Peach Momoko is an artist that has been steadily gaining acclaim for her covers and illustrations that have been used by DC, IDW, Marvel Comics and Magnetic Press. These covers have become highly coveted by collectors and have sent the artist from Japan to tour the United States convention circuit (until Covid put a stop to all that). Her soft pastels, and use of heavy inks give her covers a cute and dreamlike feel, and her convention commissions are often chibi versions of popular American comic characters. Though these illustrations of Harley Quinn, Batgirl, and Spider Woman belie a more sinister world she is constructing within her comics.
Smashed skulls, blistering skin, razors, and needles inhabit the world of Peach Momoko. Flesh is central to her work and identity, especially since her previous career choice was to be a tattoo artist, but Peach Momoko shifted over to comics and illustration instead. Her self portrait posted on Facebook depicts Momoko's body, naked, dismembered, and laid out in a manner that is part anatomy chart, part meat market. There are only a small handful of interviews with Peach Momoko in English, but she has listed her influences as horror, military, and pink (Japanese softcore erotic) films, and her comic work certainly embodies her affinity for the visceral. The bulk of her work is painted with watercolors, with the texture of the paper showing through on the final page, in a stark contrast to many more overly-produced digitally colored comics. Just as you cannot separate a tattoo from the skin it is on, her art style is very much bound to the texture of paper and water colors.
Peach Momoko’s solo comic work is small, but promising and is comprised of three stories featured in Heavy Metal magazine: Shaman Himiko from 2017, Tohko from 2018, and the most recent one, Confess, in 2020. Each of these shorts embodies Peach Momoko’s gravitation towards ero-guro combined with women attuned to the supernatural. Shaman Himiko is (very) loosely based on a historical figure from Japan’s ancient past, a Shaman Queen that ruled around the 3rd century. This short transplants Himiko to a modern setting (but still giving her clothes and attendants stylized after ancient Japan), as a groveling man beseeches Himiko for good fortune, while bemoaning his loss of job and wife. Instead the groveling man is devoured by the mystic Himiko. With a quasi psychedelic art style that recalls 1970s bande-dessinee, and elements of the spiritual, this story sets the tone for Peach Momoko’s work going forward.
Her second story, Tohko, eschews dialogue in favor of collage-like composition to tell a story of death, rebirth, and death. A young girl recounts the torment she faced from classmates and throws herself from a building, only to emerge from her mangled corpse as a winged angel, which is then pounced on by a nearby cat. Short, simple, and gruesome. Even in death, the flesh is what binds us. Stylistically Tohko has much more in common with the films of Nobuhiko Obayashi (and a dash of Bill Sienkiewicz) than what is currently going on in manga today.
Peach Momoko’s background in tattooing takes center stage in her latest short, Confess. Here tattoos have a spiritual significance but also a price. Confession of sins is a physically painless process in Christianity, but in Peach Momoko’s world, redemption demands a little more. Wielding needles blessed by goddess Shinto, and inks cursed by the ogre Shuten Doji, the shaman artist Akiki gives clients tattoos that can absolve a person of their sins, but the process is excruciatingly painful. Typically polite Japanese society regards those with tattoos as outsiders due to the association of tattoos with yakuza, but Akiki is the artist as a healer and a wielder of power that can exorcise (literally and figuratively) the inner demons of a person through her craft (of course there is a price too). Stories about the supernatural and ink aren’t unheard of, and elements of Confessare evocative of the ghost story Hoichi the Earless, in which a blind lute player has Sutras drawn on his body so he would appear invisible to ghosts seeking him out. Like Himiko from the first story, Akiki is a shamanistic figure with great power whose abilities are bound to flesh and blood.
So while Peach Momoko’s comic output is fairly small at this point, it shows creativity and promise. She posted on her Twitter that she is going to draw 100 covers this year. Let's hope Peach Momoko shares with us a few more jaunts into the world of horror.
Article and photos by David Namba
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