Book: “Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?” by Harold Schechter and Eric Powell (Ill.)
Publishing Info: Albatross Funnybooks, July 2021
Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.
Book Description: One of the greats in the field of true-crime literature, Harold Schechter (Deviant, The Serial Killer Files, Hell’s Princess), teams with five-time Eisner Award-winning graphic novelist Eric Powell (The Goon, Big Man Plans, Hillbilly) to bring you the tale of one of the most notoriously deranged murderers in American history, Ed Gein. DID YOU HEAR WHAT EDDIE GEIN DONE? is an in-depth exploration of the Gein family and what led to the creation of the necrophile who haunted the dreams of 1950s America and inspired such films as Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The Silence of the Lambs.
Painstakingly researched and illustrated, Schechter and Powell’s true-crime graphic novel takes the Gein story out of the realms of exploitation and gives the reader a fact-based dramatization of these tragic, psychotic and heartbreaking events. Because, in this case, the truth needs no embellishment to be horrifying.
Review: A statement I am about to throw out there is going to sound weird and perhaps a bit screwy, so I need to proceed with a caveat: true crime as a subject matter is depressing. It is a genre that is predicated on the suffering and victimization of others, transformed into a kind of ‘entertainment’ (though admittedly I don’t think that I’m, like, ‘entertained’ in the ‘wheee this is fun!’ sense of entertainment whenever I consume it). Like it’s ALL depressing. But for me, one of the more depressing stories is that of Ed Gein, murderer, grave robber, and recluse whose furniture and decorative creations were made of body parts. Gein has always bummed me out because it is VERY easy to trace his warped sense of self to the massive amounts of abuse he was subjected to from a very young age. It sure doesn’t excuse what he did; plenty of people are abused and don’t turn into the kind of guy who makes a belt out of women’s nipples. But It is just another example of how trauma has long reaching consequences. And that brings me to “Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?” by Harold Schecther, a new comprehensive true crime narrative from a true crime giant. This time in graphic novel form!
(And it probably goes without saying, but this book has SO MANY CONTENT WARNINGS. From child abuse to spousal abuse to necrophilia to gore to animal abuse, proceed with caution)
In terms of how Schechter tackles the story of Ed Gein, from childhood to murders, I thought that he did a pretty good, comprehensive job. The research is obviously there, the sensationalism is to a minimum (even kind of scolded, as in the book there is a section on people who turned his gross crimes into urban legend lore just for attention), and the way that Gein’s crimes influenced modern horror are well parsed. He starts with the premiere of “Psycho”, a story that takes inspiration from Gein’s twisted and abusive relationship with his mother, and slowly starts to tell the tale of Gein and how he potentially went from mild mannered and scared boy to small town monster. It’s nothing I didn’t already know, but Schechter is great at contextualizing the story. As I mentioned above, Gein’s life was one of horrendous abuse, from the physical the the emotional to the religious, as his mother was tormenting and supremely controlling, his father was an at times violent alcoholic, and due to his suppressed and weird nature, his peers ostracized him… which then sent him more under the wing of his mother Augusta… who was very unwell. There’s a reason that “Bates Motel” explores the depths of Norman Bates’s mother in the way it does. But all that said, Schechter doesn’t feel like he’s making excuses for Gein. There isn’t any sympathy put his way. A little bit of pity, sure, as we do see what a scared and abused little boy he was. But no sympathy, especially since his victims (including possibly his own brother!) were wholly separated from his misery.
I think that the biggest stumble for me with this book is that I’m not sure that being a graphic novel really added much to the story. Don’t misunderstand me, Eric Powell has a really well done final product with his illustrations, and they have a weird and unsettling energy to them that still feels based in realism. But I’m not certain that we gained anything from this story being in a graphic format. I’ve definitely seen graphic formatting add more to historical events, either through the visual literacy aspects of graphic novels or through contextualizing complex or heavy subject matter, especially for younger audiences. But in the case of “Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?”, I don’t know if it really enhances the story with a visual element. But again, the style itself was well done. Man did he get the Ed Gein look down.
“Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?” is a well laid out summary of the Ed Gein story and all the dark and depressing facts it has to offer. The comic aspect doesn’t enhance it, per se, but the overview is comprehensive without succumbing to exploitation or bad taste.
Rating 7: A pretty comprehensive (and therefore deeply disturbing and depressing) history of Ed Gein and his crimes, though the format felt at times unnecessary.
“Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?” is included on the Goodreads list “Comic Book Club Recommendations”.