Over his long career, Eric Powell has never shied away from violence. Whether it’s the iconic The Goon, or even the more bizarre fantasy of Hillbilly, Powell’s comics have assumed an unwavering eye in depicting people who live on the outskirts of society. And Powell’s latest project continues that grand tradition: a brand-new graphic novel about serial killer Ed Gein.
Joined by famed crime writer Harold Schechter, 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.” The pair recently launched a Kickstarter for the project, which includes not only various editions of the book but rewards like ink commissions and a Zoom call with the creative team. (The campaign, which launched Monday morning, has already surpassed its original goal of $36,000).
We were lucky enough to touch base with Powell, where we discussed the book’s genesis, his interest in serial killers, opting for Kickstarter, and working with Schechter, among many other topics.
If you’re keen, you can contribute to the Kickstarter here.
AIPT: There’s been quite a few properties already about Ed Gein. Why is he still so fascinating amid the world of serial killers?
Eric Powell: I’m not sure why Gein has made such an impact on the world of popular fiction, but it’s undeniable. His case inspired 3 of the greatest horror films ever made. Surely there are many historical psychopaths that have done much worse things than Gein, but maybe it’s the oddity of his case. The fact that this all took place in the overly sanitized 1950s America. But whatever the case, he has become a bogeyman that doesn’t seem to go away.
AIPT: Without revealing too much, what’s the elevator pitch for the book? Can we expect all of Gein’s life story, or does this focus on a specific event or period?
EP: I would say our book is a deep examination of the family situation that helped create a necrophile and killer, and how the impacted of his shocking crimes effected society.
AIPT: Your past books (namely The Goon and Hillbilly) are clearly gritty and packed with violence. How much of that do you bring over to this book? Do you see this as a kind of “continuation” of the same characters you like to tackle?
EP: This has been a completely different animal for me. Especially in the writing. I’ve never worked on a non-fiction book before. The amount of fact checking and research that I had to put in was a bit daunting. Luckily, my writing partner was Harold Schechter. Who is not only a phenomenal true-crime writer, but a Gein expert. My other work, with the exception of Big Man Plans, is mostly fantasy. This is rooted in tragic reality and the weight of the pain the events caused make you take extra care in the way you execute the project.
AIPT: Why opt for Kickstarter? Do you see having established creators like yourself move to the platform as a way to further “legitimize” it?
EP: We’re (Albatross) a small independent publisher. I knew from the very beginning I wanted the production value of this book to be top notch. A nice hardcover that felt substantial. Doing a Kickstarter just takes away all the burden and stress of fronting major amounts of cash before the project ever hits the shelves.
AIPT: Gein inspired other beloved properties like The Silence of the Lambs and Psycho. Do you reference those at all, or do those somehow influence some of the work, things that are depicted, the larger tone, etc.?
EP: As a lifelong fan of horror, I love Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Silence of the Lambs. But those films take elements of Gein tale to make a character. They aren’t meant to be factual representations. We’re doing a fact based dramatization using the best evidence at our disposal. So, no. I didn’t really look at them for inspiration. I mostly drew inspiration from newspapers from the time. And I also looked through the types of men’s adventure magazines Gein was reading. Through crime lab photos, I was able to actually track down a few of the same issues found in Gein’s home. So I was able to read some of the very material he was obsessed with.
AIPT: I was thinking about true crime, and how it shows us things we tend to ignore or dream away in the weird, wild world. Does the genre still have that same appeal considering how plentiful info is online and our own desire to seek out these kinds of things?
EP: True crime seems to be on fire right now, and I think it’s a really good thing. Look at the My Favorite Murder podcast. There’s no way of proving it, but I’m sure the slogans of “F--k politeness. Stay sexy, don’t get murdered.” have saved lives. Educating people to the MO’s of deranged sociopaths and teaching them how to avoid dangerous situations is an important thing. And then you also have amateur sleuths who are solving actual crimes. It’s amazing. The more we understand the minds of violent sociopaths, the better we’ll be at saving people from them and catching them.
AIPT: What was it like working with Harold Schechter? Was it at all daunting working with a genuine pro of true crime?
EP: It’s been amazing. I’ve been able to discuss this bizarre case on a daily basis with my favorite true crime writer. And, yes, it was daunting. He’s a professor and an expert. I’m a half-educated idiot who draws pictures for a living.
AIPT: There’s clearly a push or an emphasis here to stick to the facts. But does working in comics mean some level of drama or embellishment for the sake of the medium?
EP: Absolutely. I hate it when exploitive movies shout ‘TRUE STORY!’ One in particular comes to mind and it drives me crazy. I won’t name names, but a girl died because her caregivers didn’t get her medical treatment. They claimed it was for supernatural reason. Well, the film says it’s a true story and the people responsible for her death are really heroes. How irresponsible is that? We take liberties where we have to to tell the tale, but we also have extensive notes in the back of the book so the reader can see where we filled in the gaps. With a case like this, where no one was in that house with Gein but corpses, we have to make some presumptions. But we make those using records and testimony.
AIPT: Are there any other true crime tales or serial killer stories that influence the look, feel, tone of this book?
EP: I don’t think so. As I said, my main inspiration came from newspapers and pulp magazines. I think trying to get the feel of the period and location correct was important to me.
AIPT: What kinds of conversations — if any — took place regarding what to show in the book? Or, is that form of “self-censorship” just a bad thing in general for fiction/comics?
EP: Harold and I really were on the same page with this. We did not want to make an exploitation book. If you’re expecting to see drawings of Gein cutting out genitals, you’re out of luck. We’re going more for psychological horror than gore. There are a ton of creepy moments in the book, though. And like [Alfred] Hitchcock with Psycho, I think the image someone can form in there mind will be much worse than what I could show them. I just need to set up those scenarios properly.
AIPT: Is there ever a worry that books about Gein and other notorious characters might mitigate their horrors or get people to maybe “like” these monsters?
EP: I can only speak for myself and my work, and I can assure you Gein is not portrayed as a likable person in this book. We depict him as we see him. A pathetic and disturbed individual. I know there are plenty of examples of people out there trying to glorify serial killers, but I myself am a person who loves to read true crime stories while hating the crimes these people commit. So I think it has more to do with the individual than their reading material. I think it’s kind of the same argument that violent video games are corrupting the youth. If horror, violence and stories about crime led to psycho killers, this country, this planet, would only be psycho killers.
One of the things I love in Harold’s work is how he dispels the myth of ’the good old days.’ Gein is a perfect example. His crimes took place in the sanitized 1950’s. People with violent mental disorders are going to commit crimes no matter what they’re reading. I think it’s very safe to say Dr. Fredric Wertham didn’t know what the hell he was talking about and we were all deprived of many more years of EC Comics because of it.
AIPT: Why should anyone contribute to this Kickstarter?
EP: If they want a sweet limited edition book signed by Harold Schechter and myself about a disturbing and notorious segment of American history, they should definitely back this Kickstarter.
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