Helter Skelter

Created by: Kyoko Okazaki

ISBN: 1935654837 (Amazon)

Pages: 320

Helter Skelter

When reading, one of the several pleasures I indulge is finding I enjoy a book beyond prediction. The defiance of expectations. The unraveling of prejudices. The low-level epiphany on which my emerging hope for humanity is fastened. And it’s all just a sham, really. Approaching an unread book and believing it to be anything other than an undiscovered experience is an unhappy arrogance common to too many of us. I loathe the presumption that assigns the value of a book before even cracking its cover. And I loathe still more the fact that I am far from immune to such biases.

Frequently I will neglect a book on my shelf or in my stacks because some element of its self conjures negativity in my appraisal. Maybe the cover, for all clichéd admonitions, spurs judgment. Maybe the publisher’s summary falls flat. Maybe the creator’s prior work has not ignited my appreciation. Maybe, as in the case of Helter Skelter, flipping through the book’s pages has revealed an art style I’m not in love with.

Helter Skelter by Kyoko Okazaki

These reasons are of course inadequate—hollow rationalizations designed by a faulty mind to the end that my life should be less exciting, less challenging, and less enjoyable. Because that is the historically documented trouble with the human mind: we believe it to be looking out for us and concerned with our well-being, when some approximation of the opposite is true. Really, just look at the boyfriends, girlfriends, wives, and husbands your friends have elected to spend their time with. In many case, just terrible choices that no rational mind would entertain. And then look at the way your friends self-saboutage within these relationships, as if pain and hurt and misery were Olympic events and each one of us were somehow representing our nation before the world. Hence the proliferation of psychology degrees, family and marriage counseling, psychiatric medicine, and the easy availability of massive quantities of booze. All because we somehow know that our minds are out to get us and we hope to at least make it a challenge as we go down in flames. To that end, I read books I don’t expect I’ll like. Books like Helter Skelter. Because I’m used to my brain lying to me and this is just my little way of giving it the finger and saying,  “You’re not the boss of me!”

Helter Skelter by Kyoko Okazaki

And when I close the back cover of a book like Helter Skelter, having read its last page, and sit exulting in an example of why it is that books exist, I may smugly revel in having stuck it to my brain one more time. Because, wow. This was worth my time. Wholly contrary to my expectations, this was worth my time.

The book is smarter than I’d originally guessed and incisively chronicles a made woman in the world of cheap celebrity. Liliko is a model, a top model, and her life is built of the kinds of experiences and fabrications you’d expect—and a whole hill of those you wouldn’t. She’s undergone science-fiction levels of plastic surgery to become a Frankenstein’s monster of beauty. It’s said that the only bits of her that remain in this new version of her are: 1) her hair, 2) her eyes, and 3) some unspecified portion of her genitals. And of course, she has a complex. It’d be hard not to.

Helter Skelter by Kyoko Okazaki

Helter Skelter tells a tale reminiscent of Sunset Boulevard (and even straight-up references the Billy Wilder film) and prescient of Moyocco Anno’s Sakuran. Actually, it probably plays avatar for the million other stories about women whose usefulness is predicated on their sexual beauty and the desperation with which they fear the abolition of such a temporary celebrity. Not only do such heroes of the popular culture have to contend with the constant fickleness of a populace whose tastes bend and twist on a dime, but terror of the inconstancy of the masses is bolstered by the model’s knowledge that age weathers all and that she only ever had a dwindling, minuscule shelf-life. In Liliko’s case, her terror is accelerated by a brute fact of the procedures she used to mold her body into a physical perfection—while drugs and treatments may temporarily slow the degradation, her flesh will begin eroding at a terrifying rate. And more than just aging dramatically, women who’ve undergone similar treatments show seeping lesions, deep bruises, and corrosion of the material beneath the flesh. These women become monsters, and monstrosity is Liliko’s certain future—so she’ll see if she can’t get a jump start on it.

It’s a lunatic ride.

Helter Skelter by Kyoko Okazaki

Okazaki’s art, which originally turned me off when I flipped through the book, is rough and exaggerated. In some ways, it conjures perhaps a prototypical Natsume Ono and is some kind of kin to the grotesque. I’m not familiar enough with the style to give it a name, but it does lack the polish I generally hope for in my comics. That said, it works beautifully. Even before the conclusion of the first chapter, I was wholly onboard and saw Okazaki’s illustrations as essential to the maddening story being told. The art allowed me to disassociate Liliko’s story from titillation. The model spends much of the story undressed literally so that we might discover her undressed figuratively. Eroticism would have been a distraction, for we aren’t meant to take in Liliko’s story with her as object of our lust or arousal; rather, we are to find her life and person and actions and predilections harrowing. The grotesqueries of Okazaki’s art allows that to unfold and eliminates the potential of clouding that message with the guilt of objectification.

Helter Skelter by Kyoko Okazaki

A helter skelter is an amusement slide that spirals downward around a central tower. Riders would climb a stairwell within the tower to height, after which they would begin their quick descent. An apt, if obvious, metaphor for Liliko’s life, career, and probably sanity. If the title wasn’t enough, in the concluding pages, the Beatles song of the same name plays, perhaps as warning to all who would follow Liliko’s path. Helter Skelter is a hard book, one that confronts the various cowardices that consumers in our cultures nurture and enjoy. It’s about the life and death of souls and how these two things co-mingle within us as we play heroes and villains by the things we buy, the people we laud, the shows we watch, and the clothes we wear. Helter Skelter is an older work, but smart enough that it will likely feel contemporary even forty years from now.



Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:

3 Stars = Good
2 Stars = Ok
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