Cycle of Violence by Grayson PerryBy Grayson Perry (Atlas Press; 1992)

Grayson Perry is a renowned British artist and notorious cross dresser with a penchant for the gross and pornographic. I’m assuming this humorous and frankly obscene graphic novel is at least partially autobiographical.

Perry claims it sprang from a series of comic strips he drew as a teen, which were “lost in the upheavals of adolescence” but are apparently echoed in CYCLE OF VIOLENCE, drafted years later when “once again my imagination became an open wound.” Perry reportedly had a difficult childhood, and so does the protagonist of CYCLE OF VIOLENCE, a famous bicyclist turned transvestite serial killer.

The year is 2023 and Bradley Gaines is a five time winner of the Tour de France. The world is a peaceful place where starvation and nuclear weapons have been eliminated, but Bradley’s psychosis precipitates a minor reign of terror. After suddenly breaking down during a bicycle race Bradley is plunged into a hallucinatory psychoscape presided over by the evil specter of his abusive mother. In this state Bradley mutilates several unsuspecting women before being arrested and locked in an experimental psychiatric unit, where he’s eventually cured of his psychosis.

The whole thing often reads like a parody of a serial killer narrative, with overheated lines like “He feels the warm glow of public adoration become a searing heat ray which burns deep into his soul” and “his palms are slippery with his own blood, as well as that of his victims.” Yet the explicitness of the violence and disturbingly frank depictions of childhood abuse give it an extremely sharp edge.

The book’s main selling point, of course, is Grayson Perry’s pen-and-ink artwork. It’s impressive as you might guess, coming from a bonafide artist who renders his illustrations in bold, freeform black-and-white that recalls the bawdy art of S. Clay Wilson. Perry’s drawings are arguably what make this book the impacting gross-out saga it is: as a serial killer chronicle it’s only mildly interesting, but from a pictorial standpoint CYCLE OF VIOLENCE is some kind of demented masterpiece.