This photograph shows Ed Kemper’s mother’s car as he left it after killing her. He parked it on a different street in their neighbourhood so that people would think that she wasn’t home.
Kemper talks about it in his confessions in 1973 following his arrest: “So, I drank some beer I think that afternoon, Saturday, and was sitting around the house. I had some time during Saturday also, took the keys to my mother’s car and drove it out to an area not far from our home, but a street that I knew our family and friends wouldn’t be driving up. I parked my mother’s car there, locked it up, took the keys home and I think I left them there, I’m not sure, I may have taken them along.”
Thanks to author Emerson Murray for providing this information. He is currently writing a book on the Frazier-Mullin-Kemper crimes in Santa Cruz during the early 1970s, Murder Capital of the world, to be released in 2021.
Ed Kemper, 6’9”, 280 pounds, is an American serial killer nicknamed “the Ogre of Santa Cruz”. Cannibal and necrophiliac, he has been convicted of eight murders including that of his own mother. It is with him that the term serial killer and the methods of profiling were first used.
Writer Thomas Mosdi (author of the Succubes book series) and illustrator David Jouvent (The Dragons of the Red City) retrace the journey of the serial killer who inspired the character of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, in a graphic novel that is both exciting and terrifying.
I was really looking forward to reading Ed Kemper – Dans la peau d’un serial killer (Under a serial killer’s skin) to see how this story that Kemper followers know so well would be told. Not being a comic book reader, I really liked this graphic novel, which is well told and beautifully drawn and colorized.
Indeed, the drawings are superb and present the facts realistically without overdoing it. The California of the 1970s is credibly represented with warm colors and images that evoke well this seaside resort that is Santa Cruz. The attention to detail in the boxes is impressive. David Jouvent is very good at drawing the Kemper character, his face, his stature. The general treatment is not particularly gory, we can feel the respect for the victims and their families.
As for the narrative thread, it is skillfully constructed around an incident that occurred during Kemper’s trial in 1973 when a doctor administered Methedrine, a methamphetamine drug that made Kemper delirious for several days and made him see his life with great lucidity and realize the horror of his crimes. [see this post for details about this incident].
This narrative structure allows to tell the story entirely from Kemper’s point of view through a narration, as if we were in his head and could hear his thoughts, his inner voice, helping us to better understand his psychological journey. The story takes a non-linear look back at key moments in Kemper’s life, such as the abuse at the hands of his mother, the murder of his grandmother, his stay at the Atascadero psychiatric hospital and the kidnapping of Mary Ann Pesce and Anita Luchessa. The story also allows us to go into Kemper’s delirium and to rub shoulders with his demons and fantasies (severed heads, zombie victims, his mother as a snake, etc.).
This graphic novel is aimed at an informed audience who, ideally, already knows a little bit about Ed Kemper’s story. For readers less familiar with his case, it may be difficult to realize the magnitude of his crimes, and to differentiate between his fantasies and reality. The crimes are not shown, nor is the trial. Some victims, such as Rosalind Thorpe, Alice Liu and Sara Hallett, are mentioned in passing without telling what happened to them.
Only one regret: it would have been nice, for a few of the flashback scenes, to insert dialogue between Kemper and other characters, like with his mother for example, to see Kemper in action and not just in reflection.
In short, a graphic novel that I enjoyed thoroughly but I know won’t please everyone. Some people may find this kind of book unhealthy, but I believe that it’s relevant to look into a criminal’s mind and dark soul to try to understand what motivates someone to commit such extreme acts.
**Version française de la critique**
Présentation de l’éditeur :
Ed Kemper, 2m10, 130 kilos, est un serial killer américain surnommé « l’Ogre de Santa Cruz ». Cannibale et nécrophile, il a été condamné pour huit meurtres dont celui de sa propre mère. C’est avec lui que l’on a utilisé pour la première fois le terme de tueur en série et les méthodes du profiling.
Le scénariste Thomas Mosdi (auteur des Succubes) et le dessinateur David Jouvent (Les dragons de la cité rouge) retracent le parcours du tueur en série qui a inspiré le personnage d’Hannibal Lecter dans Le Silence des Agneaux, dans une Bd à la fois passionnante et terrifiante.
J’avais très hâte de lire Ed Kemper – Dans la peau d’un serial killer pour voir comment serait racontée cette histoire que les amateurs de Kemper connaissent bien. N’étant pas une lectrice de bande dessinée, j’ai beaucoup aimé cette Bd, qui est bien racontée et superbement dessinée et colorée.
En effet, les dessins sont magnifiques et présentent les faits de façon réaliste sans en faire trop. La Californie des années 1970 est représentée de façon crédible avec des couleurs chaudes et des images qui évoquent bien cette station balnéaire qu’est Santa Cruz. L’attention portée aux détails dans les cases impressionne. David Jouvent réussit particulièrement bien le personnage de Kemper, son visage, sa stature. Le traitement général n’est pas particulièrement gore, on sent le respect pour les victimes et leurs familles.
Pour ce qui est de la trame narrative, elle est habilement construite autour d’un incident qui s’est produit pendant le procès de Kemper en 1973 alors qu’un médecin lui a administré du Methedrine, une drogue méthamphétamine qui a fait délirer Kemper pendant plusieurs jours et lui a fait voir sa vie avec une grande lucidité et réaliser toute l’horreur de ses crimes. [voir ce post en anglais pour les détails sur cet incident.]
Cette structure narrative permet de raconter l’histoire entièrement du point de vue de Kemper par une narration, comme si on était dans sa tête et que l’on entendait ses pensées, sa voix intérieure, nous aidant ainsi à mieux comprendre son cheminement psychologique. L’on fait ainsi des retours en arrière non linéaires où l’on revisite les moments clés de l’existence de Kemper, tels l’abus aux mains de sa mère, le meurtre de sa grand-mère, son séjour à l’hôpital psychiatrique d’Atascadero et le kidnapping de Mary Ann Pesce et Anita Luchessa. Cela permet aussi d’aller dans le délire de Kemper et de côtoyer ses démons et fantasmes (têtes coupées, victimes zombies, sa mère en serpent, etc.)
Cette Bd s’adresse à un public averti qui, idéalement, connaît déjà un peu l’histoire d’Ed Kemper. Pour les lecteurs moins familiers avec son histoire, il peut être difficile de se rendre compte de l’ampleur de ses crimes, et de faire la différence entre ses fantasmes et la réalité. Les crimes ne sont pas montrés, ni le procès. On évoque au passage certaines victimes, comme Rosalind Thorpe, Alice Liu et Sara Hallett, sans raconter ce qui leur est arrivé.
Un seul regret : il aurait été bien, pour quelques-unes des scènes de flashbacks, d’insérer des dialogues entre Kemper et d’autres personnages, comme avec sa mère par exemple, pour voir Kemper en action et pas seulement en réflexion.
Bref, une Bd que j’ai beaucoup appréciée mais qui, je le sais, ne plaira pas à tout le monde. Certaines personnes peuvent trouver ce genre de livre malsain, mais je crois qu’il est pertinent d’étudier l’esprit et le côté sombre de l’âme d’un criminel pour essayer de comprendre ce qui motive une personne à commettre des actes aussi extrêmes.
Sources: All images were taken from the following Facebook pages: David Jouvent’s personal page and Ed Kemper Chronicles / English title is our translation.
“[Reporter Marj von B] gave me a pen that day, it was a cast aluminum ballpoint pen, and I took it back to my high-security jail cell up in Redwood City. I was really slammed down tight: a two-man cell by myself. They have a camera on me 24-hours a day. The lights are on-two sets of these four-footers-it’s bright as day 24-hours a day, and I was there for five months, and I get strip shook leaving the cell and strip shook coming back in. I brought the pen in with my legal papers, and a few months later in the middle of the trial, I smashed the pen on the floor with my boot, sharpened it-got a sharp edge on the metal-and slashed my wrist. I was bleeding all over the place. It was very messy and very exciting, and everybody was dragging me off to the hospital and I got sewed up. I got shot up with industrial strength mace. They had about a quart of it and they just gassed me with that whole thing and dragged me off to the hospital.” […]
“At one point I could see every aspect of my life, my crimes, who I was, how I really felt about things without any defensive or protective accoutrements. It was fascinating to me: I was semi-conscious-actually, I was conscious, I just couldn’t get up and move around a lot, and at the end of the two hours, I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to keep on with this. I hadn’t gotten to the crimes themselves, I was kind of oriented around other things related to my life. I asked to continue on, and the doctor didn’t want to, so I insisted. They were using an IV and shot me up with another two-hour batch of this stuff, and as soon as he was done with what he wanted to do, he got up and left.”
“He had an appointment and it had gone longer than he had planned on it so he had to leave and my lawyer had to go. So, I’m stuck with these two deputies and a registered nurse watching me until I come down off of this stuff. Well, when the doctor left, he decided to give me a shot of medicine to snap me out of this, and I asked him what it was, and he said it was Methedrine-hospital-grade speed. I’ve asked doctors since then, both medical doctors and psychiatrists, if that was an appropriate action, and they said absolutely not. They should have left me sleep it off. It is suggested that the doctor knew full well it would put me through hell. It amplified everything I was feeling, it got me really down, and for two days after that they were trying to scrape me off the ceiling-they couldn’t even talk to me. I was raving and ranting. They had to put me in a strip cell because I refused to go back to my regular cell. There was television available there. I had canteen. I had some food items, but I wouldn’t accept it.” […]
“Under the influence of those drugs, I was seeing what I did through other people’s eyes, not through mine; as someone else would view it-pure horror-how someone with nothing to do with violence in their life would see it. It was an awful experience. Within hours of coming down off that stuff two days later, I wasn’t making comments like that, [my] defenses were back in place-they were a bit ruffled. It had been an eye-opening experience because it gave me some perspectives on my case that I would never forget-some anxieties on my case that I would never forget-and all I can give you to gauge it by is that when I went into that hospital, the nurse came out-she was the typical battle-axe, professional nurse, been on the job for twenty years… great woman… with the wheelchair, severe stern face, and she’s looking at me with razor blades.”
“I’m in the chair and she wheels me inside. Five hours later when I come out of there, she’s wheeling me out and as I’m getting into the car, I’ve got this tortured look on my face. I’ve been crying and tearing at myself. She looks at me with this very compassionate look, and she says, “Good luck.” She got a good look at what was really inside. She was already aware of the evil I was capable of and the horror that happened in the case, and then she saw a lot of my real feelings. With her knowledge of chemicals and medicine and treatments, she knew I wasn’t faking. So, from her I got good luck and she was serious. I’ve never seen her since, but ironically, the deputies that were stuck with me that day, they figured ‘he’s so outraged right now, let’s just keep him here until he calms down a bit, then we’ll take him back to jail.’”
“But I didn’t calm down. I just kept going on and on, and at one point I asked the deputies to handcuff me to the rails of the bed because I was afraid I would rip my eyes out. I was really acting up, and he had known me for a few months and he didn’t want to do that. He said, “Oh, come on Ed, that’s not really necessary.” I said, “Man, you better put them on, or I’m going to tear that goddamn gun belt off and blast you, and I might beat you to death with it.” So, he comes over with the cuffs. He was a little offended by that… so he came over with the cuffs and started putting them on my wrists and I just went through some incredible convulsion and I just yanked him clear across the bed. He had the other hand cuffed already. Zing! Off he goes, he’s hanging onto this handcuff and at that point he cuffed me up real quick and finished and I already had my leg irons at the foot of the bed and I was just yanking those rails up and down with my wrists. That was very painful with handcuffs on. We went like that for a few hours and finally they said, “We got to get him back to jail, he’s not going to change in the near future.”
Sources: Interview with Stéphane Bourgoin, from “Serial Killers” (1991) / Kemper on Kemper by Peter Scott Jr. / Photo from Getty Images
David Jouvent is the illustrator of the graphic novel Ed Kemper – Dans la peau d’un serial killer (Under a serial killer’s skin), published in French in September 2020. We asked him a few questions about the creation of this unique work.
EKS: Why did you create an album about Ed Kemper? Where did you get the idea? What was your inspiration?
DJ: The idea originally came from Jean-Luc Istin who, in 2009, had created a collection on serial killers for Soleil. He came across my work while viewing the book of my colorist Axel Gonzalbo. As he was looking for someone to draw a one-shot on Kemper… and as I had set up a project with Thomas Mosdi… things happened very naturally. To put it in context, at the time, Big Ed was totally unknown to the general public. Only a handful of insiders knew about him and there were very few articles on the net and even less pictures!! This obviously changed dramatically with the success of the Mindhunter series. My references in terms of serial killers came from Thomas Harris’ work, Psycho (by Hitchcock) and Chris Carter’s Millenium series (which I liked very much) with Lance Henriksen where there was a lot of talk about serial killers in season 1.
EKS: How was the collaboration between Thomas, Axel and you during the creation of the album?
DJ: First of all, we exchanged a lot of documentation of all kinds… I wanted to make sure that the places and atmospheres of the times fit together perfectly. For me, it is essential to be credible in my visuals, so that the reader has no doubt when he sees a telephone or inadequate vegetation (the vegetation in California is not the same as in Alaska!) As an anecdote, I had pushed the vice to the point of reproducing in detail the broken headlight of his car or the exact plate number! (laughs) Without forgetting the sticker of the university where his mother, Clarnell, worked…
EKS: You made some narrative choices for the script, such as excluding the trial and the murders of his grandfather, Rosalind Thorpe, Alice Liu and Sara Hallett (they are mentioned, but not shown). How did you decide what was to be shown or not shown?
DJ: The important thing (and the concept) was to speak from Ed’s point of view, how he saw things, so there was no room for the representation of the victims! If only out of respect for their families. Exit all that is gore, we were not there to make vulgar sensationalism. Just to put ourselves in this man’s skin for a moment, and try to catch a glimpse of his motivations and feelings. If this can give some kind of explanation to his (incomprehensible) actions, because we all ask ourselves this question: “how can one reach such extremes?”.
EKS: The structure of the narrative is in flashbacks with as a starting point the moment when Kemper is delirious in prison following an injection of medication that makes him revisit the events of his past. This allows you to tell the story from Kemper’s point of view and walk through his narrative. How did you come to structure the story in this way?
DJ: Indeed, this anecdote was blessed bread!! It’s more of a question to ask my screenwriter (laughs)!
EKS: For the drawings and colors, what were your aesthetic inspirations?
DJ: The idea was to give an atmosphere reminiscent of California and the 1970’s… warm colors, in a dominant sepia.
EKS: Are you working on a new project right now? If so, can you tell us a few words about it?
DJ: I have a fantasy western project based on Native American legends… but, the context is not very favorable at the moment… more to follow.
EKS: Thanks David!
**Version française de l’entrevue avec David Jouvent**
David Jouvent est le dessinateur de la bande dessinée Ed Kemper – Dans la peau d’un serial killer, parue en français en septembre 2020. Nous lui avons posé quelques questions au sujet de la création de cette œuvre unique.
EKS : Pourquoi avoir créé un album sur Ed Kemper? D’où t’es venue l’idée? Quelle a été ton inspiration?
DJ : L’idée provient au départ de Jean-Luc Istin qui, en 2009, avait créé une collection sur les tueurs en série chez Soleil. Il était tombé sur mon travail en visionnant le book de mon coloriste Axel Gonzalbo. Comme il cherchait quelqu’un pour dessiner un one-shot sur Kemper… et que j’avais monté un projet avec Thomas Mosdi… les choses se sont faites très naturellement. Pour remettre dans le contexte, à l’époque, Big Ed était totalement inconnu du grand public. Seule une poignée d’initiés connaissait et l’on trouvait très peu d’articles sur le net et encore moins de photos !!! Cela a évidemment fortement changé avec le succès de la série Mindhunter. Mes références en termes de tueurs en série étaient issues de l’œuvre de Thomas Harris, Psychose (de Hitchcock) et la série Millenium (que j’affectionnais beaucoup) de Chris Carter avec Lance Henriksen où il était énormément question de tueurs en série dans la saison 1 !
EKS : Comment s’est déroulée la collaboration entre Thomas, Axel et toi pendant la création de l’album?
DJ : Nous nous sommes d’abord beaucoup échangés de la documentation de toutes sortes… je tenais à ce que les lieux et ambiances des époques collent parfaitement. Pour moi, il est essentiel d’être crédible dans mes visuels, que le lecteur n’ait pas de doute en voyant un téléphone ou une végétation inadéquate (la végétation de la Californie n’étant pas la même qu’en Alaska !) Pour anecdote, j’avais poussé le vice jusqu’à reproduire dans le détail le phare cassé de sa voiture ou le numéro de plaque exact ! (rires) Sans oublier l’autocollant de l’université où travaillait sa mère, Clarnell…
EKS : Vous avez fait certains choix narratifs pour le scénario, comme par exemple, vous avez exclus le procès ainsi que les meurtres de son grand-père, Rosalind Thorpe, Alice Liu et Sara Hallett (ils sont mentionnés, mais pas montrés). Comment avez-vous choisi ce qui allait être montré ou non?
DJ : L’important (et le concept) était de parler du point de vue d’Ed, c’est sa vision des choses, donc, la représentation des victimes n’y avait pas sa place ! Ne serait-ce que par respect pour leurs familles. Exit tout ce qui est gore, nous n’étions pas là pour faire du sensationnalisme vulgaire. Juste se mettre dans la peau de cet homme un moment, et tâcher d’entrevoir ses motivations et ressentis. Si cela peut donner une forme d’explication à ses actes (incompréhensibles), car on se pose tous cette question : “comment peut-on arriver à de telles extrêmes ?”
EKS : La structure du récit est en flashbacks avec comme point de départ, le moment où Kemper délire en prison suite à une injection de médicaments qui le fait revisiter les événements de son passé. Cela vous permet de raconter l’histoire du point de vue de Kemper et de vous promener dans son récit. Comment en êtes-vous venus à structurer le récit ainsi?
DJ : Effectivement, cette anecdote était du pain béni !!! C’est plus une question à poser à mon scénariste (rires) !
EKS : Pour les dessins et les couleurs, quelles ont été vos inspirations esthétiques?
DJ : L’idée était de donner une ambiance qui rappelle la Californie et les années 1970… des couleurs chaudes, dans une dominante sépia.
EKS : Travailles-tu sur un nouveau projet de BD en ce moment? Si oui, peux-tu nous en dire quelques mots?
DJ : J’ai un projet de western fantastique basé sur des légendes amérindiennes… mais, le contexte n’est pas très propice en ce moment… à suivre.
EKS : Merci David!
Sources: All photos were taken from the following Facebook pages: David Jouvent’s personal page and Ed Kemper Chronicles/ English title is our translation.