Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?
Writers: Harold Schechter & Eric Powell
Artist: Eric Powell
Designer: Phil Balsman
Editor: Tracy Marsh
Publisher: Albatross Funnybooks
Eric Powell and Harold Schechter’s Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done? is a book that creeps up on you. As it details the life and crimes of the infamous killer Ed Gein, it starts by taking an impressive but measured tour of the man’s early life that reads like what you’d expect from ‘true to form’ True Crime literature. But then it starts opening up in surprising ways, digging into horrors in a manner only the most exceptional examples of the genre manage to achieve.
Powell and Schechter share writing duties but the art is all courtesy of the man who created The Goon, Powell himself. As stated, What Eddie Gein Done? looks at the life of the killer that many got to know as The Butcher of Plainview, after Gein’s hometown. It goes from childhood to old age and it focuses on two big phases in his life: his upbringing with a strict, near-misanthropic but fundamentally religious mother figure, and the aftermath of his arrest for his many crimes, in all its dimensions.
Gein is in a unique position to be explored as a character, something that Powell and Schechter seem to be well aware of. His crimes involved killings followed by revolting and bizarre acts with human bodies that ranged from necrophilia to wearing skin suits and masks made of real human skin.
It all inspired the creation of iconic horror movie monsters such as Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs (1991), and most notably Norman Bates from Psycho (1960). The latter is perhaps closest to his real-life counterpart due to writer Robert Bloch’s focus on the psyche of the killer, which was then put into film by Alfred Hitchcock.
What’s true here is that these fictional characters tend to color Gein’s own history as being as terrible as their own, which might create the expectation that Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done? will be a splatter fest that gore-hounds will appreciate more than anyone else. That is not the case.
The book is interested in presenting the horrors of Gein’s case as coming from beyond the gruesome and the macabre. What’s terrifying here is Gein’s childhood, the abusive family environment he endured, the invasive sexual repression, and a uniquely American obsession with violence.
Powell’s approach to the visuals of Gein’s crimes bears special mention for its decision to pull no punches in regards to the degree of violence showcased in the story, without being gratuitous for the sake of shock. What’s shown in the book is unsettling, but it has to be to get a sense of what Gein’s worldview was and how it led him to doing the things he did. That said, it doesn’t need to ram the gore into the reader’s face and it doesn’t do so. The result is a masterful showing of storytelling that might rank as Powell’s best.
Perhaps one of the most surprising elements of Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done? is how it approaches American violence. Gein is shown throughout the book as a troubled mind that’s also fascinated by extreme acts of depravity. We learn of his interests in the atrocities the Nazi’s committed in concentration camps, specifically in terms of the kinds of torture and sadism Germans inflicted upon their prisoners. There’s also a look at how the rise of pulp and horror stories and crime comics could’ve played a role in the desires Gein acted on later in life.
I never felt the authors were condemning the existence of these stories, but they do point out that the 1940s and ’50s were a time in which violence was being presented in a more explicit manner and that it might’ve offered Gein a chance to fixate on something he would later put into action. It puts the magnifying glass on how Americans consume violence and just how available it is for consumption. It opens up even more avenues of conversation rather than reducing their existence into something inherently ‘harmful.’
Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done? is a powerful meditation on the things that can make a person take the lives of others, and then go further. It’s a detailed and very smart take on True Crime that is interested in explaining the phenomenon that is Ed Gein. There’s horror, there’s pain, and there’s violence, but the point of it all is to consider just what it is that goes into the formation of an all-American killer.
Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done? is now available in comic book shops and will arrive in book stores on August 23, 2021.