Interview: Eric Powell and Harold Schechter on 'Eddie Gein' OGN
We chat with the collaborators about their new graphic novel and how it's a radical work of empathy.
The crimes of Ed Gein served as the inspiration for Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and in effect, every slasher film that came after. The small town nightmare became a global one, and countless authors and artists have tried to make sense of Gein's madness. We thought we understood the killer's place in history and culture, and then we read the new graphic novel from Eric Powell and Harold Schechter.
"Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?" is a disturbing and incredibly compelling investigation into Gein's mindset without ever falling into exploitation. In addition, the comic might be Eric Powell's crowning achievement in sequential art. Quite frankly, the comic book is an astonishing read and does only what a comic book can do. As presented, this story could not be a movie; it could not be a book; it could only be a comic book.
The new original graphic novel had a profound impact on us both, and it was a pleasure to discuss the story with Powell and Schecter. Whether you're already a fan of The Goon or not, and whether you're a True Crime buff or not, we think this comic has something to offer. Yes, you have to prepare yourself; extremely dark events are discussed, but "Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?" is ultimately an extensive dive into radical empathy. And we're into that. We should all be into that.
This interview was edited for length and clarity, but you can listen to the entire fifty-minute discussion on our Patreon feed. Just 1 Dollar.
Lisa: You open the book with Alfred Hitchcock answering some of the backlash to Psycho. It brings up this cultural tension we have around violent media, that concern of mental illness being highly communicable to sensitive populations, not just through the cycle of abuse but also through exposure to narrative. I'm curious about starting Ed Gein's story there, and then ending it with how his crimes trickled into our cultural imagination.
Harold: The whole issue of the effect of violent popular entertainment on the public and especially young minds, that's a controversy that's literately been going on for over 100 years. I wrote a book years ago about a juvenile serial killer in the post-Civil War era. When he was arrested, all these moral crusaders were blaming the influence of dime novels. They claimed he'd been reading too many violent books. I don't believe at all that there is a cause-and-effect thing going.
I mean, I'm a baby boomer. When I grew up, when I was a kid in the '50s, early '60s - I once did a count, there were 37 violent westerns on prime time TV. All we did was watch people shoot each other and we played with guns all the time. And we grew up to be this peace and love generation, right? Yeah. So I don't believe there's any correlation. But those quotes that Eric wonderfully wove into the beginning of the book are taken from a famous interview Hitchcock did with a French director, François Truffaut. Hitchcock gave this brilliant response. People were claiming that some guy who had murdered like four women, had murdered the last one after seeing Psycho. Hitchcock said, "Well, what movie was he watching when he killed the first three?"
By the way, I would just modify your comment a little about Gein trickling into modern horror culture and so on. Gein was more than a trickle. Gein's story had this major revolutionary effect on modern American horror. It's one of the points we make and again that Eric provides us a terrific illustration for.
Eric: I think concluding our book with the effects that Gein had on our culture is a big point that we're trying to make. That this tiny little thing - not that his crimes were tiny, but that this tiny little spot of America had such a massive effect. How did that effect impact the people living there and then just the rest of the country? It can't be overstated, the cultural effect that this guy's actions had.
Harold: Yeah. I mean, he was a total non-entity. Years ago, there was a major reference work that all libraries carried. It's called The Dictionary of American Biography. I think it's published by Princeton or one of the Ivy League schools. Anyway, they asked me to write an entry on Ed Gein. That's a sign of significance. Because every other entry on this massive reference work, politicians, scientists, statesmen, artists of all kinds, and then there is Ed Gein.
Lisa: Another one of Hitchcock's brilliant quotes in the book that I would love to hear you guys both speak on is, "When people complain about Psycho, it comes from a lack of sense of humor." That it takes a sense of humor to really create a narrative or examine a narrative around violent crime. The Goon in particular is something that is violent and gory and hilarious. I would love to hear about the sense of humor you guys brought to Ed Gein's story, if any.
Eric: Well, I don't think we set out with any kind of intention to have a sense of humor in this book. To me, it's just completely tragic. But there are a few instances that are kind of humorous, but definitely not directed towards his crimes. But there are a few things in the interviews that he did with the crime lab and the psychologist where his responses are just, you can't help but laugh. This guy is just completely detached from any kind of reality of what he's done and talking about the cheese on his pie being dry, and stuff like that. So I felt it was important to add that stuff. It is humorous but it's not intended to be like a snare crash, ba-dum-tiss kind of jokey thing.
Lisa: But I wonder if it's like, you need a sense of humor to write the story, even if you're not writing a funny story. There's something about the sense of humor that's required.
Harold: Hitchcock did regard Psycho as, to some extent, a comedy. But Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which when I first saw it - by the way, I first saw at a screening at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, I found totally harrowing. It took me a few viewings to realize it's a really funny movie too. The over-the-top stuff is really done with a kind of burlesque sensibility. I think to some extent it's a form of the proverbial "whistling past a graveyard." The material is so overwhelmingly awful that approaching it, as you're talking about it with skewed humor, is one way of allowing you to deal with the material.
Eric: I think the perfect example from Chainsaw is when the main character goes to the gas station for help, and he ends up kidnapping her and taking her back to the house. She's tied up in a bag. They bring her in and he says, "Look what your brother did to the door."
Brad: I also think about the scene where the grandpa is trying to hit her over the head. It's the most horrific sequence but he is incapable of lifting this hammer, so there's this level of absurdity that you're laughing at.
Brad: I would say, the comedy, if we can call it in your book, like those comments from Gein in those interrogations, they only go to highlight the tragedy and the horror and the profound sorrow that exists through the entire narrative.
Eric: Right. I think Harold hit the nail on the head with the "whistling past the graveyard" thing. I thought about this quite a bit with The Goon. When I was a kid, I was terrified of zombies. I loved watching zombie movies but they scared me to death. Then I ended up doing a comic that had zombies in it, but it was mostly humor-based. I think that may be some kind of subconscious coping mechanism or something, where you're making fun of the thing that scares you.
Harold: Also, one of the things that interested me when I first wrote my book Deviant about Gein, was the way this true crime got turned into all these movies and stories and so on. I think that's one of the functions that storytelling serves; it allows you to gain some sense of control over this material that really is very, very psychologically unsettling and hard to handle. But you turn it into a story, it gives it shape, meaning. You can comprehend it in a way that you can't really always comprehend horrific violence.
Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done? is published by Albatross Funny Books, and will hit comic book shops on August August 15th, and bookstores everywhere on August 24th.
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