We love murder. More specifically, consuming murder-related content: news, podcasts, books, documentaries. There’s something addictive about true crime. It’s got all the elements of a good story: compelling characters, urgency, and tension released with a satisfying AHA! when all is revealed in the end.
Since NPR’s award-winning podcast Serial hit the airwaves, true crime has become a shared national obsession. And now, Hilary Campbell is sharing hers with us.
In her wonderful new graphic novel, Murder Book, Hilary takes a closer look at her own love of amateur sleuthing and the fascination with true crime she shares with her mother.
We sat down with Hilary to find out how it all began. Join us below.
So you’ve got a bit of a true crime obsession … how did that start?
Answering how isn’t easy (I spend the whole book wondering this), but I do know exactly when my obsession started. It was when I saw David Finchers’ Zodiac in 2007. I remember the day vividly. My sister was home for the weekend, and we drove with my mother from Sonoma to Napa to see it at the Century theater there. I was 16, going on 17, and baby, I fell in love. Not with the Zodiac (come on!) but with the obsessive feelings that came with hunting down a killer (or is it just that Jake Gyllenhaal is so hot? Hard to say…). On the drive home, my mom revealed to us that she lived in San Francisco in the 70s, through all the Zodiac killings, and that she actually had a connection to Paul Stein, the last known Z victim. Knowing all of this and that Northern California was such a significant player in the story sucked me IN. And I’ve been a true crime junkie ever since.
Why do we sickos love true crime?
“Because we’re sick! We’re sick people, okay!!!” – a line my mother has said over and over again.
But really, I attempt to answer this in the book, but it’s not a simple reason! I ponder several ideas throughout the book… Is it simply human? People have been fascinated by death and crime since the dawn of time. We have more access to these stories now, but not looking away from a car crash is nothing new! When in Rome… do as the Romans do, and watch your friends get eaten by a bull!!!! But really, though, being a bystander in something awful can be an addiction for our brain. Like riding a rollercoaster. In consuming true crime, you get all the thrilling feelings of fear (like watching a horror film), but you feel safe the whole time because you’re at home drinking wine, eating popcorn, and it’s not you on the TV who is missing in North Carolina.
I also wonder if the love is taught to us by our elders? For me, loving true crime feels practically hereditary. As my mother says, it runs in my blood. Her mom loved it. Her mom’s mom loved it. Now all her sisters love it, and so do mine! Perhaps there’s a gene for this… I hope scientists will uncover this soon. Is it based on anxiety? Most people who follow true crime also identify as “anxious.” (haha, me!) We’re worried someone will kill us, so we watch these shows to look for warning signs, but now since we watch/read/consume so much true crime, it’s always on our mind, and we’re even more worried someone will kill us. It’s a vicious cycle!
What inspired you to create a graphic memoir about your true crime obsession?
I was kicking around ideas for what I would like my next book to be and was having conversations with my agent about several options. Basically, all of my concepts surrounded my mother. I desperately wanted to draw something that narrowed in on her humor, our relationship, and the hilarious conversations we’re always having over the phone. True crime is what brought all of these things together. And that’s when we realized it was the book I had to do.
If you were cast on a true crime show, would you be the detective or the murderer, and why?
Wow, I mean, I do HOPE I would be the detective and go full-blown Marge Gunderson from Fargo, mostly cuz I’m really good at that accent.
Knowing what you know now, if you were to commit murder, how would you do it? (No, I am NOT tricking you into a confession! I don’t know what you’re talking about!)
HA! Yes, this feels incriminating or a part of some Basic Instinct plot. I’ll tell you what I wouldn’t do. I would not take an insurance policy out on them.
This post is part of a series promoting books by some of our favorite cartoonists. You can find previous book posts here.