This is a guest post from Charley Macorn. Charley is a writer and comedian from Missoula, Mt. When not gazing into the void, Charley is hard at work on the next issues of the rebooted Jill Trent, Science Sleuth published by Superdames Comics. Follow Charley on Twitter @CharleyMacorn.
Sometimes the fantastic horrors created by the mind can’t hold a candle to true terrors that stalk our the real world. Here are five true crime comics books guaranteed to keep you up at night. Be warned, it’s gonna get a little gruesome.
My Friend Dahmer by Derf
Before he was a world-renowned and award-winning cartoonist, John Backderf was a typical high schooler growing up in the midwest. He went to classes, snuck beer on the weekends, and hung out with his friends. Except one of his friends would go one to become one of the most depraved serial killers in American history. My Friend Dahmer chronicles Backderf’s teenage friendship with the future Milwaukee Cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer. Using police reports, interviews with former classmates, and Backderf’s own high school drawings, My Friend Dahmer dives into the formative years of the infamous killer. A tall, awkward boy, Jeffry Dahmer escaped a truly nightmarish home life to find some level of acceptance in high school as the de facto mascot for Backderf and his circle of friends. But with the unstoppable urge to kill growing, Dahmer struggles with his own dark nature, with tragic results. The book never glorifies Dahmer, nor does it makes excuses for his monstrous actions. It does, however, show the tragic consequences of what happens when a man on the brink of destruction is failed by every system that should save him.
Crime Does Not Pay by Virginia Hubbell, Charles Biro, Bob Wood, George Tuska and various others
The granddaddy of all True Crime comic books, Crime Does Not Pay kicked off the genre in the 1940s by publishing true (or at least true enough) tales of murders, gangsters and gunfighters. At the height of its popularity, the anthology sold over a million copies every month and went on to spawn both a popular radio series and a successful run of short films produced by MGM. In fact, the only reason the book ever ended in the first place was the harsh restrictions placed on horror and crime comics by the newly minted Comics Code Authority in the early 1950s. Dark Horse Comics has been beautifully publishing reprints of this seminal series for the last few years now, and they’re all worth spending a late night reading.
Torso by Brian Michael Bendis and Marc Andreyko
Between 1935 and 1938, an unknown person or persons dismembered at least twelve people, depositing the unidentifiable remains across the city of Cleveland. Blending actual crime scenes photographs and newspaper articles of the time with comic art, Torso recounts the efforts of law enforcement, most notably Elliot Ness of the Untouchables fame, to put an end to this butchery. With its sharp dialogue and cinematic design, Torso recounts this bloody time in America with an unflinching gaze. While the creators do take some liberties with names, faces, and characters, the sheer terror created by the Torso Killer, and those fighting to stop the killings, creates an unforgettable true story.
Green River Killer by Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case
After 20 years and nearly fifty murders (that we know of), DNA evidence finally brought an end to the reign of terror inflicted upon the Pacific Northwest by Gary Ridgway, better known at the Green River Killer. Based on the 180 days of interviews between Ridgway and Detective Tom Jensen, the man who spent decades trying to identify and apprehend the killer almost singlehandedly, Green River Killer recounts the years of shocking brutality as a tense and thrilling police procedural. Penned by Detective Jensen’s own son, it also serves as an examination of the emotional turmoil and frustration faced by those spend their lives battling the world’s real monsters.
The Lindbergh Child by Rick Geary
Rick Geary’s work could probably take up this entire list. For years, the veteran cartoonist has produced dozens of thrilling and frightening tomes exploring famous (and infamous) crimes committed across the centuries. But it is his 2009 exploration of the 1932 kidnapping and murder of famed aviator Charles Lindbergh’s infant son, and all the strange and unsolved details about the case, that brings out the best in Geary. His stark and clean black lines and sparse white backgrounds, as well as his distinct breakneck storytelling, recreate how celebrity, murder, and money led to the very first “Trial of the Century.”
What are your favorite true crime comics? Check out all our comics coverage here.