My partner hates when I talk about beings “reduced to meat.” I might have stolen the phrase from someone, but what I am trying to get at with the phrase is that there is a clear dividing line between what we perceive as living flesh (skin, muscle, sinew, etc) and what we consider “mere meat” (cracklins, venison, gristle, etc). That’s a pretty simple argument to make; we have different words for the same thing to demarcate how we experience it.
Crossed is a comic book series about graphically depicting the most horrible things imaginable. I don’t have a better way to introduce it. Avatar, the company that publishes the comic, has made a name for itself by consistently putting forward taboo-breaking comics that do their best to disgust and offend their readers. I am not critiquing them for this. I think there is space for that kind of comic in the same way that I think that American Psycho is a valuable novel.
The basic idea of the comic series is that some people have been infected with a condition called “crossed.” A big red plus sign dominates their face, and more importantly, that condition means that they become purely transgressive–they actively, and violently, violate all taboos. Anything that violates a taboo becomes fair game for the writers and artists to depict. The murder of children, horrifying sexual violence, and massive gore are all depicted with regularity. The original writer, Garth Ennis, used this world in order to tell stories about humans and the things we are capable of doing to one another. The other writers who have done work in the series don’t seem to be as concerned with that, but they are still attempting to talk about those issues in various ways. Ennis said this about the series:
“The Crossed are simply people who’ve turned to evil, utterly dedicated to exploring every foul thought that’s ever occurred to them,” Garth Ennis told CBR News. “Murder, rape, carnage– the more devastating and inventive it is, the better they like it. As such, they’ll exploit every physical and mental resource at their disposal, heedless of any possible harm. So even a five-year-old girl’s going to be dangerous, given that she doesn’t care what happens to her while she’s going all out to chew your eyelids off.”
Anyway, reduction to meat. As a taboo, cannibalism is something that Crossed deals with pretty frequently, and we are often shown images of newly-dead main characters being torn into by crazed nuns (or something like that.) The cannibalism that we see in the comic is not particularly gendered in any way. If cannibalism occurs in the comics, then that cannibalism isn’t gendered or sexed. It is just straight-up people eating.
But then there is this cover for Crossed: Family Values #5. I am linking it because it is incredibly graphic and, well, horrifying. For those who don’t want to risk it, it is a picture of a nude woman hanging by a meathook. There is a giant, bruised, open mouth below her. It is oddly symbolic for Crossed, which you might have gathered is not exactly the most high-thinking symbolic enterprise. The artist is Paul Duffield, and isn’t the kind of guy I would associate with Crossed. He also did this one, which is another “butcher shop” image, but without the overt gender commentary.
Both of these images are different from your average Crossed cover. Both are alternate covers, labeled “Torture” covers, presumably because they are more extreme in some way than the normal covers. It could just be a way to easily label variant covers, I don’t really know. Most of the covers are just slightly more horrifying things than you would see on the normal covers–some of them have scenes of brain eating or priest defilement, for example– but these two do something profoundly affective.
I don’t eat meat. Part of the reason that I don’t eat meat is that I can never quite shake the image of the being in the meat, the embodied creature that once was and now isn’t. I cannot reconcile my personal pleasure of eating with the systemic genocide that goes on in the industries that produce meat all over the world. The reason I find these Crossed covers so powerful is that I think they have the ability to bring the genocide of meat production closer to home. I have written extensively about the way that images draw us close to them and force us into thinking–as Ranciere would say, these comic covers disrupt the distribution of the sensible.
When Rocky punches meat in the locker, he is punching the same kind of flesh that exists inside of your mother, your lover, and every religious figure that has ever existed. Gandhi was made of the same kind of flesh that Burger King keeps trying to stuff down your throat with clever ads. And so these images are terrifying, in the sense that Cavarero means “terror,” in that they force us to flee from them; to act.
There is also a politics of the feminine in the first image, too, particularly with that giant mouth underneath, but I will leave the analysis of that up to you.