Barbatus’ autobiographical comic ROTTEN or: gorehound’s retrospective is a look into the ways in which the violence that we seek out affects us.
Like I Breathed A Body, ROTTEN is one of those stories that resonated deeply with me as it forced me to reevaluate my past with gore and the images I exposed myself to as a teenager, the very images that have burned themselves into my brain, returning to me when I least expect them to.
Barbatus tells the story of a time in his life where he was seeking out gore in order to conquer his fear of death in a limited pallet, using only shades of red and black that increase in intensity as the imagery Barbatus is seeking out does. It isn’t so much what he shows that was the first thing that struck me about the comic as it is the way in which he doesn’t show the worst of it; take for example the image below, the previous panel is a close-up shot of someone having their head stepped on by a boot. In the image below, Barbatus is showing the reader just enough that we get the idea without showing us the full picture.
A quick look through the replies on twitter is enough to prove that Barbatus’ experiences are familiar to more people than one might think; in fact, those experiences are familiar to me.
During the early half of my teen years, I would use my unrestricted internet access to find horrific images of people who had died or been killed in increasingly terrifying ways. There are some images that I saw as a fifteen year old that I will never forget, no matter how much I want to.
There’s things that I don’t even react to anymore because I’ve seen it before or I’ve seen worse; I remember in grade ten history being horrified when my teacher showed us a picture of a gangrene-infected foot. Now, if I were to pull up that same image I would barely react to it. I’ve seen worse, I have worse burned into my brain and flashing across my eyelids when I try to sleep.
The time I spent seeking out gore isn’t a time I talk about often because, to be entirely honest, I’m ashamed of the fact that I would seek out real violence in the way I did without questioning what I was really doing and how those images came to be. They were people, they had lived and died and there I was, sitting up on my phone late at night looking at their corpses without even a glimmer of shame at the fact that I was sating my curiosity with the end of their lives.
Because when it comes down to it, that’s why I sought out those images. I was curious; I wanted to see the worst, most brutal things I could find because I was possessed by a need to know everything. Over time, it shifted from mere curiosity to a challenge to myself. I wanted not only to know the worst, but to be able to withstand it.
Barbatus talks about this, about how there’s a competitive aspect to it all, a need to be tougher than all of the others who are seeking out the same content that you are. It’s a dangerous game to play; no one wins unless you count traumatizing yourself as winning. Because that’s what was really happening, it was never going to make any of us less fearful, it was just going to give us more nightmares.
I feel shame for what I was doing now that I’m able to understand what it was that I was really doing, what it was that I was truly looking at. They were people, they had lives that they lived before they died and were turned into a spectacle for strangers on the internet. Strangers who didn’t care about who those people were so much as they cared about what they looked like in death. I haven’t gone to any of my old haunts in years yet, haven’t even been tempted to really. After all, why would I need to see more when what I’ve already seen has been keeping me up at night for years.
Barbatus ends ROTTEN with a plea to the reader not to seek out “the real thing” because it isn’t worth it. He’s right, it isn’t and if you think you could benefit in some way from seeking it out, you won’t. There’s no benefit that comes from seeing it and it’s something you’ll never be able to erase from your memory.