Who is patient ZH000A27? Anu Bring’s new graphic novel gives us the answer!
Can you hear it? That otherworldly melody seeping down through the walls of Zornheim Asylum for the Criminally Insane? That damnable waltz is the cursed music of patient ZH000A27. Who is he, and how did he get here? Come, sit by the fire, and steel your resolve, for you’re about to step into a tale beyond imagination.
Last fall, Swedish symphonic metal act Zornheym introduced the world to patient ZH000A27, a dangerous lunatic whose insane music flooded the ghastly halls of Zornheim Asylum, with their music video for the song “The Opposed.” Although patient ZH000A27, and the asylum itself, provided little more than an entertaining backstory and somewhat novel setting for a music video upon release, Zornheym are now collaborating with illustrator Anu Bring to tell the tale of the deranged patient. Today, Toilet ov Hell gets the honor of unveiling the first few panels of Bring’s graphic novel.
According to Zornheym’s frontman Zorn, the collaboration grew from a place of mutual respect.
“I had been following Anu on instagram for quite sometime and I was blown away by her skills. I decided to approach her and presented the Zornheym concept. Soon I found myself writing scripts for a comic book that she was drawing.”
Bring echoes Zorn’s excitement about the project.
“Zorn contacted me a year ago and straight away I was very excited about the possibility of working together. First we were planning to get only a few illustrations done but soon our projects started to expand. It was very natural in its growth as it’s been a pleasure to work with Zorn and his stories. Making a comic book has always been my dream and now finally it’s becoming coming reality with Zornheym.”
Based on the panels below, it’s safe to say that Bring did a wonderful job breathing life into the tale of patient ZH000A27.
Bring’s violent linework and dramatic coloring perfectly capture the gleeful insanity and deadpan humor of Zornheym’s story (with the help of Tomas Nilsson’s writing). Is it silly? Absolutely, but it’s silly in the wonderfully tongue-and-cheek way that has long been celebrated in metal’s history. Ours is a genre rife with escapism and theatricality, one that is, in fact, no stranger to the comic medium. In this regard, a graphic novel based on a glibly bombastic music video that captures metal in its dual realities of serious musicianship and silly conceptual work makes perfect sense.
Perhaps my favorite thing about all of this, though, is that Bring’s work seems to draw inspiration from the enduring folktale of Edward Mordake. You’ve all likely seen the image below, with or without an accompanying description of Mordake’s affliction; like patient ZH000A27, Mordake was an established nobleman driven to madness by a malevolent second face on the back of his head.
Mordake (sometimes rendered Mordrake) has long been believed to be a real medical mystery, one canonized in George M. Gould’s and Walter L. Pyle’s Anomalies and Curiosities of Medicine. As the medical report goes, Mordake was fit to inherit a generous peerage in England, but his bizarre medical deformity, allegedly a case of craniopagus parasiticus (a parasitic twin head with an undeveloped body), eventually drove him to take his own life.
One of the weirdest as well as most melancholy stories of human deformity is that of Edward Mordake, said to have been heir to one of the noblest peerages in England. He never claimed the title, however, and committed suicide in his twenty-third year. He lived in complete seclusion, refusing the visits even of the members of his own family. He was a young man of fine attainments, a profound scholar, and a musician of rare ability. His figure was remarkable for its grace, and his face – that is to say, his natural face – was that of an Antinous. But upon the back of his head was another face, that of a beautiful girl, “lovely as a dream, hideous as a devil”. The female face was a mere mask, “occupying only a small portion of the posterior part of the skull, yet exhibiting every sign of intelligence, of a malignant sort, however”. It would be seen to smile and sneer while Mordake was weeping. The eyes would follow the movements of the spectator, and the lips “would gibber without ceasing”. No voice was audible, but Mordake avers that he was kept from his rest at night by the hateful whispers of his “devil twin”, as he called it, “which never sleeps, but talks to me forever of such things as they only speak of in Hell. No imagination can conceive the dreadful temptations it sets before me. For some unforgiven wickedness of my forefathers I am knit to this fiend – for a fiend it surely is. I beg and beseech you to crush it out of human semblance, even if I die for it.” Such were the words of the hapless Mordake to Manvers and Treadwell, his physicians. In spite of careful watching, he managed to procure poison, whereof he died, leaving a letter requesting that the “demon face” might be destroyed before his burial, “lest it continues its dreadful whisperings in my grave.” At his own request, he was interred in a waste place, without stone or legend to mark his grave.
Alas, this story is likely as much a hoax as the photo of Mordake above. The popular image of Mordake is a black and white photograph of a wax replica made to demonstrate how Mordake may have appeared. The doctors’ account was likely lifted from a sensational news piece written by poet Charles Lotin Hildreth that detailed a veritable bevy of medical oddities, including a tarantula man and a fish woman.
Still, the case of Mordake continues to inspire media and creators of all types, from Tom Waits to American Horror Story. Perhaps it is also now leaving its mark on the world of metal through an intriguing collaboration between illustrator and musician. And if this type of absurd theatricality in our genre of choice isn’t worth celebrating, I don’t know what is.