I got a nerd bug up my ass and bought a bunch of comics the other day. I reread Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. It’s still awesome. I had the individual comics once upon a time, but I’m not sure what ever happened to them. One of those growing up and moving all your stuff out of your parents’ house things, probably. Kind of sad, really. The trade paperback version is basically the same, with one extra Happy Noodle Boy. Also, I feel like the subliminal messages are different, but I have no way to prove that. It might just mean that they’re not as easy to read since I’m not stoned all the time anymore. But whatever. I realized, too, that Johnny looks like me in high school. Stupid 90′s. Urgh. Fucking mortifying, that. Moving on.
It’s trippy comic book art at its finest. Vasquez has a really great, super simple, pen-and-ink-meets-woodcut kind of style. The characters are somewhat bobble-headed and the perspective is skewed or off-kilter most of the time. All done in black and white, which makes the blood splattery bits even more striking. There are a lot of fun, subtle details in the background of each panel, too. Little treats for the very close observer. It does date itself with all the goth jokes, but having been there I think it holds up pretty well (nostalgia counts for a lot there, for some reason). And all the girls have undercuts. Remember undercuts? What the hell was that about?
Living up to his name, Johnny’s fucking twisted. He’s such a psycho. Page after page of the most creative, interesting ways to kill people. It’s hilarious. I love it. For the same reason I love zombie and slasher flicks, I guess. There’s something really purgative and awesome about watching people do abhorrent stuff that we’ve thought about but would never do. It’s just an outlet. A pressure valve. It appeals to our baser instincts. JTHM is the oh-so-very deliciously gory result of that idea. I honestly don’t know if the intention is satire or pure shock value. Could legitimately be both. I’m ok with that. I love me some hyperbole. I’m also (on a seemingly unrelated note) a rabid Tarantino fan, so I don’t mind a bit of violence if it’s done with some finesse, you know? Some style, some class. Yeah, the book is awful damn bloody, but there’s a point to it. Or, at least, one could read into it and find a point, were one so inclined.
Cue the violence in the media conversation: apparently it impacts the weak minds of our stupid children, making them into murder robots because they can’t think for themselves and we can’t, obviously, as busy adults, be bothered to parent them (but they turn around and cut school funding – whaa?). Then these heathen brats who are somehow trained killers lose their shit and lash out and kill a bunch of people who have wronged them in a gruesome cloud of vengeance! And it’s all society’s fault. Can we just grow up a little bit here, talk about this like adults? Seeing gore on a screen or a page doesn’t mean that you should think it’s ok and go out and do it. Here’s my theory. We tend to forget what we absorb pretty quickly in our soundbite (soundbyte?) culture, right? So if you watch a lot of horror movies or read a lot of gory books (especially comics), you become desensitized. It all becomes cartoonish, almost. You end up thinking in more realistic terms when it comes to your own actions and reactions. You know, if your brain is healthy and all. This is just me talking out of my ass about anger management, though. Shrinks would probably disagree with me. They have, actually. But I stand by my statement. I also love that wacky heavy metal, so maybe don’t take my word on this stuff. (Disclaimer: Horror movies are not therapy. Ass covered.)
But why is it always just violence that gets all the blame? Other things don’t seem to come up as often in our “bad influences in the media” discussions. Theft, fraud, lying, cheating, drug use. Or sex. Jesus, don’t even get me started on sex in the media. That’s not a blog, it’s a goddamn dissertation. Maybe the real problem is that we don’t intellectualize or rationalize violence. Too visceral. Our culture has to account for the lowest common denominator and assume that monkey-see-monkey-do will be a pretty typical reaction. Which is fucking pathetic, but I won’t say it’s invalid.
Bottom line, if you don’t mind a lot of blood in black and white, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac is fan-freakin’-tastic in a sick, snarky way. I highly recommend. Get thee to a comic shop.
(To give credit where credit is due, the version I have is: JTHM: the Director’s Cut by Jhonen Vasquez, Slave Labor Graphics, 1997, ISBN 9780943151168)