined, you can support his endeavors at his Patreon. Or at the very least, rate, like, and subscribe to what you can. It's either this or re-dedicating myself to my eBay account.