Friday, January 26, 2007

Another Crazy Comic Book Artist.

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.

“You were?”

“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.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Comic Book Artists I Have Known

Comic Book Artists I Have Known.
First in a series
James Robert Smith

Recently, a comic book artist/writer for whom I have much admiration stated that one of the clearest thinkers he knew was another comic book artist/writer I do not admire (to put it lightly). Which just goes to show how one can be totally surprised (even stunned) by the comments of someone whose intellectual capacity was not under any suspicion.

Since I used to work in the comic book industry as a retailer (I once owned several comic book shops), and then, peripherally, as a writer (I managed to sell several stories to several publishers), I came to know quite a number of comic book artists. Most of these folk were pleasant enough, and many of them were rather strange, and some were truly sweet, and some were dazzlingly smart, and some were glib, and some were stupid, and a few of them were actually evil.

Back in the day, when I was roaming around the USA selling collectibles, I used to stop at the home of a well-known comic creator when I was in the city where he lived. He had a great house with an enormous dry basement packed with comic books and all kinds of neat collectible shit that he dealt on the side. I really liked this guy. He had his act down, and he would quote the lines he’d rehearsed that clung to his created persona perfectly. This guy was very pleasant to be around and I always got a kick out of my visits there where I would buy lots of back issues of his comic on my way out the door at a price that enabled me to mark them up and make a decent profit.

During my visits there, we discovered that we shared an interest in WWII history. I especially liked discussing the European Theater of operations, for I’ve always found the personalities at work in that particular part of the war far more interesting than the folk fighting the racist Whites versus Asians battle going on in the Pacific Theater. This artist and I would have a good time talking about the various generals, colonels, captains, lower-grade officers and famous non-coms, and the respective battles that all made them into legends.

The last time I was at this cat’s house, he began to tell me the details of a particular German officer whose history was unknown to me: Joachim Peiper. The stories were rather interesting. And he mentioned to me a quote from Gen. Peiper. After the war, some Allied journalist asked him if he had any regrets. And Peiper’s reply was:

“Only that we lost.”

To which I replied, “Fuck that Nazi son-of-a-bitch.”

I will never forget the expression of utter pain that passed over the face of my comic book artist host. In retrospect, it was almost touching. He had thought, because I had an objective interest in professional soldiers such as Otto Skorzeny that I was sympathetic to the Nazi cause. This artist had no way of knowing that my mom was half-Jewish and that I am an ardent anti-racist. And I had, just previous to this moment, had no inkling that the artist into whose house I sometimes went to visit was, in fact, a closet neo-Nazi who, I later learned, had friends who were active in the neo-Nazi movement. I’d had no suspicion that the Nazi memorabilia in his basement had any significance other than as collectibles to be bought and sold for a profit. In short, I’d had no idea that my sometime host was an actual, honest-to-Goebbels Nazi.

Later, I learned from speaking to a few other comic book artists who lived in his area and who knew him fairly well that he was, in fact, an extreme racist and a virulent Jew-hater. One of his friends had been imprisoned after being convicted of killing a black man just so that he could meet certain criteria for a certain tattoo on his elbow.

“You might not want to go back over there,” one of the comic book artists told me.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “Not going to happen.”

I’ve told this story a few times, and I’m always asked who this guy is. Well, frankly, it’s none of anyone’s business who this guy is. My own dad was a radical leftist who thought that he would live to see the violent overthrow of the capitalist system. That was his business, to think what he wanted to think and await a revolution that was never going to come. And it’s no one’s business but his own what this artist thinks. My dad suffered because of what he thought and said, because there was no end to folk who never failed to denounce his beliefs and rat him out to the FBI and the local population who would hound him without mercy. Similarly, this Nazi comic book artist can damned well think and say and believe whatever it is he wishes without having to worry about someone ratting him out for no good reason. His racist ideas are never going to see fruit. His own right wing beliefs will never be made real. Let him think his diseased thoughts in peace as he goes about selling his art to white people and black people and Jews and taking their money and living his life.


More crazy comic book artists I have known.

The only good Nazi is a dead Nazi.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Real Pro

A Real Pro
James Robert Smith

He went slowly
to the coffee table and began
to carefully lift each bottle of beer.
Some of them were still half full.
He was going to have to drink a lot of beer before
tossing those bottles.
He hated drinking with people who
weren’t alcoholics.
They wasted too much of
his beer, and it didn’t matter if they’d brought it.
It was his house and they came
to see him, so it was his beer.

Now he was going to have to swill
it all
before he could clear the bottles
Warm beer.
He’d have to watch for cigarette butts,
he realized,
raising the first bottle to
his lips.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Jawbone of an Ass, autobigraphy as fiction.

Some years back, a publisher saw one of my stories in Weird Tales and got in touch with me. He wanted to publish a collection of my short fiction. So Steve Bissette wrote a very nice and flattering introduction and Harry Fassl graciously illustrated the book. But, the publisher turned out to be a flake and the book never appeared.

One of my favorite stories in the stillborn project was an original that was a departure for me. Semi-autobiograpy, with not a hint of the supernatural. It was my first step away from typical horror fiction and I've never gone back to the kind of thing I wrote before I wrote this one.

I won't say where autobiography veers from fiction.

The Jawbone of an Ass
James Rorbert Smith

At first glance, Ed Jones looked like 250 pounds of fat. Lots of people made that mistake. But Ed wasn't all fat. He worked out with the weights at the South Georgia Barbell Club, and he could bench-press over 400 pounds. His arms were like steel, his legs like a couple of concrete posts. However, with the baggy shirts he wore, he looked like just a great, big fat guy.

It was well known that he was half-Jew. His dad had been a Jew from New York. Everyone knew it and it followed him around the small Georgia town like a gauzy ghost dogging his ass. "Yeah, my daddy was a Jew," he'd say. He didn't give a damn. His dad had always told him that Ed couldn't be a Jew because your mom has to be a Jew for you to be a Jew. So he wasn't a Jew. But everyone else thought he was. Damn Jew, they'd mutter. How'd a Jew ever get a name like Jones, anyway, they'd ask.

So these two guys, one named Philip Tow and the other named Ricky Webb, were into the Aryan Nation stuff. They'd bought the party line: Jews were evil. They didn't know Ed Jones, but they knew of him, and they knew where he hung out. The pair of Georgia boys decided to go to the bar where Ed liked to drink so that they could kick his ass. It would be fun.

Ed was at a booth waiting for his friends, Batten and Gronroos and Gardner. They all went to the Binnacle off the St. Simons Island Causeway every Wednesday night to throw down a few drinks and shoot the breeze. Ed was always early to grab the booth in the rear and wait for the others, before the place had a chance to get crowded. That's where he was, sitting in the back, when Tow and Webb came in.

The pair of racist shit-kickers saw Jones there, slowly sipping his favorite, a vodka-Collins. He'd nurse one of those for a while, chew the ice, and wait for his pals.

The pair of jeans-clad, flannel-wearing sonso'bitches eased down to the shadowy rear where Jones was sitting ignorant of their intention. They'd planned it out, and they didn't want to take too long. Kick the Jew's ass and get out before John Law came calling.

The bartop ran almost to the very back of the building, where Ed was cloaked in the shadows. Tow was closest to him, Webb just to the right of his neo-Nazi pal. They each put one foot up on the kick rail and turned toward Jones and Tow said, "I think I smell a dirty fucking Jew, Webb. What about you?"

"Yeah," Webb agreed. "I smell the filthy rat-looking piece of shit, too."

Ed just froze and glared at them from where he sat. He didn't really look like much if what you thought you were seeing was just a big, fat guy waiting for his pals. His face was kind of boyish, his hair flat and dark brown, his clothes plain. Yeah, he was as wide as a Mack truck, but most fat-asses were. Tow, a lean and wiry sort of fellow, a natural athlete who had avoided all participatory sports in high school, leaned forward in a rather artful way and spit at Ed. The small gob of mucus arced and landed almost elegantly on the third button of Ed's blue work shirt.

Ed wasn't really what came to the mind of your average South Georgia racist when he thought of a Jew. Well, not unless that particular cracker bought into that jazz about all of those Philistines and the jawbone of an ass. These guys just were not expecting what happened next.

Ed came out of his shadowy booth like a gigantic cannonball. Neither of his targets was able to so much as flinch before he was on them. Tow, of course, was first. Ed's hands were small, and his fingers long and lean, like those of a fine musician rather than those of a fighter. But his right fist cracked against Tow's face, and the noise that shot through and through the bar was the sound of Tow's once solid mandible shattering like a dry twig underfoot. Before he could even react to the excruciating pain that was spasming down his neck and up into his rather pitiful excuse for a brain, Ed had rammed his elbow into Tow's chest, almost breaking him in half. Only the amazing quality of the spine to flex saved him from a severed backbone.

And next there was Ricky Webb. He was able to take half a step away during this blinding display of violence, and so Ed had to reach out and grab at him. Ed missed in his grasp for the back of the white boy's skull and his fingers snapped shut on Webb's left cheek, which then stretched impossibly as Ed pulled Webb's head down and forward, bringing his muscled thigh up, up, up. Pow. Webb's nose exploded in a great, impressive shower of crimson that exited his face in a violent blossom of warm wet.

Unconscious, Webb did not feel his body being lifted, one-handed, and smashed down upon the painfully crawling form of his already shattered buddy. The breath whooshed out of Tow's lungs, and the leader of that particular pack of vermin was not able to scream as Ed danced merrily and quite madly upon the two bodies now staining the wooden, splintery floor of the Binnacle.

Then there was a pause. The air inside the place seemed to hold still, the voice of Waylon Jennings on the jukebox even paused in mid-note. Behind the bar, the 'tender stared back, trying to pierce the dark shadows where he knew the great and powerful Ed was holding a particularly red and violent court. The shadow that was Ed Jones bent over, and in each of his very, very, very strong hands he took a fistful of the hair of those who had thought to bully him. He took those fists filled with their long, well-washed hair and, using his big feet to brace against their skulls, he ripped that hair out by the roots. Webb was awakened by the sheer agony of this act, and his eyes opened to the sight of the Binnacle's floorboards, and he could not quite figure why his head burned as if aflame with the bites of one thousand fire ants.

Ed began to walk out of the Binnacle, with no one there to stop him. Behind, he left Webb and Tow moaning and semi-conscious. In either hand he carried a bit of scalp, each dripping bloodily as he walked.

Just at the door, with the light of the fading sun illuminating his face (but the bartender would claim that he had never seen the person who had so badly beaten Webb and Tow), he turned and addressed the only other man awake in the place.

"Tell Batten and Gronroos and Gardner that I couldn't make it tonight."

"Will do," the bartender said. And he was as good as his word.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Mad Max in the Low Country

I was looking over at E. Campbell's website and saw a photo of this truck:

The truck looks like something out of Mad Max.

And it reminded me of something that happened some years ago in my hometown of Brunswick on the coast of Georgia (the one adjacent to South Carolina, not Russia).

A fellow got locked up in the local jail which had just had an upfit and had an enormous plexiglass front into which you could actually look in and see the jail cells.

Locked-up-fellow's pals decided they needed their buddy with them rather than locked up. So they procured an enormous flatbed truck and went to work on it. Said friends were all handy at metalworking and welding and they built something that did, indeed, look like a contraption from some post-apocalyptic movie. It had a steel cage built over the cab and a gigantic, pointed battering ram over the top that stuck out about three feet beyond the body of the vehicle.

Bright and early one morning they drove their Mad Max monstrosity onto the main drag and to the jailhouse. Getting a good, running start, they floored the thing and rammed it into the new plexiglass window into which you could see all of the cells.

All for naught. The plexiglass was some then-new material. Their battering ram barely scratched the surface, leaving a small cloudy imprint at the point of impact. The truck bounced back and came to a dead stop and refused to start. The pair of morons inside of it leaped groggily from the cab and tried to make their own getaway, but the local cops who had stood in the jailhouse watching this madness through the enormous plexiglass window were on them like dumb on a whiteboy.

They soon joined their pal in the hoosegow.

If I can find a photograph of that contraption, I'll post it. This was in the days shortly before the internet, so it may be difficult to locate.