Fiction Based on Reality

What is it about scary films that fascinates us so?  Especially those that center around a serial style killer in films such as Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Silence of the Lambs. Movie goers were fascinated by the protagonists in these classics. In fact, a huge part of what made these films so shocking were the actions of those characters. Norman Bates, Leatherface, and Buffalo Bill (not to mention Hannibal Lechter) did seemingly unspeakable things to their victims. Of course, film goers always could rely on the fact that these were just movies. As disturbing as the scenes were playing in front of them, it was not real. But what if these characters were based on reality?

Edward Theodore Gein

Well, in the case of these three particular films, part of their stories WERE based on or inspired by real events. All centered on the life of a man named Ed Gein. Known as “The Butcher of Plainfield,” Gein was suspected of killing two local Plainfield Wisconsin women in 1954 and 1957. It was later revealed that he had also been exhuming corpses from local graveyards. From these, he fashioned trophies and keepsakes from their bones and skin, including masks, lamp shades, belts, female body suits, and skull bowls.

However, before he could be tried for his crimes, he was found to be mentally incompetent and committed. It wasn’t until 1968 that he was found competent enough to stand trial for one of the women. He was convicted but also found to be criminally insane. Gein spent the rest of his life in a mental institution, eventually dying there in 1984.

A New Adaptation of the Gein Saga

The Gein story captured enough attention that it was eventually adapted into a number of other films and even a musical. But coming in August, Publisher Albatross Exploding Funnybooks has brought together writer Harold Schechter [Deviant and The Serial Killer Files] along with Albatross Founder and artist Eric Powell [The Goon and Hillbilly] to tell the Ed Gein story in a new and fresh way. Did you Hear What Eddie Gein Done? brings the Gein story to graphic novel form with the details that only true crime writer Harold Schechter can bring. When combined with the undeniable artistic talents of Powell, you get a fascinating examination of the Gein story while exploring the effects it had on not only small town life but Pop Culture as well.

Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?

As one might expect, Schechter and Powell start the story at the beginning…sort of. Actually, they begin with the premier of one of the first popular films that was indirectly inspired by the Gein case, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Hitchcock based his film on the Robert Bloch novel of the same name. Bloch loosely based Psycho on Ed Gein’s Case with Bloch admitting that the character of Norman Bates was inspired by Gein.

After examining how fans reacted to Hitchcock’s film, Schechter and Powell explored the childhood of Eddie. Between an abusive and religion obsessed Mother and an angry and drunk father, Eddie and his older brother Henry struggled to find acceptance. From the general public and their own Mother. Especially young Edward who was fragile emotionally and that made him a target for other children.

In exploring his adolescence, Schechter doesn’t attempt to justify or rationalize Edward’s actions. He simply lays out the facts as they were, leaving the speculation of possible motivations to the reader to resolve. However, he doesn’t sugarcoat the horrific acts that Gein did. In fact, the really insidious nature of the Gein case is that he didn’t seem like someone who would commit such atrocities. At least from the outside looking in. Powell and Schechter explores this as well as how the local citizens tried to rationalize these crimes when they were made public. In this, they accomplished their goal with the skill of master story tellers they are.

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Eric Powell Artwork

The story of Ed Gein is by nature, a tale that brings to mind the narratives you might find in classic horror publications of years past. Comics such as EC or magazines such as Warren’s Creepy and Eerie. Eric Powell’s visuals pay glorious black and white homage to those classic tomes. He also captures Gein’s likeness with amazing accuracy, including such details as his often photographed hat. And while he details the facts of the case, he doesn’t attempt to graphically capture the grotesque nature of Gein’s crimes. At least not in any gratuitous manner. He is able to embody the sinister nature of the events without resorting to showing the all the carnage Gein left behind…unless you count his “handicrafts.” He certainly didn’t learn THOSE from Better Homes and Garden’s or Popular Mechanics.

If you are familiar with the tale of Ed Gein, then this will be a new way to explore that narrative. However, if you are like me and didn’t know anything about the man or his crimes, this will prove to be an eye opener for you. In addition, look for our interview with Harold and Eric, coming soon to Geek Vibes Nation. Albatross Exploding Funnybooks Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done? by Harold Schechter and Eric Powell releases on August 4th.

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