Stuart Swezey is co-editor with Brian King of the AMOK Fourth Dispatch, an essential guide to extremes in print. This interview was most kindly granted on the 23 May 1991, after many hours of miscalculation of time-zone differences between Knoxville and Los Angeles. I offer much thanks to Stuart for his patience and interest.
OVO: The next issue of OVO is not about multiple murderers but about people who follow them, either as sociological studies or evil heroes or somewhere in between, especially in print, like the MAYHEM section of the AMOK catalog. ls there an an average type of person who buys the books in that section?
SS: I don’t know. It could be everybody from people who are into it on an industrial music level to people who are Marines. We get so many different types of people its hard to say what the average is. This stuff is getting more and more popular. Every week there is a new TV movie about a murderer. Last Gasp carries true crime stuff and they never used to. So I guess it’s getting trendier than it used to be.
OVO: What about at the store, are a variety of people buying it there?
SS: We had a woman who worked for the coroners office come in when we had the John-Wayne Gacy paintings up. She thought that was pretty neat. I can’t really classify it at all. You should really talk to Brian, because he’s much more into this stuff than me. He’s working on a compilation of work by murderers writing and artwork that we‘re going to be putting out in a year or so.
OVO: Are there more mayhem books coming out now than ten year ago?
SS: There are definitely more of them. We’re not interested in many of them. A lot of them are in the genre of inter-family murders or the mob. Compilations from True Detective magazine and magazines like that. Definitely not good writing or good journalism. A lot of good stuff is coming back into print like the book on Albert Fish called Cannibal. It seems they’re reprinting more of the classic stuff.
OVO: Is this increasing in the small press as well?
SS: Maybe very peripherally. We carry a book called They Called Him Mister Gacy, which we think is put out by his attorney in Illinois, which is basically a photostat compilation of letters to Gacy. There was the Mansonfile book that Amok Press put out. There’s not a lot. I don’t see a lot of small press stuff put out along those lines. But something like Silence of the Lambs has become big business.
OVO: I was thinking of something more like PURE, something tiny and photocopied.
SS: On a Factsheet Five level.
SS: We don’t see a lot of that.
OVO: I just put out a few feelers out for that and it’s not stopping. There’s more of it out there than I ever wanted to know about.
SS: So what do you think of this stuff?
OVO: I think its indicative of what Colin Wilson was talking about when he said we’re entering the age of the psychopath. These people feel alienated and more aware than the people around them but they’re making a mistake when they think that these serial killers are “getting things done” and “manifesting their will.” l think they’re confusing random outbursts with a cognitive critique. Things that show up in the small press tend to come out in mainstream later, and I’ve seen so much of this in the small press – and in the mainstream media – that it indicates to me that it’s going to get even more common and acceptable.
SS: I never know but sometimes I feel like this serial killer stuff is going to be almost passé as a cultural thing, a rebellious stance. You better back it up by either killing somebody or cotton to the fact that it’s as trendy as anything else within a year or two. After Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer that’s not going to happen to every movie that comes down the line that deals with this subject mater. They’re not always going to praise what I think was a glorified student film as brilliant. The room for that is going to be gone. That won’t really effect the murderers. We’re really interested in the interplay between culture and the criminals. How Ed Gein could have inspired the Psycho book, which leads to a great film like Psycho, and how these murders do in certain ways have repercussions that are felt by everyone.
OVO: The success of Psycho led to the film Dementia 13, which was blamed for some murders.
SS: There’s a lot of that happening, but what about Catcher in the Rye inspiring Mark David Chapman to kill John Lennon? Who hasn’t read Catcher in the Rye?
OVO: What do you think the effects are of the increased accessibility of true crime books and other books formerly considered too graphic and horrendous to be read as entertainment?
SS: I think its pretty reasonable. I don’t think its necessarily unhealthy. People are fascinated with violence and to a certain extent the books are slanted in a way that something like PURE isn’t, in that they’re very moralistic. Cops are glorified, cops solve the crime, there are a lot of things the writers do to distance themselves and the reader from the murderer. People like the reassurance of that, that they didn’t do it. It gives them this titillation and a raw experience even if it is once removed. Kind of an “I can take it” thing. I think its weird that it’s cropping up at the same time as we‘re blowing up whole populations like in Iraq and you don’t even see it. I think that that’s a strange state of affairs that people are going out of their way to find this graphic violence and yet we’re not allowed to see as a national policy the kind of havoc that we wreak.
OVO: Do you think there are any trends that can be used to spot what kinds of books and magazines are going to come out in the future on this topic?
SS: Obviously there are some murderers that haven’t been completely covered. It took so long for a book to come out on Richard Ramírez. I think the idea of looking at the actual artwork and writing of these murderers as we’ll be publishing in Lustmord, that’s what a lot of these supposed experts have that you and I as individuals don’t have access to. It’s going to be an interesting twist to give people these actual crazed writings, to look at them as art brut, I think a lot of people will respond to looking through an alien mind in terms of their writing. Sometimes it’s insightful and sometimes it isn‘t but that‘s all you have to go on because no matter how many of these fanzines come along or how much violent fiction is sold the average person can’t even begin to understand the psychopath. This is just an attempt to try on people’s part, whether they do it in a sarcastic way or idealistic way or moralistic cop-loving way, it still shows the vast chasm between someone who can perform these kinds of things and someone who can’t.
OVO: Somebody who can buy a magazine about it.
SS: Right, and that’s all they’re doing. Violence is at the root of so much literature… Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, some violent act usually occurs. Somebody gets murdered in most of our supposedly great works, so there’s got to be something in this catharsis that we need as a culture. I find true crime is more informative than fiction but that doesn’t mean you have to identify with these people. It’s more tragic. If people enjoy that its not necessarily bad at all. It is mind boggling the extremes a human being can go to.
OVO: And survive.
SS: And justify to themselves in some bizarre manner.
I’ve been compiling photos from forensic journals for the AMOK Journal that I’m working on. I want to use them in the form that they’re found. I stayed away from murders to cover other terrains of really graphic bizarre shit like auto-erotic fatalities and things about amputation and self-mutilation, things people do to themselves. I find that is more disturbing for people to look at and talk about than murder for some reason. l’m very intrigued with what Ballard called the hidden literature of medical and psychiatric journals. There are great stories in there that will never see the light of day in an actual book. That’s why you get to the point of collecting medical books. We used to sell a lot of copies of The Color Atlas of Forensic Pathology, considering it’s a $70 book. Some do want to see more and more and more but I don’t know that the average true crime reader does. We just got a promo from a publisher about a murderer who was picking up Marines in Orange County and murdering them. In the book they used actual police forensic photos and I don’t remember seeing that in a regular true crime book before. You can’t get much more graphic than that. I don’t even begin to project where things are going. I just see things peek at some point, then people are saturated and they look for something else. A lot of people who are heavily committed to this will back off and say they weren’t really into it.
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