Fascination for Viscera

Thoughts on liking body horror in media – a creative fascination I rarely speak about openly, even though it’s hinted across most of my work. Obvious trigger warning since I talk about the insides of bodies coming out. There’s some media reccs in here if you are interested in this sort of thing.

1.

My Aunt is a Monster was selected to be part of the Summer Scares program for 2024. Basically this means it’s a recommended book in the horror genre for US librarians and educators, and will be included in several pieces of programming and promotion. (Which is lovely and I do appreciate the enthusiasm and joy over it – even if I think My Aunt is a Monster is a silly whimsical adventure comedy than anything actually scary, but maybe that’s unfair when comparing it to my body of work)

Anyway in a panel between myself and fellow selected author-peers, the moderator asked us what are our favourite tropes and themes in horror.

What’s your favorite horror trope or type of monster?

I do have two extreme modes of interest where on one hand I love an Addams Family esque joie de vivre around the spooky, and the other where I crave esoteric, almost surrealistic body horror, of things being rendered apart or becoming incomprehensible.

The moderator expressed surprised at the second last part of my answer, which is understandable when you put my innocent face next to Monster Aunt’s bright yellow and red cover – Monster Aunt is what I would consider my most cheerful, silliest work. And I do mean this sincerely; everything about its narrative and art direction taps into and relishes in the stylism and self-indulgence of my teenage years: how I used to draw, the romanticism in my writing, and the love for all the world’s wonders that continues to this day. It’s also the only long-form comic I’ve made that doesn’t have Memento Mori as a theme, unless you count Lady Whimsy’s career death and grief over opportunities lost. Monster Aunt leans more to the Addams Family spoopy spectrum of horror.

But if you had put me with The World in Deeper Inspection instead, or Alexander, or The Carpet Merchant, then it wouldn’t be so surprising. I hadn’t really kept this a secret; I just don’t talk about it much.

2.

In media (visual art, games, books, whatever) where people normally go in celebrating horniness, I go in for esoteric weirdo ??? vibes instead. Horniness and (what I will call) Viscera are good aspects of a piece of Art and they pair together in a lot of media — it’s just funny to me that when it comes to interaction or fascination with physical forms, I am more into the body/existential horror/dread side of things. I love when things are desecrated.

Some examples of what I mean:

  • In the Labyrinth, you have David Bowie’s Goblin King Pillow Princess which I do appreciate… meanwhile the old junk lady and what she could possibly mean is the kind of character/concept I am obsessed with and want to see more in my work. She’s so raggedy and in filth and she revels in it! And she collects things… like me!
  • The new Dungeon Meshi anime goes all in with its fascination of the horrors and joys of eating: the visceral, the violence, the chopping and cutting and communal nature of food and the nuances of being part of an ecosystem, where we eat and are eaten
  • The aesthetics of Elden Ring, Dark Souls and Bloodbourne etc intrigue me because the worldbuilding and character designs are so preoccupied with the messy, dirty, ugly and tattered. Like yes, there is horniness informing the art direction, but c’mon, spider hands?? T-Rex dessicated dogs?? Pus, boils and grease fat???
  • This is not true body horror, but Saltburn’s fascination with fluids/desecration in odd contexts is a huge part of why I enjoyed the movie so much.
  • The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar is my favourite Edgar Allan Poe work. That ending! The way he describes a “nearly liquid mass of loathsome—of detestable putrescence”… !!

This thread of thinking arose following my descent down the rabbit hole of absolutely visceral and bloody and confounding stop motion shorts and then remembering, oh yeah this is my jam.

The jams in question:

(Pretty much all of Robert Morgan’s work. The sensuality of polymers as flesh and blood in his puppets… gross, but I love it)

Bobby Yeah is one of the weirdest sequence of events I have ever watched that I don’t even recommend it to most people (or they’d think I am irredeemably weird), but I really did enjoy the ride. Watch at your own risk.

In Eskos, you see fish guts and blood splattered every which way during this Looney Tunes style goose chase and I am bought in.

Mad God is pretty similar as well. The revelation of what the main character’s journey is all about is so gross and terrifying. He gets looted, for reals.

Blood Tea and Red String is a sweeter manifestation of Viscera. It’s more gothic. Very few things get cut open, but they do get eaten. Out of all of these jams, I’d recommend Blood Tea and Red String the most and first, as it’s one of my favourite films. Aesthetically and narratively, it’s closer to the non-horror films I love most, like The Colour of Pomegranates, The Fall or Fellini’s Satyricon.

2a.

My fascination with Viscera shouldn’t be confused with the kinds of instant gratuitous violence you see in slasher films or franchises like Final Destination. There isn’t a lot of fascination to me for a guy falling into a wood chipper because of a serial killer or some freak accident after slipping on a banana peel. I like when my body horror is several degrees (however small) less direct and more abstract — surrealistic, almost. Maybe mechanical and detached, a bit bureaucratic and blase. If the guy volunteered to fall into a wood chipper in an alien planet where doing this kind of thing is normal, and his fellows are fine with it (maybe they vacuum up his pieces), now that’s something.

I like the implications of body horror after the fact. I like thinking about the kind of world where philosophically and physically, this type of desecration is normalised, even mundane. As normalised as zombie parasites or prions in our real world.

That’s why the weird latex spider lady in Dune compels me. What on earth is going on in that place that led to the existence of that creature, and why is it in latex and drinking out of a bowl??? What is this saying about the exploitation of feminine bodies?? Fascinating, horrifying, confronting stuff… and I love it.

2b.

How Fish is Made has to one of my favourite pieces of media that both possesses the Addam Family whimsy of the macabre and the grossness of Viscera. It’s gross and grisly and existential, and… well, you have to see that sequence for yourself.

2c.

The kinds of grotesque you see being done to a character’s body in fairytales and folklore are closer to the sort of Viscera I like. They transform into monsters, or squeeze themselves into shoes, or cut something to appease the fae.

2d.

Obviously I dislike viscera in real life. I am neat and tidy, and like most people, I would prefer not to have gross fluids on me. I also do not ever want to witness the desecration of an actual person, whether it’s for a kink or god forbid, worse reasons.

But that’s why I like it so much in fiction. The unreal-ness, and sometimes the absurdity, of the simulation compels me. It’s like that theory that tickling makes you laugh because it’s a response to realising ‘oh I am not actually being attacked, it’s a prank haha’. Again, it’s the abstraction that makes Viscera enjoyable.

3.

A lot of the media I spoke of above deals with the presence of a body that eventually becomes a Source (of Viscera) that gets cut open or bisected or put together. Transformed, even.

What I actually like more is the annihilation of body. When it breaks apart so deeply there is no body to work with anymore. This gets closer to the vein of cosmic horror, but we already have this process in the real world: decomposition. The process that breaks down our body into nutrients for the ground. I like when the body becomes atoms or metaphysical concepts, or some entity that cannot have a body, like if a human succumbs to becoming divine, whatever that is.

4.

I don’t know if I will actually pursue Viscera more in my own fiction.

Bits and pieces of it have emerged in The World in Deeper Inspection – prime examples are chaplette v: Pestilence (Grimsley has to fish out a client’s severed head from a butcher’s tank and then promptly loses it) and the end of Chapter 1 (the undead suspect melts into grease and soot… which is horrifying to think about in the context of human immolation).

These are events treated almost casually in the world of TWIDI, where monsters and purgatory live adjacent to the normies. I’ll have more Viscera in the horizon, maybe even feature something literally drier instead of wet, but don’t hold your breath. I don’t think the slowness of TWIDI will make an impact to my audience’s understanding of me as a Viscera Connoisseur… and who knows when I will come back to update it…

Leaving me with no other alternative means to express my fascination for Viscera.

Is it necessary for me to include Viscera in my fiction in order to signal to others I enjoy it? I don’t know. I feel I actually prefer seeing other people’s interpretation of Viscera more than my own, partly because the fun comes from wondering HOW on earth did they visualise or even think up of these things? The implications… the consequences… the subtext of it all.

I also don’t know if I am up to the task of producing Viscera that isn’t occasional, especially since my visual style is less compatible to depicting grossness above the level of Blood Tea and Red String. (not to say it cannot be done, but I have no idea if my quiet and muted art is capable of evoking grossness, that same yucky ick! feeling one gets when they poke a dead fish’s eye in the wet market) (man, there’s a lot of fish mentions in this post)

Memento Mori and dust and graveyards, much neater and drier aspects of horror, are more my lot. And that’s cool, too.

5.

I can’t believe my first post back after a long-ish hiatus is this. Amazing. Powerful. I am so glad I have a blog and it’s beholden to no one’s whims. I swear I have more “normal” posts about art-making, the internet and craft in the Drafts… it’s just a matter of finding the time to finish all 10 drafts lol.

Hello, hello

Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.

She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.

Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.

Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur

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