Tim Barber, Vice's former photo editor and the runner of Tiny Vices, just put out what may be the greatest art book of all time on his new TV Books imprint. It is an exact reproduction of a notebook shared by three seventh-graders sometime in the late 80s, in which they compiled their "Death Pits," full-page drawings of hyper-intricate torture chambers rendered in crayon and colored pencil. The finished product occupies a place somewhere in the overlap between Dante's Inferno, The 120 Days of Sodom, and the map from Ghosts and Goblins as run through the fucked-up brain of your average pubescent male. Click to read an interview with Tim about the whole deal.
Vice: So, how did you come across the Death Pits?
Tim Barber: Wait, what?
Death Pits, the book you just put out?
I thought for a second you said Death Beds. That’d be another good book though—just shots of different beds where people died.
Ooh, agreed. But what’s the deal with Death Pits?
The Death Pits were introduced to me in 2005 by a mysterious character from Vancouver named Gary LaChance. I had just started my site and he sent me one or two scans of these drawings that he and his friend had done in middle-school detention. I thought they were amazing—they reminded me of drawings that I’d done around that age. They kind of look like Super Mario-inspired video game levels, but filled with brutal, insane torture and murder scenes. What I thought was really interesting though was there were all these numbers all over the pages that were clearly associated with the people being killed. I’d never met this guy or anything, but I wrote him back and asked him what the deal was, and if he could send me anymore scans. And he proceeded to send me a lot more.
How many did he end up sending you?
There are 33 distinct Death Pits. All the pages are numbered as is each individual body, although I think they got lazy at the end and stopped labeling all the people. They made it up to 334 before they quit though. That was their final body count.
Eventually he sent me all the actual drawings, which were in this school binder very well kept and in the original order from Death Pit 1 to Death Pit 33. The backs of the drawings—which I scanned and reproduced for the book, so the whole thing appears exactly as the original does—are kind of the best part. The drawings are done on class notes and unfinished homework assignments and one’s on the back of a birthday invitation. It really gives you a sense of how young they were when they were making them cause all the assignments are ridiculously easy.
Are all the folks being electrocuted/mashed between triangular spikes supposed to be real people?
Gary told me that all the people in the drawings were actual people in their life, but they’d devised this insane code with fake names for everyone. So on the backs of the drawings there are these lists of names that correspond to their teachers and other students they hated at school.
That really makes it a relic of an earlier age.
It’s totally the sort of thing that would have gotten these kids sent to the mental hospital after Columbine. But as it was they got away with it.
The other thing that’s really interesting about the drawings is there’s this obsessive reoccurrence of video cameras in all the pits, up in the corners. So not only were they just coming up with all these torture chambers, but they were very aware of recording it and figuring out how it all worked. There’s also all these networks of sewage pipes running from pit to pit to carry the blood, and as you get further along in the book they become more and more intricate.
One of my favorite things is on the back of one of the pages there’s a brainstorming list of killing ideas that reads:
Boiling cup of tea
Ice level—giant skate blades, icicles, etc.
Force-fed lots of Ex-Lax
Lamma Rays—which I think is supposed to be like a stingray
Tacks and pins
—this is all in pencil, then added in at the end in red pen is "Bee Room."
Ha ha ha, that’s awesome. I like how obvious it is for some that they were in a classroom looking at different stuff in the room and being like "Hmmm, pencil sharpener, compass, flagpole‚Ä¶" It’s weird they would end up with 33 Pits with all the creepy Masonic connections—do you think they were shooting for that number from the get-go?
I highly doubt it because they were 11 or 12 at the time. Also if you look at the end of the book you can kind of tell that summertime is coming and they’re maybe losing interest in the Pits. The last four drawings are basically unfinished.
It’s a shame to think of what it could have ended up as.
Yeah. It’s like Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, but with ACME cheese graters in place of demons.