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‘Red Room: Trigger Warnings’ TPB (review)

Written and Illustrated by Ed Piskor
Published by Fantagraphics Books

 

This is a far cry from the Hip Hop Family Tree books!

Ed Piskor has devised a horror anthology that would make Eli Roth blush, with all its horrific decapitations, eviscerations, immolations, vivisections, and other unholy manglings and rearrangements of limbs and hands and feet and heads.

However, Piskor marries the torture porn to much stronger storytelling, world building and social commentary. Less Blumhouse lurid thrills, and more what the Purge franchise grew into, plus a side of Mr. Robot modern dystopia (absent Alex Garland’s pomposity).

The basic premise of Red Room is that people run secret livestreams of elaborate torture and murders on the dark web, all financed by cryptocurrency.

Imagine these “red rooms” as an OnlyFans live, CamSoda or Chaterbate for snuff film sickos – a Grand Guignol theatre where the moralizing is absent and the defiling of bodies is very real.

But Piskor isn’t content to put you in the room with the victims, or to display these serial killers as untouchable, genius supervillains. Instead, these four stories build upon each other and interlock as Piskor tries to get at not simply who would make Red Rooms, but who would finance them and watch them.

It would be easy to dismiss much of Piskor’s storytelling as conspiracy theories and pulp-novel fantasy. However, in the past decade or so, we have born witness to depravity among the world’s wealthiest and most power after #MeToo, the Trump presidency, global authoritarianism detailed by Sarah Kendzoir and Andrea Chalupa’s Gaslit Nation, and the Jeffrey Epstein scandals. Amid all that, Red Room feels not far from the truth.

Except that, in this world, at least some of these depraved malefactors receive their proper comeuppance.

Piskor depicts the red room killers, consumers and financiers in various lights and motivations. There are everyday-seeming people like the dad who moonlights as a Red Room killer and human trafficker in “Rat Queens.” Or the ultra-wealthy, female tech executive who is hunting for sexual thrills and art murder in “Mr. NFT.” Or the Natural Born Killers-style love story in “Punkins.” Or an outsized (or is it?) vision of the sex crimes on the Pitcairn Islands, through a cult centered on a Zuckerbergian figure in “Isle of Red Rooms.”

For real, though: I feel lucky that this comic is mostly in grayscale rather than color. Piskor’s art stands in the camps of Harvey Pekar, Robert Crumb and Ed Fingerman, so things get grotesquely realistic with all the internal organs, gore and blood on display. It all looks like the copybook doodles that would have gotten a kid sent to the principal’s office.

With each story, you can see Piskor level up the graphical storytelling and plotting. His themes of class, and the idea of people who consider themselves above human decency (as long as they don’t get caught), grow stronger with each page.

And if all that’s not enough, Piskor also details more of his process or art and storytelling in a page-by-page commentary of those four stories. It’s aptly titled “A Glimpse into the Mind of a Maniac.”

Utterly disturbing and chilling for both its fantastical elements and real-world implications, Red Room: Trigger Warnings is one hell of a read and best looked at after you’ve finished your doomscrolling for the day. I look forward to the next one.

Grade: A

 

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