In Aftershock Comics’ I Breathed a Body, writer Zac Thompson once again tackles technology and our relationship to it, all while pairing it with body horror comperable to the likes of David Cronenberg.
A truth about horror is that the monster is rarely just a monster. As a general rule, the monster always represents the societal fears of the time. Just to be perfectly clear, when I say “monster,” I don’t mean literal monsters; what I’m actually referring to is the villain. For most of I Breathed a Body, there isn’t a literal monster so much as a metaphorical monster. I Breathed a Body’s villain isn’t a fish-man who has captured a damsel in distress; I Breathed a Body’s villain is instead technology and our relationship to it. More specifically, social media and how it affects our daily lives.
Thompson has said that one of the events that inspired I Breathed a Body was a 2018 incident in which Logan Paul showed the corpse of a man who had committed suicide in Japan’s suicide forest in a vlog on his massively popular YouTube Channel. That incident, along with Elsagate; a controversy that began in November of 2017 when The New York Times published an article detailing some of the startling content that had, whether accidentally or not, slipped past YouTube’s filters and ended up on YouTube Kids, led parents to begin questioning just what their kids were watching all day on YouTube and how safe it was.
One of the press releases for I Breathed a Body mentioned Michael Haneke’s Funny Games as a piece of media with similar aspects. I’ve been thinking about that specific reference for a while now, trying to figure out where the reference was within the text before it hit me. The reference isn’t within the text; it isn’t even subtext. Instead, the reference is metatextual; Funny Games is the title of two movies directed by Michael Haneke. The first is a 1997 German-language film, and the second is its 2007 shot-for-shot English-language remake. Both are about a family that is held hostage in their vacation home by two men who are torturing them with the titular “funny games.” Both are a commentary on the very genre of films that they belong to; Haneke never intended for Funny Games to be a horror film. His intention was always to make an incredibly violent but otherwise pointless movie and, in doing so, send a message about the kind of violence that Funny Games portrays. Funny Games is brutal. It’s difficult to watch, and yet I still watch it over and over again. I’ve seen this movie about four times now. I still feel like garbage when I get to the end and ruminate on the fact that Michael Haneke just spent one hundred and nine minutes trying to tell me that watching the events that unfolded, and being capable of feeling anything short of complete disgust, means that there is something wrong with me; some disconnect somewhere in my brain allowing me to at times enjoy the violence.
I Breathed a Body does something similar in the way that it shows graphic violence in one breath and condemns it in the next. On one panel, depicted with breathtaking art by Andy MacDonald and coloured stunningly by Triona Farrell, I Breathed a Body showcases some truly horrific body horror. Then, once the events surrounding it have unfolded, the book leaves the reader with no choice but to condemn it themselves with the knowledge that they sought this out; they chose this book specifically because they wanted to see the blood and guts and the twisted, mutilated bodies. I know that because I chose this book with that intent, the same intent with which I first watched Funny Games, as well as the intention with which I continue to rewatch it.
Similarly to those who viewed the graphic content that was part of the two real-world controversies I mentioned earlier, and unlike the reader, the viewers in the story did not consent to see Mylo harm himself, let alone in the way that he does. In one impulsive, self-destructive act, Mylo rips himself apart live on-stream with what one can only assume are millions of people watching. For context, the video in which Logan Paul showed a dead body had amassed 6.3 million views within the twenty-four or so hours it was up for before it was deleted. That means that more than six million people saw the body of a dead man, many of them fans of Paul’s who had not sought the video out intending to see the body, expecting another typical vlog.
I was born in the year 2000. I can barely remember a world without Facebook or Twitter; sometimes, I have trouble thinking back to a time before Instagram existed. When I was fourteen years old, I signed up for my first social media platform. It was Tumblr. I signed up intending to finally have a space to yell about all of my obsessions, and while I did get that, I also got more than what I signed up for, more than what I consented to. I have at times semi-regularly received unsolicited nudes on Tumblr since I was about fifteen. On two occasions, I have been sent photos of mutilated corpses as threats in response to arguments I had taken part in. The Internet is a terrifying place even as an adult. You’re almost guaranteed to see something you didn’t consent to see. I wish I had known that when I was fourteen.