My main function as an employee of Nostalgia Zone is to grab a short box of comic books (150 or so), bring them home, enter them into our online catalog, and bring them back to the store and file them in their proper places. It’s essentially data entry, but way more fun because it’s comic books.
In the process of gathering data to enter, one of the tools I use is comics.org. That website is invaluable to me. It has an incredible amount of information on virtually every comic book ever made. I use it to get publication dates, artist and writer information, publishing companies, etc. I’ll also use it to make certain the comic book in my hand and the one entered in our catalog are the same. (Not all of our online entries include an image of the cover.) Comics.org helps with that because they have images of the covers, so when there are multiple series of the same name I’ll know I have it right.
Comics.org includes the variant covers as well. Variant covers became a big deal in the ’90s and, apparently, it’s still a thing today.
So, there I was entering comic books into the catalog when I came upon the Avatar Press series Crossed. I had never heard of Crossed or Avatar Press. Oh, boy. Was I in for an eye-opening (and stomach-turning) experience. Avatar Press produces some pretty edgy stuff, to say the least.
I was aware of the “torture porn” genre of horror films (I’m a fan of horror films, but “torture porn” ain’t my bag), but I hadn’t thought there was a comic book equivalent. Until yesterday, anyway. That’s when I first laid eyes on Crossed: Psychopath #1.
I went through my usual process and saw that this comic book had several variant covers. The one we have is the least disturbing of the batch (see below).
Let me give you a quick idea of what the Crossed series (there are several) are all about. They are pretty much zombie stories. However, these zombies aren’t your typical slow moving, dimwitted zombies come back to life to eat brains. And they aren’t the fast moving, crazy, diseased people as depicted in the film 28 Days Later.
No, these zombies are people with a particular infection that leaves them as intelligent as they would normally be, but completely devoid of empathy, compassion, love, caring. They have lost all control over any violent tendencies they might have. In fact, they wantonly, gleefully! indulge in any and every evil act they can conceive. They have an irresistible drive to infect others. The infection is spread by bodily fluids and they come up with every disturbing, depraved, violent way of spreading their fluids to those victims they let live.
And they love to torture, maim, rape, and kill. These zombies are cannibals, much the same as most other zombies; however, these victims of the Crossed infection may resort to eating their own limbs should the idea strike their fancy.
The pages (and variant covers) are filled with torture and rape; slashed bodies; exposed brains; severed limbs; decapitations; terrorized people, including children; and blood. Lots and lots of blood.
Who writes this stuff? Who draws it? Who reads it?!
Actually, the artists and writers of these books aren’t exactly hacks trying to use shock value to compensate for lack of talent. The artwork is very well done and Avatar Press has some good writers. Writers that include Garth Ennis (the award winning writer of Preacher, Hellblazer, and Judge Dredd) and Alan Moore (the award winning writer of V For Vendetta, Swamp Thing, Watchman, and Batman: The Killing Joke), both are very talented and well-respected creators.
As to who reads it? Well… I just don’t know.
So, I was looking through the variant covers (I won’t post any here, but I will post links you can follow if you’re curious enough) for Crossed: Psychopath #1. There is a cover that is a wrap-around (art on both front and back) showing innocent children happily getting on a playground slide that feeds them into a wood chipper. The remains of the chipped children are shown splashing through the air covering everything and everyone in blood and guts. Much to the delight of the infected.
This is some very sick, twisted sh#t!
I was appalled! But I was more upset by one of the alternative covers for that same issue that shows a terrified child seeing the hanging, nude, slashed, and bloodied body of a woman, I presume to be the child’s mother. Standing behind the child we see one of the infected holding a bloody butcher knife. WTF?!
I should have stopped there, but I just couldn’t. I checked other issues with variant covers. I looked at Crossed: Family Values #1. There is one cover that, in particular, got to me. Again it involved a small child completely terrified, crying with no hope of being comforted; because she was surrounded by three infected women, covered in blood, smiling as though taking a family picture and completely enjoying the evil they are creating…
It was then that I actually began to feel faint. Now, believe me, I don’t normally have a very squeamish nature. At least not overwhelmingly squeamish. I’ve see some pretty nasty images in my life. I’ve seen disturbing art. I’ve even drawn some awfully visceral stuff myself. But the whole concept of these comic books and the depiction of those crying children got a bit too much for me.
I do have a history of panic attacks and passing out. So, I have experienced that feeling of beginning to go, as it were. I have learned how to get myself back together and keep from completely losing consciousness. I managed to calm myself down and keep my senses.
Now, don’t get the idea that I think these comics shouldn’t exist. I’m a staunch supporter of the First Amendment. I believe that if a comic book company wants to produce “torture porn” they damn well have that right. Sure, prohibit minors from purchasing it until they are old enough and mature enough to handle it. Of course, at 51, I think I’ve demonstrated I still may not be able to handle it. But, if there are people who enjoy this sick and twisted sh#t? Well, that’s their bag.
I was reminded that there was a time when comic books came under fire in the 1950s. The US Senate had a subcommittee hold hearings on how EC Comics was leading to juvenile delinquency. Senator Estes Kefauver (and you thought I wasn’t going to explain the headline reference) was particularly upset by the cover of Crime SuspenStories #22 (see below).
The good Senator from Tennessee grilled EC Comics’ publisher William Gaines, who would later publish the brilliant satire magazine Mad, over the tastelessness of the cover depicting a man holding a bloody axe in one hand and a woman’s severed head in the other. Gaines thought the cover was fine and said that kids were not the intended audience, but he didn’t mention he had the artist tone it down a little before going to press.
Those hearings lead to the formation of the Comics Code Authority (CCA) to make sure comic books weren’t too detrimental to America’s youth. The CCA held sway over what was permissible in comic books, so if any publisher wanted their stamp of approval, they’d have to toe the line. The CCA began losing its grip on the publishers in the 2000s and by 2011 had ceased to exist.
I may not be into “torture porn” comic books and movies, but there are people who enjoy that sort of thing. I support their right to consume such material and the right of creators to produce it. I just won’t be buying any of it any time soon. And, with any luck, I won’t be entering any more into our online catalog.
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