I've always been a fan of true crime stories.  Though you could read superhero comics and never see a caped wonder flying about town, the real world has no shortage of non-fiction bad guys that make garish fops who terrorize Batman look ludicrous in comparison.  There's enough actual evil about that you don't need to make up stuff to portray it.  Who needs Hannibal Lechter when Jeffrey Dahmer is really there with a refrigerator full of bad dates?

Fantagraphics has just released a disturbing collection of tales written and illustrated by the legendary Joe Coleman in a nifty small hardback about the same size and format as those classic Big Little Books from yesteryear, with a page of text on the left and an illustration on the right side.  Only instead of pictures featuring Popeye punching out Bluto, you get nightmarish visuals of hobo rape, jailhouse torture, and one legged prostitutes (all the ingredients for a new HBO drama).  

First up is the story, "You Can't Win", which is based on the memoir by Jack Black, a con-man from the the turn of the 20th century that inspired William S. Burroughs.  As you can imagine, a tale that can get the man who conceived Naked Lunch's juices flowing, it's going to be a trip.

Then you have the story of Boxcar Bertha, one of the more sympathetic but no less interesting sagas in the collection.  One never hears much about female hobos in history, and her experiences are fascinating to say the least.

The last two stories offer journeys in to hell that are perfectly suited for the demonic pen of Coleman.  "Carl Panzram #31614" tells the story of one of the world's sickest serial killers who murdered 21 people all over the world.  So beaten by the system that he had no remorse whatsoever.  When finally hung for his crime, he actually ran up the gallows steps, spit in the executioners face and asked them to hurry up, exclaiming, "I could hang a dozen men while you were fooling around!"

The last story, "The Final Days of Paul John Knowles", looks at the overdue demise of The Boston Strangler. 

Coleman's ability to make each story read as if you're peering into the inner thoughts of the people in the question makes for an eerie and often stomach-churning experience.  If you're one of these people that will buy slapped together crappy paperbacks about Scot Petersen and other famous criminals, you might want to seek out the disturbing quality of Muzzlers, Guzzlers, and Good Yeggs instead.  Just don't leave it around where kids might find it.

-Robert Berry



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