I discovered a mention of The Squirrel Machine on a web site that recommended it for fans of Al Columbia's brand of nightmarish art. It was described as a horror book but I would more classify it as some sort of macabre fantasy. The story revolves around two brothers, Edmund and William Torpor, who have one driving passion in life. They live to turn animal corpses into musical instruments. Let that sink in for a moment because it's far worse than you might imagine. Early in the story the two create an elaborate organ where the musical notes are connected to 43 severed pigs' heads. It is a grotesque monstrosity and I have no idea whether the horrible thing actually played music or simply squeaked and squealed like pigs. Even as the two brothers reveal their horrifying, putrid creations there is never even the slightest bit of malice evident and the reader might actually sympathize with the misunderstood pair who only want to create unspeakable, nightmarish instruments of *ahem* music.
The two boys live in an enormous house with their aging mother and much of the book is spent on Edmunds exploration of the house's cavernous secret passages and rooms filled with bizarre items like broken pianos, strange mechanical equipment and singing urinals. It is their relationship with the strange `pig lady' that possibly inspires them to their depraved hobby and ultimately to far worse but there exist horrors possibly even worse than the pig lady.
I'm not a huge fan of Rickheit's character drawings with their blank expressions but the backgrounds are positively stunning in their level of detail. The black and white drawings and dreamlike quality remind me somewhat of Jim Woodring who is also quite obsessed with organic grotesqueries. When Edmund slips beneath his bed into the bizarre inner workings of the house it has a sort of David Lynchesque feel to it and I'm not sure if the author was intending for this to be allegorical, hallucinations or straight out fantasy. The secret rooms contain cold mechanical gears and levers attached to animal corpses, the occasional human body part and organic pieces that defy description. There is no indication as to who created this hideous realm of death and sexual perversion, possibly the boys' deceased father but that is pure speculation since it's never even implied. Within this Willy Wonka like factory of horrors the Torpor boys engage in activities so far outside the social mores of society that only a mind as creative as it is twisted could conceive of it and yet the boys seem as innocent as any young boy with not a shred of visible evil.
The only writer/artist I have ever seen who took it even further than Hans Rickheit is Al Columbia whose Biologic Show is as sickening as anything I have ever read in comics. Between Rickheit, Columbia and another extreme cartoonist Tony Millionaire, Columbia is the one who truly seems to have no boundaries. Actually Millionaire is also about as uncensored as they come but I have this feeling that Columbia and Millionaire are completely nuts. Rickheit's `Squirrel Machine' is truly out there with countless disturbing images that just come from out of nowhere such a decapitated dog with wires and machinery coming from the neck and a horn in the anus. This is a story that's not going to appeal to everyone but it's one that will haunt the reader and for that alone I recommend it.