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Thrilling Murder Comics _
excellent writing
exceptional art
historical bonus 3
total score 9
Back Cover
Back Cover
(click for larger image)

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Thrilling Murder Comics
1st Printing / 1971 / 36 pages / San Francisco Comic Book Co.
This is the kind of underground comic your parents would have warned you about if you had been an impressionable teenager in the early 1970s. Presuming, of course, that your parents were even aware of underground comics and that they were totally square and uncool. For the rest of us (or even those who've been properly forewarned), the moment we see Simon Deitch's lurid cover artwork for Thrilling Murder Comics we begin anticipating the grisly violence to be found within. Fair warning: there are spoilers in this review, so please try to read the book before proceeding.

So we open Thrilling Murder to the first page and BOOM! our psyche is blasted by the most vile and disturbing murder ever portrayed in any comic book up to this time.

Jim Osborne is the perpetrator of this outrageous full-page scene, which depicts a demon creature dangling from a man's midsection, like the sinister monster that burst from John Hurt's stomach in Alien. The demon hovers over a naked woman's corpse in a bed, whose throat has been gashed and abdomen sliced open from sternum to pudenda. In one hand the demon grips the bloody cleaver that carved her open, in the other he cradles the living fetus he's extracted from her womb, the umbilical cord stretched taut between mother and child. The barbaric violence is underscored by the use of red ink on the page, which colors every pool and flowing rivulet of blood.

This gruesome red-black-and-white splash page introduces Osborne's eight-page story "Kid Kill," though it illustrates a scene from later in the story. "Kid Kill" portrays Jim Osborne playing himself as an underground cartoonist who takes a bunch of speed to inspire productivity, which works at first but soon manifests a "speed fiend" that's physically connected to his torso. Jim calls the demon Ignatz (in honor of Krazy Kat's brick-throwing nemesis) and when the demon first appears he tries to force him back inside his body, but Ignatz only laughs and smacks Jim around.

Ignatz takes full control of Jim's body and forces him to walk the streets and commit extreme violence. Jim's first act is to kick a baby out of his carriage and crush his head into the pavement, which is depicted in every savage detail. Then they head over to the Tampico Hotel, where Jim's ex-girlfriend is asleep in a room on the third floor. Jim and Ignatz sneak into the room and attack the sleeping (and pregnant) woman, creating the bloody fiasco shown on the splash page.

Throughout the story, we also follow a callous homicide detective named Frisco, who knew Jim when he was a kid ("I remember when I used ta jounce th' little joker on my knee!") and declares that he "always knew th' punk'd turn out rotten!" Frisco investigates the murdered woman in the hotel and quickly suspects Jim because of the horrifying cartoons Jim had created for a comic book. Frisco promptly tracks down Jim's residence and confronts him and Ignatz in a violent showdown.

Thrilling Murder firmly establishes that there would be no level of violence too extreme for this book, which is emphasized by the use of red ink to color every page where blood is spilled. Bill Griffith follows "Kid Kill" with a seven-page Mr. Toad story called "A Fine Way to Die," but Griffith doesn't have the ghoulish mind set to deliver anything as shocking as Osborne. Still, it's an entertaining story about Mr. Toad's relationship with a woman with an alcoholic husband.

Following a blood-soaked S. Clay Wilson center spread (you knew Wilson had to be in this book, didn't you? And can you resist a Wilson panel with red highlights?) and another, tamer three-pager by Osborne, Robert Crumb delivers the four-page classic "Jumpin' Jack Flash." This is one of Crumb's most notorious misogynistic stories and one that Trina Robbins has referenced when calling Crumb out for his depictions of women.

Jack Flash is a Charles Manson-in-the-'60s-type character; a skinny, barefoot, long-haired bohemian with huge, penetrating eyes who leads a cult of young women who are blindly devoted to him and every word he utters. The story opens with Jack sitting on a patch of grass with a new convert to the cult, telling her to "give up every thing… accept the truth… the self is an illusion…." The young woman becomes entranced by Jack and mimics his words back to him. When she achieves the appropriate hypnotic state, Jack stands up to shit into her mouth, saying, "I shit on your face… my shit tasteth like roses… eat of my shit…." The woman gobbles up the feces and then proclaims, "Mm… that was good! We are one…"

Properly indoctrinated, Jack introduces the new recruit to the rest of the cult, comprised of five other pretty young women. He proceeds to hold court by sitting on top of one woman and having another give him a blow job, which he declares will be the greatest moment of her life. As he gets ready to climax he hands a large knife to a third woman and says, "You may do the honors." The third woman plunges the knife into the back of the woman giving Jack the blow job, killing her. Jack announces that, "You have all just witnessed a moment of truth!" Then a fourth woman stabs the third woman and a fifth woman stabs the fourth, all of them in a frenzied state and believing that killing is fun.

In the end, Jack is the only survivor of the cult. He kneels atop a mound of six naked, dead female corpses who all have cum gurgling from their still-warm vaginas. Jack holds the legs apart of the woman on top of the heap, fucking the corpse while staring back at the reading audience, declaring, "I am you… anything you see in me is you… when you can admit that, you will be free… I am just a mirror…." Crumb ends the story with a seemingly incongruous epitaph "…Which proves once again that women are no goddamn good!"

The murder trial of the real Charles Manson had ended with his guilty verdict in January 1971, which gave Crumb plenty of time to read up on the incredible story behind the murders. He does a pretty good job of emulating Manson's powerful influence on his cult members and their utter disregard for human life. Jack Flash is portrayed as an evil character and his followers as dumb women, but most readers were either sickened or secretly enthralled by the bloody violence in the story. Certainly Trina Robbins found the whole thing disgusting, declaring that "Crumb became such a culture hero that his comics told everybody else that it was okay to draw this heavily misogynistic stuff."

The book concludes with a pair of four-pagers by Kim Deitch and Spain Rodriguez, the former being particularly effective with his portrayal of a bizarre love triangle involving a chicken farmer and his wife. But cutting the heads off chickens (or fucking them) cannot hold a candle to Osborne's or Crumb's graphic stories of depraved murderers.

Thrilling Murder Comics is obviously not for everyone. The featured stories are violent and depraved in the same way that Kosmic City Komix, D.O.A. Comix (which reprinted "Kid Kill" without the extra red ink), Cunt Comics and The Legion of Charlies are. But when it comes to setting new boundaries for heinous violence, there are few that can approach Thrilling Murder, so it shall always remain one of the most notorious undergrounds in the history of the genre.
There are two printings of this comic book, both by San Francisco Comic Book Company and both with 50-cent cover prices. The official way to tell them apart is by the cover stock, which is glossy on the 1st printing and matte on the 2nd printing. The matte coating is fairly dull and if you compare both printings side by side the difference is readily apparent. But don't buy a 1st printing blindly, as a seller could look at the matte coating and think, "yeah, it's got some shine to it."
My 2nd printing is trimmed measurably larger than the 1st printing, by about 1/8 inch all the way around, and it shows more of the woman's body than the 1st printing. So if you see a hint of an areola on the woman's breast, chances are that's a 2nd printing. Kind of worth having a 2nd printing just for that....
Greg Irons contributes the inside front cover artwork, which is also colored with red ink and shows a big brute stabbing a punk through the chest with a bunch of corpses littering the floor. Though not nearly as ghastly as Osborne's splash page for "Kid Kill," it does make for quite a two-page display of gore when combined with it.
Simon Deitch - 1, 36
Greg Irons - 2
Jim Osborne - 3-10, 20-22
S. Clay Wilson - 18-19, 35
Bill Griffith 11-17
Robert Crumb - 23-26
Kim Deitch - 27-30
Span Rodriguez - 31-34
Thrilling Murder 2nd
2nd Printing
Matte cover stock.