Saturday, September 26, 2009


One of the great tragedies of our age is that our superheroes are owned by TimeWarner and, now, Disney. Representatives of DC and Marvel sound like stock brokers talking about maintaining their branding. Fanboys say things like, "I expect superheroes to be about ISSUES!" And great cultural landmarks like the Iron Man and Dark Knight movies are like professional wrestling -- guys in silly outfits beating on each other, and it's all fixed. Only with these movies, and "graphic novels" (a pretentious term I hate) we’re forbidden to laugh. It’s supposed to be Fine Art even if it does reek of a cynical corporation propping up creaky old franchises.

Which brings me to Paul Gravett and Peter Stanbury’s Holy Sh*t! The World’s Weirdest Comic Books. See? Comic books, not graphic novels. No corporate sponsorship. No slick production. Just pure, raging weirdness, and cheap thrills that may get you expelled. The authorities will tear such cultural atrocities to shreds in front of your eyes, just to teach you a lesson. And who know’s what today’s Orwellian child-rearing authorities would advise.

Though there a some covers and descriptions of comics from recent decades, in Holy Sh*t!, most are from before Marvel and DC became "cool." I remember a lot of them. The bulk are from companies that no longer exist -- some of them only existed for brief flash of weirdness. Some were cynical attempts of make a quick buck, while others were attempts to make the world a better place.

Oddly, the high-minded books tend to be the strangest. The Leather Nun is nowhere as weird as Hansi: The Girl Who Loves The Swastika, The Gospel Blimp, or Neraka, a Malaysian Islamic vision of Hell. In a bizarre way, the creators of Amputee Love, had intentions similar to those of the religious giveaways.
Others tend to be examples of what happens when twisted talents are given a forum to go wild. Jerome Segal’s Jon Juan, Steve Ditko’s The Geek and Mr. A, Otto Binder’s Fatman, the Human Flying Saucer, and the cult-favorite Herbie all probably horrified the folks that were signing the checks.
Interestingly enough, a lot of these were commercially successful, but got the plug pulled on them for sociopolitical reasons. Loss of nerve can override the profit motive. These are the limits of capitalism.

Too bad. Our civilization is weaker for it.

Holy Sh*t! takes me back to some of the happiest times of my childhood, spinning a comic book rack. All the covers were gaudy portals into strange worlds, not some cohesive corporate universe. Every now and then, I would discover something that was so peculiar that I just had to buy it. It didn’t matter if they only lasted a few issues, they opened up a kind of weirdness in my mind that made me what I am today.

I hope that with the emerging technology, and cultural turmoil, artforms will arise that will give future generations the opportunity to be similarly warped.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


In her last blog, my wife quotes the notes I jotted on our 2008 roadtrip. She also shows some of the drawings I did in my sketchbook. This my first experiment in taking the raw, on-the-run sketches, running them through the scanner, and messing with them in the computer to create electronic Web illustrations that have the high-touch feel of hands-on art.

Just some of the stuff I'm working on . . .

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Among the other turmoil sweeping over the world, magazines are dying. Not just individual publications, but the entire medium. The World Wide Web is killing printed publications, perhaps the forests of the world will be spared.

I’ve always like magazines. I’ve written for them. They’ve given me a great deal of pleasure.

The funny thing is, I tend not follow any one particular magazine for long time. Nobody has ever published a magazine that was "me." I buy an issue, if I like it, I buy another, but usually I don’t subscribe for very long. I never assume that these things are put together with me in mind, I don’t think I’ll ever see such a thing.

What I look for in a magazine is weirdness that makes me smile and feel that the world is stranger than most people like to think.

That’s why I enjoyed Bad Mags Vol. 1 by Tom Brinkmann so damn much. It’s just the sort of celebration of trash culture that I live to wallow in. It claims to be about "The Strangest, Most Unusual, and Sleaziest Periodicals Ever Published, and delivers.

The mags covered came out from the Fifties to the early Eighties. Today’s scholars call them "men’s journals." Their main selling point was usually women in various states of undress, and the law required some written material to provide "redeeming social importance." In the days before it was okay to show pubic hair, feverish imaginations went wild on low budgets.

So here’s sadomasochism, lesbianism, transvestites, drugs, beatniks, hippies, bikers (from the first reports of the Hells Angels, to the magazines that institutionalized the lifestyle), sexploitation films, wacky visuals, and unhinged writing. The impression is that somewhere, out there, usually near or in California, people are going berserk and getting all kinds of bizarre thrills that you’ll never experience in your humdrum hometown. Fear not, for the price of a magazine, you too can taste the weirdness.

For me, a lot of the appeal is the unashamed artlessness of it. No pretension, just, "wanna see something bizarre?"

This a world where women with soft bodies and natural breasts run wild. A young John Holmes can be seen kissing a green-skinned, pointy-eared girl. The works of Russ Meyer and Titus Moody are celebrated. William Rostler is evoked. Ed Roth’s biker years are documented.

And there are descriptions of entire magazines written and edited by Ed Wood – with lengthy quotes that will make your head spin. No one could let loose the creatures of the subconscious like Ed Wood. When is someone going to publish a collection of his short stories?

After looking at what Horror Sex Tales, Bizarre Life, Wild Screen Reviews, Shocker, Freakout, Heads-Up, Raunchy, and Way Out had to offer, it’s not surprising today’s magazines going under. I’m going save my money for Bad Mags Vol. 2.

And hope the craziness of these mags will be recreated in the entertainment modules of the future..

Friday, September 11, 2009


The weird stuff I write and obsess about laps over into a category that is fashionably called “paranormal.” I prefer the old terms “occult” or “pseudoscience” myself, but I guess you gotta use hip lingo so people can understand you. People are often surprised to know that I’m actually a skeptic.

Yeah, weird stuff happens. It even happens to me. But just what the hell all this weird stuff is -- is the issue.

Given the right kind of stimulation, the human brain gets creative in incredible ways. I’ve already written about this as the Monster Reflex. This awesome creativity confuses us. Often we are compelled to believe our scrambled senses.

The problem with that is, we are capable of believing in anything. It is the greatest strength and the Achilles heel of our humble species.

Technology just makes it stronger, and amplifies the confusion.

Which brings me to what I call, the Chupacabra Effect (yeah, I know that the proper Spanish word is Chupacabras, but as a native Spanglish speaker, I prefer the North of the border bastardization, cabrónes). In the past, the human habit of storytelling generated legends and myths over long amounts of time, generations. With modern communications technology, this has been sped up. Let an appealing fantasy loose in the electronic neighborhood, and in no time it takes on a life of its own, mutates, and is soon a mainstay in the freak show we call civilization.

When Elvis died, he was just a washed-up teen idol. With television, it barely took him a generation to be come a full-blown saint, with shrines, temples, miracles, and sightings. It took Jesus a lot longer to accomplish that. Michael Jackson did it over one weekend.

As with El Chupcabra, it was powered by the World Wide Web.

I remember back in the Eighties, watching Primero Impacto on Univision, seeing the first stories about a strange blood-sucking creature in Puerto Rico. It was about the same time that Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park became available in Spanish. Soon people in rural parts of Mexico, Central and South America were including speculation about genetic engineering in their eye-witness reports.

And the creature changed. At first crude drawings showed spiny, teddy-bears with wings. Then it got bigger and more reptilian. Later proper fangs were added. Then the black almond-shaped UFO pilot eyes.

Recently, in Texas there was the stuffed blue-skinned mutant coyote head, and some more coyote-type photos.

This is what happens when information technology meets folklore. Instead of an enlightened age, we find ourselves with ever-expanding media for irrationality.

The cliché: “That can’t be, this is the Twentieth Century,” should be replaced with: “This is the Twenty-First Century, people will believe anything.”

Scary, yes, but you don’t have to believe in the Fijee Mermaid to appreciate the artistry that went into her creation and presentation. P.T. Barnum’s Art of the Humbug was enjoyed by believers and skeptics alike. Learn to revel in absurdity, because we keep making more of it.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


He’s been dead over a year, why not?

Evoking George Carlin always takes me back the early Seventies. The Sixties had come to a hemorrhaging climax that reached all the way to the Moon. Vietnam was still burning. Watergate was about explode. Nudity, gore, and four-letter words were appearing on movie screens everywhere.

I was the staff cartoonist at the Edgewood High School Iliad, hijacking an inch&half square in each issue to commit surrealistic nonsense, and getting an hour a day to goof off while getting credit for "Journalism" class. The teacher kept disappearing. I think she was afraid of us, or maybe it was me in particular – I had Jimi Hendrix/Abbie Hoffman/menace-to-society hair back then.

I’d draw, but mostly, read comic books (both straight and underground), science fiction magazines like Amazing Stories under the editorship of Ted White, books by Harlan Ellison, and the L.A. Free Press, and do my best to blow whatever minds happened to be around. Somehow we actually put out a newspaper, too.

One day, someone brought in the George Carlin album with the infamous Seven Words routine on it. We grabbed a record player, put it on, and delighted in desecrating that hallowed place of education with Carlin’s words of wisdom that would soon influence the Supreme Court and the FCC.

Then, when the buzzer called us to go to our next class, I ran into a friend who was just coming out of the classroom next door. He was laughing so hard he almost pissed his pants.

It seems we had the record player loud enough so that it could be heard through the walls of the pasteboard building. The teacher on the other side of the wall, a clean cut Fifties-type guy, heard it all. He probably never heard of George Carlin. Records with "obscene" language were rare back then. He did his best to keep lecturing on Psychology, listening, and not knowing what to make of it. He probably thought somebody put LSD in his coffee.

Even though that record could be heard in at least four classrooms, there was never any mention of the incident. We didn’t get in trouble. Indirectly George Carlin had taught us a valuable lesson in the Fine Art of Getting Away with Stuff: When something is far enough out of people’s everyday experience, they ignore it.

Some say that in the Information Age, this is impossible. Not true. With the Internet and other modern conveniences, people build a world where they hear and see things they feel comfortable with. If something happens that is out of their selected norm, they ignore it. If it’s hard to ignore, they complain, but you’d be surprised how many things people blur out their consciousness if it forces them to think too much.
How do I know this? I’ve made it my lifestyle.

And I have George Carlin to thank for it!


I write about monsters a lot. They are also one of my favorite things to draw. I devote a lot of my life to studying them. Real, imaginary, mythological, cryptozoological, folklorical, fine art, crass commercialism, mass media, or mass hysteria, it doesn’t matter, I’m fascinated by grotesque beings.

Some say this is because I’m rather grotesque myself, but I guess I should let others decide that.

I am not unique in this fascination. Though not always considered to be high-minded, a lot of science, culture, and just plain stuff that humans do to amuse themselves are devoted to monsters. When I feel the need to amuse myself this way, I never have to search very far to find something suitable.

Why would this be? I have a theory.

It has to do with how I think the human brain works, and that I consider the imagination as a survival tool.

You know how it is, you think you have things figured out, you go about your business feeling that it’s all routine. Then, out of nowhere, you find yourself faced with something strange, so strange that it threatens all that you think you know. You sense danger. The fight-or-flight reflex kicks in.

Only this time, it’s more complicated than that. Fighting or flying won’t do the trick. This is so strange that your brain has to do some reconfiguring.
This is a wonderful thing I call the Monster Reflex.

Deep in parts of the brain, circuits light up that don’t get used in ordinary circumstances. The imagination starts running wild. Without any prompting, you find yourself performing daring feats of creativity. You don’t realize it, so you think that something weird is happening to you. You may hallucinate. You may come up with an idea for new invention. You may create a new religion.

Or you may see a monster.

Or a UFO. Or a demon. Or an angel.

It's an altered state of consciousness that’s perfectly natural and better than any drug.

I think it’s a very healthy thing to put your brain through. Once you get used to it, the world, or just your life going crazy on you, becomes easier to deal with. When the going gets weird, you can find the strength to deal with it.

You also may end up with monsters living in your brain. And they’re good company.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


It was way the hell past midnight. A weird violet light zapped me out of the sleep I needed. My wife was unaffected. The dog just snored. The light was coming from the sky. Then it went out.

The phone rang. It didn’t kick into voice mail, just kept ringing. "Oh no," I muttered, getting up to investigate. The dog looked at me as if I was crazy. My wife snored.

The caller ID screen glowed with: GODAMIT, ERNEST! PICK UP!

I shuddered, picked up.

"Hey, Ernest! Howzitgoing?"

"Victor Theremin?"

"You sound relieved."

"I was afraid it was going to be Edgar Harris." I walked to the living room.

"You read Paul T. Riddell’s Greasing the Pan yet?"

"I’m getting there, reading an essay or two a day, laughing, enjoying it." I sat down in the dark, turned on and muted the TV.

"Nononono! You gotta stay up all night. Read it all in one sitting."

"Why?" I found a Mexican gallero movie, like a Western only with cockfights instead of shootouts.

"To get the full effect, and realize what it really is."

"And that would be?" A cockfight is the closest we can come to watching dinosaurs fight.

"It’s the freaking Great American Novel!"

I stopped wondering if the incredible cinematic possibilities of cockfighting would ever be fully explored and exploited, and gasped.

"Uh . . . Ernest . . . you still there?"

"Yeah, did you say Great American Novel?"

"I sure did."

"But it’s not even fiction."

"It’s written like a series of essays -- like Borges and his reviews of nonexistent books – and tells the epic tale of young man locked in a quixotic struggle to participate in a culture that was disintegrating during the turn of the Millennium. Future generations will study it as one of the great satires of all times. Like True History, Satyricon, Gulliver’s Travels, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Naked Lunch, Mumbo Jumbo, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas!"

"Fear and Loathing isn’t fiction either."

"Yeah, like in another ten years anybody’s going to be able to tell. Who’s going to believe that there was ever a magazine called Fuck Science Fiction?"

"You may have something there. But what I am I supposed to do about it?"

"Tell the world!"

"What about you?"

"I’m busy helping these AI/Singularity manifestations deal with human weirdness."

He’d been telling me that for years. I don’t believe it. I think he’s laundering money for the Lemurian Mafia. "I can’t review it, Victor. It mentions me like I’m some kind of chingón."

"He never mentioned me."

"After that incident in Juarez with the stuffed alligator you’re lucky he hasn’t killed you. Anyway, what can I do?"

"Blog about it! Mention it on Facebook!"

"Some of my Facebook friends are English professors . . ."

"See! This could be the salvation of American literature!"

"Or its destruction."

"Either way, we win!"

There was another blast of violet light. The phone went dead.

The next day there were reports of UFOs over Phoenix. Damn Lemurians.