Nukekubi are a variety of yōkai from Japanese ghost stories who, despite appearing like regular humans, are actually otherworldly beings capable of detaching their heads from their bodies, at which point their heads fly through the air terrifying unsuspecting people. They’re the sort of mystical apparitions that have haunted the imaginations of storytellers for centuries, and they’re also a common thread between the late Anthony Bourdain and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola.
In Mignola’s 1998 story “Heads,” Hellboy travels to Kyoto, Japan on a curious mission to investigate a long-abandoned house where demons are rumored to live far from the prying eyes of humanity. Hellboy’s none too worried about the supposedly dangerous creatures living in the forest, but when a kind man offers him shelter in a nearby house, the hero gladly accepts, figuring he might as well get a good night’s sleep. Of course, the comic’s hellish hero gets absolutely no sleep at all because nothing in the world of Hellboy is ever quite what it seems.
If you’ve read “Heads,” then “The Heads,” a story from Bourdain and his co-writer Joel Rose’s Hungry Ghosts comics anthology, is likely to sound very, very similar. A butcher’s young apprentice in desperate need of work awakens on an Italian street to an offer for room and board at a nearby villa, where he believes he might be able to begin the next chapter of his life. But as the boy settles into his new abode, he quickly realizes that the other people there are...something more than human.
Both comics are fantastic. And in celebration of Hungry Ghost now being collected in hardback, io9 has the whole of “The Heads” here for you to read right here:
And as an added bonus, we’ve also got Mignola’s “Heads” from Abe Sapien: Drums of the Dead for you to check out:
Both Hungry Ghosts and Hellboy: The Complete Short Stories Vol. 2 are in stores now.
Both “The Heads” from Hungry Ghosts and “Heads” from Abe Sapien: Drums of the Dead copyright Dark Horse Comics. Reprinted with permission.