Another Crazy Comic Book Artist
This one’s tougher. You spend a lot of time with a character like this, and there was a time when there was a friendship. Despite the fact that it became obvious at some point that the guy was a real bastard. A truly poisonous figure. So I reckon that there is some character flaw in me that I allowed myself to remain on a friendly relationship with someone who should have been shunned.
When I met him in the mid-80s, he was already a professional comic book artist, having worked for a number of publishers. He was about my age and while I was married and living in my own house, this guy was single and living in his parents’ basement where he had a really neat-o apartment. The place was packed with all kinds of cool shit that appealed to my sense of nostalgia—things he had found and bought at yard sales and flea markets and swap meets—Bettie Page magazines (the genuine 1950s stuff), and Silver Age superhero crap, and monster material from the early to mid 60s Famous Monsters –inspired craze.
He sat in the center of it all, the first person I’d met to whom I would attach the word droll. He was quite amusing, and looking at his work, very talented.
Driving around with him one day, we went to visit his girlfriend. She was quite pretty, and reminded me of the character I’d once seen at a writer’s convention: Poppy Brite. Red hair, pale skin, attractive figure. Her constant allusion to her gay friends put me off my feed, though, describing sitting about at someone’s home watching gay porn. She was just doing it for shock value. Right. Okay.
We sit in the apartment of his girlfriend. A longhaired rocker type, arms festooned with tattoos (he was ahead of the curve!), is there, also. The rocker dude keeps edging closer and closer to my comic artist pal’s girlfriend, until he’s sitting right beside her on the floor, his torso touching her back. Everyone is talking and I (as usual) sit and listen and store it all away so that I can—perhaps—recall it at some later date and use it in a work of fiction.
Rocker dude casually drapes his arm about red-haired-Poppy-Brite-looking-comic-artist-“girlfriend”. My comic artist pal suddenly goes all alpha male. “Hey, man!” He screams. “She’s my girlfriend, man!”
I don’t bloody fucking think so, I recall thinking.
Comic artist slinks off and I follow him (we’re using his car). Rocker dude stays with red-haired friend-of-gays gal. Later that week, they run off together to Texas or somewhere far away and comic artist phones my house to whine about the betrayal and I quickly find a reason to hang up and be somewhere else.
Later, I’m at a comic convention with this guy at which Dave Sim is in attendance (he did a silly little funny animal comic book called Cerebus). Comic artist and Sim talk. Later, after the show, comic artist tells me that he’s going to do a comic with Sim. “We’re going to jam, man.” They never do.
Some time after that, comic artist pal starts up a rock ‘n’ roll band. By this time, his dad has blown his brains out, his mom has sold the house and he no longer has that cool pad in his parents’ basement. For myself, I still have my house and a wife and a son. Comic artist guy is living in a shed in the back yard of his mom’s new place. When I visit him there, I have to go outside in the bushes next to his shed to take a piss. This is where he tells all of his visitors to go to take a piss. I shudder to think what this place must smell like when the heat presses down in the summer.
I go to see him perform in a club with his rock ‘n’ roll band. I wonder if he’ll ever grow the fuck up. At this time he’s drawing lots of comic books for a number of companies. He knocks the stuff out and the lack of effort shows. We all wonder how he keeps finding work. Drinking beer in the bar, I watch as he and his band come up on the makeshift stage and begin to play. They’re not very good. They sing the theme to the Ralph Bakshi Spider-Man TV show. I finish my beer and leave.
Comic book artist lands a gig drawing a major comic book for a major publisher. The money rolls in. He still lives in the shed in his momma’s back yard. But he spends lots of money on prostitutes, and is later shocked when the money runs out and they stop seeing him. I’m so stunned by the fact that this is a revelation to him that I once again find something else to do and somewhere else to be and hang up on his whining voice.
Later, he’s seriously dating a woman who has children (not his). At some point, this woman breaks off the relationship (after he loans her parents money), and around the time another high-paying gig ends and the money dries up. She won’t return his calls. Comic artist pal calls me up to complain about this, expecting me to have some answers. I have none for him. Finally, he says to me:
“I’m going to kill her kid.” (I recall that she has a two-year-old.)
“It’s the only way I can think of to get her attention…man.”
I hang up and call long-distance information to get the number of the police in his town. After that, I hang up and look at the number the operator has given me. I’m going to rat his crazy ass out before he can do anything insane.
The phone rings. I pick it up.
“I was just kidding, man,” he says.
“Yeah. I wouldn’t do anything like that. I’m just frustrated is all. I wouldn’t do that.”
I hang up. I don’t call the police. Thank the gods, he doesn’t kill her child. Yeah, I should have called the cops anyway, but I didn’t. I didn’t.
Some time after this, comic book artist pal calls to tell me he’s got a new girlfriend. They get married. He moves out of the shed in his momma’s back yard. He and his wife have a kid. Then another. He can’t find work.
“I really need work, man. I don’t have any money coming in. My wife is the only bread-winner.”
“Get a job,” I tell him. “Any job. Loading dock. Warehouse. If you need money, you can always get a job lifting heavy shit.” He’s horrified at the concept of working, of manual labor. He won’t consider it. He slowly sells off the cool stuff that used to adorn his basement pad in his parents’ house. The monster stuff. The Bettie Page stuff. The comic book stuff. The gittar.
“I had to sell my guitar, man!” No. You didn’t. You had to get a job, you lazy bastard.
Over the years, I would occasionally sell a script here and there to some publisher. When they’d ask me about an artist, I would sometimes give them his name and phone number. He needed the money. He’d sometimes get the gig.
One day, toward the end, when his peculiarities had reached the point at which I had to admit that he was insane, I sit in the living room of his apartment. His wife is at work. His kids putter about the place. Somehow he steers the conversation to discussing some aspect of World War II. He knows it’s a passing interest of mine. He also knows that my mom was half-Jewish.
“You know,” he says. “The Germans were justified in exterminating the Jews.”
I look at him. My eyebrow perks up over my one good eye. “How’s that,” I ask. (This is one I have to know.)
“Can you imagine—living in your own country—and you have to go to this…this alien to ask for money.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“German Jews controlled all of the money. Germans had to go groveling to Jews to ask for their own money!” (Yes, this guy had been known to hang out with the other comic artist I wrote about earlier.)
Having been raised in the South, I am vividly aware of the sanctity of another’s man’s home. You don’t challenge a man in his own home. So I get up and leave. I don’t see comic book artist pal for some time. He sends me emails in which he slowly begins to assail my character, my physical appearance, and then my wife.
I attend a comic book convention to help a friend who sells comic books. I am walking down the hall of the convention building. I see comic book artist pal in the wide space with his wife and kids. I head his way and stop him.
“Let’s step outside,” I say to him. (We are not in his house, now.)
“No,” he says.
“Come on you fucking, worthless, crazy, mother-fucking sack of shit. Don’t be a fucking coward. Step outside with me and let’s settle this. You need your fucking ass kicked in the worst fucking way you goddamned worthless piece of shit.”
He calls to his wife, who steps between us to defend him. I recall how he once choked her senseless and an ambulance had to be called to take her to the hospital. I’ve heard about the psychology of women who suffer this kind of abuse, yet remain faithful to the abuser. But I’ve not heard about the psychology of a person like me who knows a guy is insane and yet remain friends with the nut.
With his pitiful wife defending him, I have to let the cowardly racist woman-beater go. He quickly finds a phone and the police come to talk to me. They tell me not to beat him up. I promise them that I won’t do so.
Comic book artist pal is now far away. On the west coast, living not far from where my nephew, a medical doctor, now resides. My nephew keeps inviting me out to stay with him and see the area and climb some mountains.
I may take him up on this.
There’s some unfinished business.