For my first Halloween read this year, I have chosen the new graphic novel about Eddie Gein who was a necrophile serial killer who inspired Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs! This true-crime story was horrifying, yet of course sickly fascinating.
Established author Harold Schechter who has written a previous book about Gein is paired with artist Eric Powell, known for his The Goon and Hillbilly graphic novels, and they proved to be a superb team to tell this tale. The story opens with Alfred Hitchcock in 1960 recounting how Psycho was inspired by Gein’s crime, just three years prior. The well-researched story then flashes back to Gein’s childhood in Wisconsin, born to mismatched parents- a weak drunkard father and a strong-willed and religiously fanatical mother. While young his parents move him and his older brother Henry to an isolated farmhouse where the boys can’t escape from their mother’s tyrannical rantings and they become warped by her teachings. Despite this, Eddie develops an unhealthy attachment to his mother, believing all other women are harlots.
The story continues chronologically, with the boys aging into strange men, still under the thrall of their mother. The father dies in 1940 and a few years later Henry (perhaps killed by his brother), leaving Eddie happily alone with his mother. A stroke leaves her in a weakened state, and some disturbing pictures show Eddie’s sick delight in helping her with all her personal care. Her eventual death in 1945 leaves Eddie alone to his own devices, and in his grief he seeks ways to recreate his mother, in shocking ways. Unchecked for a dozen years, Gein committed at least two murders and uncounted grave robbings, in which he then used the women’s skins to make himself a skin suit, facemasks, and other ghastly creations.
The evocative art by Powell, done in his trademark black and white illustrations, is inked and shaded to perfection. Each chapter opens with newspapers headlines, that guide you through the story, with the depictions of the Gein family and townspeople very accurate to photos of them and to that era. Some people have a touch of caricature to them, as Gein’s droopy eye and in later pictures the townspeople sharing their recollections seem exaggerated. In the midst of all this, Powell actually adds some whimsy, in guessing what Gein’s inner-thoughts might have been, finding dark-humor in Gein’s psychosis. It proves to be an interesting blend of pulp horror and non-fiction.
Darkly disturbing, and scarier because it is based on facts, this story is not to be missed for true-crime aficionados!