Comics

"Green River Killer" and the Stuff of Nightmares

Serial killer Gary Ridgway's legacy is horrific, and the Green River Killer graphic novel sheds light on this tragedy's most marginalized victims.

With a spare, black-ink-on-white-pages approach that could qualify as high definition police sketches, Jonathan Case underscores the harrowing story of the "Green River Killer" in a fashion that would likely not have the same effect were it washed in color. Writer Jeff Jensen dug deep for Green River Killer: A True Detective Story. It's an often grim account of his father's years-long hunt for a Seattle serial killer named Gary Leon Ridgway. And for the unnerving renderings that helped Jensen tell the story, a panel of comics industry professionals, writers, readers, and retailers sent Case home with a Stumptown Comic Art Award in April.

Gary Ridgway's legacy is horrific, the stuff of nightmares. By the time he was readying to swap a death penalty sentence for leads about where he'd buried his victims, Ridgway was facing 48 counts of aggravated murder. The highly religious Navy veteran targeted female prostitutes and eventually estimated killing 60 women in total, choking them and leaving their bodies in a wooded area of southern Seattle. Ridgway attributed these acts in 2003 to a hatred for prostitutes by way of a written statement explaining that he "didn't want to pay them." Jonathan Case and Jeff Jensen guide us through Ridgway's story in a manner that mirrors that of news documentarians, while we absorb Jensen's father's end as if it were difficult dramatic cinema.

In the most heinous corner of Gary Ridgway's past is a killer drawn to a perceived disposable nature in his victims, the marginalized members of society who earned their money in pickup trucks parked down empty side streets. At news and commentary website Alternet, Silja J.A. Talvi pointed out that "dehumanization" of prostitutes "underlies the Green River Killer case, and yet prostitutes are the aspect of this story that has been least discussed." Ridgway cruised for prostitutes in the early 1980s on a section of the Pacific Coast Highway called "the strip." The area's small residential roads, in a patch of south Seattle suburbs, were home to folks who didn't mind living directly beneath a flight path of the Seattle Tacoma International Airport. But residents complained about the sort of dealings that were taking place near their houses, just off the highway. Loud plane engines didn't bother them. They resented that their neighborhood was a high-traffic area for prostitutes.

In an investigative piece for Time magazine, writer Terry McCarthy discussed the wealth of "bars, strip clubs and motels that book(ed) rooms by the hour" in the region. "For 18 months, the cops could not get special funding for a full-scale investigation of the murders," McCarthy reported. "Many people in Seattle felt the problem was not so much the killer but rather the proliferation of prostitutes on the strip."

On a mildly warm August day in 1982, police uncovered the bodies of four women found in and near Seattle's Green River. The women had been strangled, just as the dead teenager was whose body was found by some kids in the same vicinity a month earlier. "I knew they would not be reported missing right away, and might never be reported missing," Ridgway said of the prostitutes he killed. In Green River Killer, we see Tom Jensen in 1983 as a patrolman, mulling the idea of joining a task force to hunt down the man who had by then been suspected of having killed 12 sex workers. A police captain references bureaucratic impediments to funding the case: "The (South King County) council has...been pretty fixed on potential cost. Apparently, it's hard to convince people that an outbreak of murdered hookers represents a threat to public safety."

New York Times metro writer Manny Fernandez referenced Gary Ridgway in an article about the prostitutes who were murdered on Long Island beginning in 2010. He makes a critical point about the number of serial killers in the U.S. who have historically targeted sex workers.

"Living in the margins of society, often trading sex for money with anonymous clients in anonymous places, struggling with drug addiction and estrangement from their families, prostitutes have long been invisible, vulnerable prey for the wicked and the depraved," Fernandez wrote. "Few notice them when they are alive, fewer still when they are missing or found dead."

In its portrayal of this characteristic of the case, Green River Killer doesn't much differ from DC's Gotham Central, a crime drama that unfolds in the offices of Gotham City's detective bureau, with affecting doses of street grit as well as strikingly authentic, off-hours interaction between the officers. We get the play-by-play of Detective Jensen joining a task force for the Ridgway manhunt in 1984, a healthy helping of police procedural work that stretched on for years, and the crux of the book, which follows the elder Jensen on a series of interviews with Ridgway after his 2001 arrest. Rather than sink the pages with heavy-handed depictions of the violence, Jonathan Case balances the Green River Killer narrative with great care. Stomach-wrenching crime scene evaluations are positioned alongside wordless images of Detective Jensen at family dinners or fidgeting with home repairs, ever diffusing the strain of his emotionally arduous day job. Cinema-styled cross cuts show an officer trying to separate his home life from the task force. In this, it plays out like a very human story. Meanwhile, the elder Jensen's interviewee is as close as inhuman as one can possibly get.

A chilling moment in Gary Ridgway's timeline has the killer's seven year-old son sharing the passenger seat of his father's truck with a woman who would soon be dead. Minutes previous, Ridgway is eyeing prostitutes gathered along the highway and pulls over to pick one up. He advises his son to stay in the vehicle while he walks his next victim into the woods.

It's a flashback for an incarcerated Ridgway in the book, toward whom Jonathan Case returns the focus, but not before we're offered several excruciating panels of father and son in the truck. The resemblance in facial features, the same set of floppy bangs that gather in bowl rims across their foreheads--it's too much to take. Ridgway fishes a twenty dollar bill from his shirt pocket so it's visible to his target, and when she climbs into the truck, a volley of pleasantries emerge between an unsuspecting young woman and the man who would soon end her life. The dialogue is sparse, but each word weighs a metric ton. Ridgway's son is inches from them, sharing an uncanny physical likeness with the grown monster behind the wheel. It's an unsettling passage that I could barely shake for days after I'd seen it.

Jeff Jensen is clear about not intending Green River Killer for the "nonfiction" shelf. He stresses that names and minor details have been altered. But the work, with Case's thoughtful contributions locking it in, feels as intimate as a letter from home--the kind best taken with strong liquor. Drink deep; it's going to be a long night.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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