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Miscellaneous’

Suppressing the Urge

In the last few days I’ve been recipient of the Internet phenomenon of instant criticism in the form of user comments. Since Monday (and today is only Wednesday), I’ve incurred the wrath, scorn, sneering derision and hurt feelings of horror and fantasy/Furry folk (though mainly the latter).

In conjunction with the release of Pariah, Entertainment Weekly’s web edition ran an item in which I recommend the work of some of my favorite contemporary horror writers. Now, maybe the title of the article (“Pariah author Bob Fingerman reveals his five favorite tomes of terror”) was a bit inexact. They were five faves that came to mind of authors I like and/or feel don’t get enough notice. So, I knowingly left out people whose work I’ve enjoyed, like Stephen King, because I figured he’s not hurting for readers. The thing is, by not touting King I’d committed the crime of omission and was dubbed a “moron” for such (and for not hyping Poe or Lovecraft, either). Thing is, over the course of my nearly hour conversation with Mr. Collis, I did mention Lovecraft in regard to one of the authors I commended, Ramsey Campbell, who is present day’s closest heir, having even started off as pretty much a Lovecraft imitator. But the article compressed and edited the discussion (of course), so I appeared to some as a culturally illiterate horror dilettante.

The urge to respond is hard to suppress. I want to address my critics and in a reasonable tone explicate what’s what and how, “No, really, I love Lovecraft and Poe! But again, they don’t need the ink (or pixels, as the case may be).”

And always Michele sagaciously instructs me: “Don’t you dare!” Because it’s a slippery slope that leads to a bottomless hole.

Today brought back memories, though. A piece I wrote went up on tor.com, today, about my aversion to Avatar and its elongated blue cat-like native critters, the Na’vi. I wryly posited that I regarded Avatar as a mainstreaming of the Furries, those people for whom dressing up as curvaceous cartoon animals is an erotic experience. I thought it was funny, but clearly I was wrong. I’d offended, big time. The fur flew. It was a dog-pile of censure.

Years ago, when I first got on the ‘Net—back in probably 1993 or ’94—my buddy John introduced me to the Furries. My gateway Furry was called AJ Skunk (you never forget your first). I thought it was a joke, but John assured me, “Oh no, this is a real thing. And he’s not alone.” I was gobsmacked that this was a lifestyle people would pursue (or would that be fursue? And don’t give me shit about the bad pun; they call their gatherings ConFurences.).

So, anyway, my Tor item brought the thunder. I had offended the sensibilities of this not officially classified special interest group. Thing is, that wasn’t my intent. In my own wiseass way I’d been quite naïve. I thought it was just a droll (humor being subjective) puff piece that turned out to be neither droll, nor puffy enough. Seeing the comments (which were, I must say, articulate and mostly fairly reasonable, given the subject matter) part of me thought, “Oh, get over it. Really? Really? This is what sets you people off?” Another part felt genuinely bad about offending. It was like I’d stepped into their clubhouse and taken a shit right in the center of the floor. The third part, the dark side, wanted to egg it on. Throw down.

But I didn’t. This is my response. The response is: never respond. Walk it off. Take a breath. Write a one-off essay about the self-destructive urge to participate and get on with your life.

Frank Frazetta, RIP

Frazetta
My first summer job was working for a pet supply store called Ruffs Meow on Queens Boulevard. The owner was a guy named Dom who popped in from time to time to use the bathroom to smoke pot. He’d check on sales with the manager, a Jim Belushi-esque guy name Matthew, then disappear. I was fifteen and it was a good experience.

During my lunch breaks I’d usually go home for something to eat, but on payday I’d take the money and run nearly a mile from the store to Walden Books in Forest Hills and my first purchases with my hard-earned money were the Peacock Press/Bantam Books trades of The Fantastic Art of Frank Frazetta and its follow ups. I savored each page of his work. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have that much talent. His work had so much power and vitality. His women had big asses and hips and even dimples on their thighs. They were fleshy and hot as hell. I admired his composition and palette.

Many years later the Alexander Gallery on Madison Avenue had an exhibit of Frazetta’s work and seeing many of those canvases in person was mind blowing. As in the case of Norman Rockwell, seeing the originals blew any reproductions away. I was surprised at how small some of Frazetta’s paintings were, but though they were modest in size the art was barely contained in those frames. The colors and textures were unreal.

My own art never aspired to be like Frazetta’s. There was no way I’d ever come close and fantasy wasn’t really my bag, but he was, is and always will be an inspiration. I hope all the matters of his estate are resolved amicably and ethically. His legacy and work should be in museums to be enjoyed and admired for the ages.

Yo ho huh?

Online piracy is going to be the death of a way to make a living for every creative person, eventually. Remember years ago how the “fans” shit all over Metallica—especially Lars Ulrich—for taking Napster to court over file “sharing?” Didn’t matter how many times he said it was the principle of the thing—that he was in court not just for rich Metallica, but all the poor bands for whom every lost sale of a CD actually matters—the “fans” were like, “Metallica only cares about money!” Well, now everyone’s CD sales are way down (except Susan Boyle, because her fans are clueless old farts who don’t know about file sharing torrents). Lars was right.

I recently experienced the joy of being pirated. Somebody—no doubt some naïve teen or college kid who thinks, like, everything should be free, man—scanned and uploaded issues of From the Ashes onto a torrent site. I saw one issue had been downloaded about 1500 times. I’m not saying all those downloads would have translated to sales, but suffice it to say that if it meant some lost sales on a book doing as modestly as mine, that hurt me. It hurts every creator who’s trying to make a living plying his or her craft.

The book trade has been suffering steadily declining losses of revenue for some time. Between Americans by and large not exactly being readers and a bad economy, book sales are down. But now, with things like the Sony’s E-Reader, Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook (and why such infantile names? Why not the Chaucer or the Tome?), and more and more books being digitally available, well, Publishers Weekly reports “Publishers could be losing out on as much as $3 billion to online book piracy…”

Like books? Love books? Keep buying them or taking them out from the library. Every time you download some creator-owned item that’s *readily available for legitimate purchase, be it a book or song or movie or whatever, just picture yourself taking food from its creator’s mouth.

*Note: This is an important distinction. If you’re downloading stuff that’s out of print or isn’t currently and won’t likely ever be available for purchase, that’s when I think file sharing is not only a-okay, but a commendable way of sharing odd and interesting materials.

CINEMA SEWER COVER THUMBS

I’ve enjoyed the often filthy Canadian movie ‘zine Cinema Sewer for quite some time (especially issue #16, which was devoted in part to post-apocalypse movies). CS is a treasure trove of exploitainment for the cineast who enjoys some muck in their movie viewing. I was happy to oblige its publisher/writer/creator/cartoonist Robin Bougie with cover art for its “Film Noir” issue (coming sometime in early 2010). Here are some thumbnail sketches I did. I ended up going with a variation on the upper right-hand one (see my gallery page for the final art, or click here).

thumbnails

Detail from final art (click for larger version):CS-detail

Oldie But Rushdie

Usually when I look at my old art I don’t like it (kid stuff not included; that, I love). But I was just going through my flat file, purging some stuff, and came across this cover I did for the Village Voice Literary Supplement. It had to do with the Salman Rushdie fracas (it’s from 1989). Anyway, maybe because I did it in a different style it’s like the work of someone else and I can be a little more objective. I think it’s pretty good.

vls-rushdie

David Aaron Clark, R.I.P.

I just learned that an old friend of mine died last week.

In the late ’80s/early ’90s, David Aaron Clark was an editor of mine at Screw. I wrote my comics review column, “Panel Debasement,” for him (the one that a few posts ago I lamented having written—or at least the way I wrote it). My friend John Walsh—who at the time was also an editor at Screw—suggested I write the column in the first place, but for whatever reason—conflict of interest? No, that sounds too professional—he passed along the actual editing to Dave. Dave and John had a funny working relationship/friendship. Very prickly; lots of insults and verbal sparring.

Dave was the basis for the character Elvis Seward Foucault III (so-named because Dave loved Elvis Presley, William Seward Burroughs II and Michel Foucault) in my comic series Minimum Wage (later Beg the Question).

When Dave first arrived at Screw he was just a portly nerd whose path had led him there. He’d had loftier literary/journalistic ambitions, but such is life. He dressed in jeans and sweaters and was clean-shaven. He found a groove at Screw and fit in. He was a funny guy, but dry of wit. Very dry. Walsh’s humor was broader and he scored laughs easily. Dave’s humor kind of snuck up on you.

Dave and I hung out fairly often in those days. But he metamorphosed during that time period. The sweaters and jeans were replaced by leather pants, full-sleeve tattoos, elaborate facial hair and big leather dusters and cowboy hats. All black. His personal life was often tumultuous and took an irreversibly dark turn with the suicide of Jean, his then girlfriend and band mate (he had a band called the False Virgins). This forever altered him (as such an event would do to anyone with a pulse). Dave always seemed in conflict with his lapsed—but never cured—Catholicism. Though a self-professed agnostic, he took to sporting a large crucifix pendant. Guilt was a big theme with him and after Jean’s death he started a course of both personal and public atonement.

He started performing S&M rituals in videos and onstage. He’d be cut up and pissed on. Later on it provided darkly comic fodder for my cartoon version of him, but at the time and in reality it was disturbing and I wanted nothing to do with it. He often mocked me for my “cloistered” and “safe” approach to life. His humor became more acid. When one goes from being a spectator of porn to a participant, it’s a slippery slope. After some ugly tabloid incidents in his personal life he left Screw and headed west to pursue creating porn full time. We lost touch, though on occasion we’d run into each other. Last I saw him in the flesh was at the San Diego Comic Con. I wasn’t sure why he was there, but I suspect that you could take the boy away from the geek, but you couldn’t remove the geek from the boy. He still liked comics, etc. I hadn’t seen him since before I’d started Minimum Wage and I wasn’t sure if he’d seen it. He had and he told me he thought it was “brilliant.” His word. But it meant a lot to me to have his blessing.

I tried many times over the years to reconnect with Dave, via the Internet. We sometimes would start a correspondence but it always derailed almost immediately. I think maybe my life was just a little too prosaic for him. He’d chosen his path and the two didn’t overlap, even via email. About two months ago I tried again on Facebook. I wrote him and he wrote back and not much was said and that was it.

He was 49. He was never a likely candidate for the Old Pornographers’ Home, but still.

BTQ_104

Humbling

One of the functions of youth, I suppose, is that it gives you something to look back on with a mixture of horror and nostalgia, depending. I was just rummaging through/organizing stuff in my mini-storage locker, the goal being winnowing its contents down and moving the rest out, hence relieving Michele and I of what is now a non-essential monthly expense.

Buried amidst the treasures and dross are many examples of my older work, which I just perused with no small horror. I’ve never slacked. I always worked very hard at what I was doing. But, Jesus, so much of it is wretched and ugly. Ugly in style, execution, content. Rigid and overworked. I also read some of my old columns (from 1990) for Screw, in which I was tasked with reviewing “adult” comics. So much vitriol. I guess it was my job, but yeesh. I actually feel a bit ashamed. That’s not to say that most of what I’d reviewed didn’t deserve scorn, but there was such callow self-righteousness, smugness and malice in my words. Some of it is kind of funny, but still. I always tried to find some praise-worthy offering to balance the column, but I dunno. They’re predominantly nasty pieces of work. Much of it is attributable to being at the time 25, recently divorced, resentful and angry. But that doesn’t excuse everything. The first issue of From the Ashes was recently reviewed by some youngster online who seems to take the same relish in trashing stuff as I did at his age. Hopefully he’ll learn. If not, he’ll have plenty to look back on twenty years hence and feel embarrassed about.

And my own offerings in comics. (Deep sigh.) It’s a hazard publicly learning as you go, and I am glad that things go out of print. This summer, at a hippie-ish store upstate, Michele saw a copy of an adult comic I did in ’91. I asked her not to tell the owner it was my handiwork, but she did anyway. He, of course, then wanted me to sign it (to presumably—ha!—make it more salable). I inscribed it “With regrets, Bob Fingerman.” To paraphrase Sinatra, “Regrets, I’ve had a few / And when I do, I have to sign ‘em.”

In the recent years my work is finally getting somewhere close to being almost what I want it to be. But the past. Oh, golly, the miserable past…

Recess Pieces Makes Cameo in Horror Movie!

Canadian indie-cinema horror auteur Brian Clement has featured my book, Recess Pieces, as set dressing in his Lovecraftian mind-fuck flick Dark Paradox. Clement plays an author who needs to get away from the city (where strange things are beginning to happen) to finish a manuscript for his publisher. But when he reaches his bucolic getaway to type in peace, well… the best laid plans of mice and men and so on.

It’s an enjoyable movie. Check it out.

Recess Pieces makes itself comfortable on the main character’s desk:
Auteur/star Clement having a “WTF” moment: