Meticulously researched and realised by writer Harold Schechter and artist Eric Powell, ‘Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Did?’ is a gritty, engrossing graphic novel depicting the life and crimes of Ed Gein. The darker side of Americana laid bare, but never dwelling on the gory or ghoulish.
Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done? Is a remarkable true crime graphic novel from writer and author Harold Schechter and artist Eric Powell, chronicling the story of Ed Gein, one of America’s most famous killers. A figure – as the book depicts – who inspired a number of Hollywood films across the decades and all starting with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960, based on Robert Bloch’s novel of the same name. Only a few year after Gein’s grisly and horrific crimes came to light. Indeed, it’s the premier of Psycho that acts as the opening act of this biographical graphic novel before we are transported back to the dawn of the 20th century and Ed’s early life. A life filled with bleakness and a dominating and ultra-conservative mother. A woman who would play a huge part in the forming of Gein’s character and one who’s absence from his life, after her passing, triggered his fiendish fantasies. Fantasies he would play out with dire consequences and resulting in at least two women being killed by his hands.
For anyone familiar with Schechter’s writing, as I am, you will be more than aware of a career meticulously researching and documenting America’s serial killers. So there really isn’t a better writer to take on this mammoth task of chronicling the birth, life and death of such a heinous historical figure of the 20th century. And while there have been far more grizzly killers since, it is still Gein who stands out. Maybe it’s because with only two recorded murders to his name, he can’t be labelled a serial killer, or maybe it’s because he was committed to an insane asylum when it was clear to reporter Dexter Corben and photographer Jack Humble covering this case that these were both premeditated murders and so he should have always stood trial for them as subsequent killers such as Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy did. But didn’t. Not immediately anyway. Or maybe it’s because America had not seen the likes of him since the 19th century and the case of H.H. Holmes? Whatever the reason, Gein still looms large of the American psyche, as is abundantly clear with the publishing of this new book and the many films he ghoulishly inspired. A book wonderfully illustrated by the master of horror, Eric Powell, creator of The Goon.
Powell uses a mixture of pencil, ink and grey washes to deliver a bleak peek into the past. His America – and the rural America of Ed Gein’s youth and adult life – is devoid of colour; a drab, tough country that suffered two world wars and a Great Depression. An America far from the gloss of Hollywood, and one in which violence, poverty, domestic abuse and horrors were easily hidden, or at least ignored. Powell’s art has always vibrated with those early pioneers of Americana art, with a strong sense of Will Eisner standing at his shoulder and guiding his brush. His is the America forgotten by Norman Rockwell, or at least striped of its sentimentality and laid bare on the chopping block. The combination of pencils and ink add depth and definition to the grey world of yesteryear, and is often used to great effect to indicate moments of Gein’s loosening grip on lucidity as well as darker moments when darker grey and almost black tones are deployed to accentuated the true life horror of Gein’s family farm as the local constabulary discover the depths of his depravities. It’s to Powell’s credit that he never lingers on any really gory moments, but like the shower scene in Psycho, merely hints at then, just off page.
As with his previous book on Gein (Deviant: True Story of Ed Gein, 1998) – and a source for this retelling – Schechter’s background research is extensive and all encompassing. He leaves no stone unturned and makes use of multiple sources to bring this graphic novel to fruition. It really is a requisite addition to any true crime fan’s library.
Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done? is out Wednesday 11th August from Albatross Funnybooks