The Billy Barty Incident

April 17, 2015 by

From the Archives: There was that time I published my post-departed interview with legendary actor Billy Barty and his son Braden quickly contacted me to voice his opinions of the piece…

Q & A: The Ghost of Billy Barty

 He was born on the 25th of October, 1924 in Millsboro, Pennsylvania and began performing at the age of three. His film career began in 1933 and continued right up to his death two days before Christmas in the year 2000. A mere three feet nine inches tall, his talent was nonetheless legendary, his stature in the Hollywood Little Person Community nothing short of monolithic. Through other-worldly medium Melma Frankengibson, Ken Socrates was able to secure the interview of a lifetime (or afterlife-time, if you will). Billy Barty, from beyond the grave, speaks at last about his life in film, the hedonistic chaos of Sid and Marty Kroft’s children’s shows, his torrid affair with the Happy Hooker and the demonic, unstoppable evil that is Ron Howard.

Billy Barty

Ken Socrates: Mr. Barty, this is Ken Socrates, are you there?

Billy Barty (speaking through Ms. Frankengibson): Yeah, I’m here. Can we get on with this, please?

KS: Sure thing. Certainly wouldn’t want to keep you from any important business… like being dead and what not. Let’s start at the beginning. Your first work in movies was with Mickey Rooney in the “Mickey McGuire” short films…no pun intended. What was it like working with him?

BB: I don’t want to talk about that.

KS: But there were always rumors that he was a tyrant on set, even at that age. Did he treat you fairly or not, Mr. Barty?

Listen…Mickey was a motherfucker, everyone knows that. My problem is that he thought he could straddle the line between the little world and the big. Was he a short normal person or a really large dwarf? The fact is, he was just tall enough to fit into the big people’s world and he turned up his nose at us small folk his entire career. He shit on us whenever he could and had no conscience whatsoever. He was five fucking three and he thought he was a goddamn giant. He was a piece of shit and he couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag. End of story.

KS: In 1935 you had a small role in the classic Bride of Frankenstein as the Tiny Baby In A Jar. Was that as humiliating an experience as it seems or was it just the price you paid for art?

BB: You try spending four days naked in a jar, asshole. A fucking jar, okay? It was degrading. Karloff was treated like a friggin’ king on set and off, I mean food, blow, whores, whatever the big freak wanted…and me? They wouldn’t even help me out of the jar after shooting and I had to use a broom closet as a dressing room. Nice to be tall, ain’t it?

KS: Let’s jump ahead a bit, to some of your T.V. work. You played a ventriliquist’s dummy in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Was that a demanding change of pace for you?

BB: Oh, yeah, that was fucking career milestone, wasn’t it? Playing a near motionless inanimate object. How did I ever miss out on the fucking Emmy that year? On top of it all, the actor playing the ventriliquist seemed way too happy to have me on his lap for hours on end. Let’s just say that I wasn’t the only “wooden object” on set each day and leave it at that.

KS: Later on you had a number of appearences on the spy comedy Get Smart but your dismissal involved a certain amount of controversy. Would you care to elaborate?

BB: Well, you have to understand, that was the late sixties, early seventies. Those were wild times, what with drugs and free love and all that. Shit, even a dwarf could get laid every night in those days, especially one with my credentials.There’s no doubt that I was a little out of control. My ego was huge at the time and I thought I was untouchable. They caught me in Don Adams‘ dressing room with Barbara Feldon and three bimbos and a pile of coke that came up to my navel. Problem was, one of the bimbos was, ahem, Mrs. Adams.

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KS: And you brought that same Dionysian abandon with you when you went to work for Sid and Marty Kroft on their various children’s shows, didn’t you?

BB: Of course. I hadn’t learned a thing from the Get Smart incident and went right into the Kroft studios where, lets’s face it, everyone was on drugs, all the time. When I was Googy Gopher on H.R.Pufnstuff I was so far gone on acid I actually thought I lived in Pufnstuf land, man. I fucking slept under the mushrooms, I refused to come out of my costume and I thought Witchiepoo was Jesus. One night about 3 a.m. they found me weeping on the floor mumbling some incoherent gibberish to the empty head of the Polkadotted Horse. That’s how far gone I was.

KS: It didn’t improve when you played Sparky The Firefly on The Bugaloos, I assume?

BB: Shit, no. The Krofts thought they could sort me out by having me play a character calledSparky?!? I mean, we were supposed to be a rock and roll band with bug wings, weren’t we?!? Believe me, I lived the life. I was sparky, all right. I smoked enough weed and hash to put a small herd of elephants into a fucking coma. I couldn’t have told you what planet I was on if you asked me, man.

KS: It all came to an end on Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, though, didn’t it?

BB: Yeah. We were out of control by then, you know. No one on that show could even get out of bed without a fistful of bennies and a snort or two. I think there were four or five random guys that played Slurp and Burp and they kept rotating them in from the street and each one was more stoned than the last. Johnny Whitaker may have seemed like a nice kid, but he was so strung out on smack that he was stealing equipment from the soundstage to keep up his habit. I mean, there were after hours orgies on the beach set, there were week long binges where we’d never get five goddamn minutes on tape because everyone was tripping so bad. I personally had to talk Van Snowden, who played Sweet Mama Ooze, off of a ledge one day when he was so tweaked on PCP he thought he was fucking Green Lantern or some stupid shit.

KS: It deteriorated that fast?

BB: Well, when they brought in Rip Taylor, it was all over. I like to party like the next guy but that motherfucker is insane. I mean, he came in there and took things to a new level. Elaborate sex toys, whips and harnesses, latex…drugs no one had even heard of, shit they used for fucking voodoo, stuff made from human beings, shit that would punch your fucking ticket…and guns, of course. The bastard was a walking arsenal. He was just bad news but you know what? We followed him like lemmings right into the fucking abyss. I barely remember anything about that time period, just what seems like endless weeks of screaming and throwing up, gun shots, total, absolute madness. They shut us down within a month.

KS: For the next few years you were in an out of rehab facilities but you still managed to work fairly steadily in films like the ensemble peice Won Ton Ton, The Dog Who Saved Hollywood and The Amazing Dobermans with Fred Astaire. Were you in recovery or just fooling yourself?

BB: Do I really need to tell you that the seventies were a bad time, man? Look, it was rough. I was a lost, broken man. I felt small, you know? It wasn’t til I met Joey that things started to turn around for me.

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KS: You’re referring to Joy Heatherton who you met on the set of The Happy Hooker Goes To Washington. You’ve always credited your romance with her as having a rather significant, positive effect on your life, haven’t you?

BB: She was a great gal, Joey was. Sweet as a peach with legs you had climb up like a goddamn mountaineer. And the rack on her…shit, for the first few weeks of the shoot I cranked off every night in my trailer fantasizing about her like some school kid. I was smitten, no doubt.

KS: How did you two end up together, then?

BB: What’s that supposed to mean? What, you think because I’m a little stunted, height-wise, that I don’t have it where it counts? Believe me, my man, Billy Barty has no problem takin’ care o’ the ladies, if you know what I mean. I was a smooth motherfucker, bro, and I left ’em sweatin’ and pantin’ on another fucking planet, man. Oh yeah, that’s right.

KS: I’m sorry, are we channeling Barry White here by accident? You seem a bit defensive on the subject, Mr. Barty. How did the relationship progress after the film?

BB: We were together for a few years, on and off. I won’t lie, it was mostly sexual. When we got together we could melt steel in the inferno of our raging passion. It was never really more than that but it gave me the boost I needed at that point. I was a new man after that, all full of myself and shit. I had confidence and that carried me on for most of the rest of my life.

KS: And it seems like your motion picture career really took off at this point as a result. You did some high profile projects with people like Chevy Chase, Jerry Lewis, Sophia Loren and Scott Baio.

BB: Yeah, that was the start of the really good years for me. I was at my peak. I totally carried Lewis through that Hardly Working flick. The man was already starting to go downhill fast at that point. Chase was a real crack up and I was glad I could help him with the transition from SNL to filmwork. He’ll tell you how I took him under my wing and showed him the ropes in Tinseltown, if you ask. Sophia was a real doll and I thought that her work in Firepower was totally overlooked by the academy. Let’s be honest, O.J. sunk that project. And Baio was a bit of a punk but he could’ve been a major star, let’s face it. It’s just that Skatetown U.S.A. was way before it’s time. People just weren’t ready for that kind of hardcore roller-skating disco movie.

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KS: I think you really you hit your stride after that when you were repeatedly cast in the blockbuster fantasy films of that era. You were Gwildor in Masters of the Universe, Screwball in Legend and, of course, The High Aldwin in Willow among others. Was this a trend you enjoyed or did you feel a bit typecast?

BB: Well, this was pre-Lord of the Rings, don’t forget. This was before the notion that little folk could actually make a difference, actually carry an action film like that. We were comedy relief in most of them back then, but it was still good work. These days its pretty cool to be a Hobbit, isn’t it? Except now Hobbits are actually tall people shrunk down by computers to look like little people. They don’t actually need one of us at all, do they? Except maybe as a fucking stand-in. Bastards.

KS: In Ron Howard’s Willow, though, you have a very positive role. In fact, most of the heroes, including the title character, are little people and they ultimately save the day. Isn’t this an example that your kind were slowly getting more respect in Hollywood?

BB: I really can’t comment about Willow, man. It’s way too dangerous.

KS: I’m sorry, what do you mean “dangerous”?

BB: You really don’t know, do you? Howard has you under his spell, too, doesn’t he? Fucking Opie…fucking Richie Cunningham…the whole world thinks he’s this innocent, wholesome character, a child star turned Oscar winning Hollywood director, don’t they? So few even suspect the truth, it’s terrifying.

KS: The truth about what? Mr. Barty, you’re scaring me here. What is it we don’t know about Ron Howard?

BB: My god, don’t you have a fucking clue how dangerous it is to talk about this??? He has people everywhere, man. You think I’m safe even here?!? Fuck…

KS: What is it, Mr. Barty? What?

BB: He is Evil personified. He’s not even from this world. I think he was some sort of demonic overlord in a hidden dimension or something before he crossed over into our plane of existence back in the fifties. He must’ve taken one look around and started drooling at the prospect of a new world to enslave. The Andy Griffith Show was just the beginning, but look at the damage he did there. Do you think Don Knotts was that way naturally? Do you think he was that twitchy and shaky and bug eyed before Howard got to him??? God only knows what sort of hellish blood ritual that the poor fucker was forced to participate in. And then Happy Days? How come no one ever talks about the disappearence of Anson Williamsand Donny Most? They never even found the bodies, for Christ’s sake.

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KS: Are you telling me that Ron Howard, director of A Beautiful MindApollo 13 andSplash, is actually some sort of otherworldy, satanic being come here to torture and enslave all of us? Thats a little hard to believe, Mr. Barty.

BB: The evidence is all around you, fuckhead. Do you think the devil would show up and announce his presence to us??? All fiery and red and horns everywhere like “Hi, folks, I’m the Devil.”? Shit, no. He’d come all innocent and shit, like, for instance, A FUCKING, CUTE, FRECKLE FACED, HONEST-LOOKING BRAT THAT EVERYONE FUCKING LOVES! Now he has us where he wants us, thinking he’s this nice, talented guy that everyone respects. But look closer…he’s in a position of power, where he can influence millions. Yeah, his flicks seem like the average, formulaic, bland Hollywood tripe, but slow them down and look for the subliminal stuff. It’s there. Rape, torture, human sacrafice, cannibalism, you name it. I mean, Parenthood alone has enough raw human blood letting hidden between the scenes that it makes the Spanish Inquisition look like an episode of Romper Room.

KS: Mr. Barty, if this is true, we need to let the world know about this. What more can you tell us? What is he planning now? When will he strike again? Help us understand.

BB: I… wish I could… but I’ve said enough already. I can already feel something…a…presence…the smell of sulfur…can you sense it…?

KS: Not really…Maybe, you could just tell us about your first hand experiences with him, then. Did you have any strange encounters with him on the set of Willow?

BB: (long pause) I…I just cant…say…

(At this point Ms. Frankengibson begins to struggle visibly, panting, sweating and making animalistic gurgling sounds)

Ms. Frankengibson: We…urk…may need to…gogel…change…the subject…

KS: Alright, alright. I won’t push that any further. Are you still with us Mr. Barty?

BB: (after a short pause) Yeah, I’m here. I think we need to wrap this up now, okay?

KS: Okay, fine. My final question is about your much publicized fued with your fellow little person, Herve Villechaize. Now that you have both passed on, has there been any reconcilliation in death that was not possible in life?

BB: Man, this is the fucking afterlife. You think I’m up here hanging out with fuckingmidgets?!? Fuck off, asshole.

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And the response from his son Braden Barty:

Duh!

That’s about the dumbest most disrespectful thing I’ve ever read about my father.

-Braden Barty 

To which I replied:

Dear Mr. Barty,

Let me first say I am now and have always been a great admirer of your father’s. Through his persona onscreen and from what I know of his personal life I have developed a deep seated respect and admiration for both his talent as an actor and his character as a man. Few other stars in the history of American cinema have the combined resume as a performer and humanitarian that he does.

You probably aren’t aware of this but I was actually a key organizer of the Billy Barty Film Festival at The University of Saskatchewan in the late eighties, early nineties until the round-headed philistines in the art department canned it in favor of a Hammer Horror Marathon despite a wave of righteous protests in opposition. Just goes to show, though, you can never trust Canadians.

That said, I would also like to apologize profoundly to you for the manner in which you have been exposed to some of the more colorful elements of your father’s expansive career in Hollywood. I’m sure you were a bit surprised when you discovered my article and perused it’s contents and I feel rather badly that I wasn’t able to forewarn you that it might contain some harsh examples of the sort of life in the Hollywood fast lane that an actor of your dad’s stature might experience. The film industry, as you know, is like a ravenous, mutated Giant Squid on a bloodthirsty rampage, always looking for new flesh to feast upon. Sort of like a rabid, brain damaged Gila Monster on methamphetamines scouring the desolate desert sands for unsuspecting prey. Or like a runaway wheat harvester posessed by the Devil intent on cutting down every dumb, inbred farmer stupid enough to get in the way of it’s hellish drive toward some grim apocalypse.

Anyway, I do imagine some of what you read was a tad stunning, to the extent that your mind may have erected a wall of denial and dibelief to combat the shock. I can only say that I have the utmost faith in Melma Frankengibson as a professional and trust implicitly the information she is able to relay to me from the spirit world. As you are certainly aware, she is the utmost authority in the world in relation to the Celebrity Post-Mortal community and her credentials are utterly unassailable. I would gladly put you in touch with her in the hopes of comforting you were it not for her strict policy restricting contact with the general public, which I’m certain you will understand.

In closing, allow me to thank you for contacting me on this matter. I’m hopeful that I’ve been able to explain myself to your satisfaction. Please know that my only intent in writing the article about your father was to gain a measure of insight from one whom I considered to be a true master of his art and an inspirational example to all of us in the way he conducted his life. I remain optimistic that I have, in my own small way, helped insure that his legacy will live on.

Best wishes to you and the rest of the Barty family.

Sincerely,

Ken Socrates

P.S. It seems you’re not doing too badly yourself in the world of film as a production assistant, camera operator and miscellaneous crew. I look forward to the day when that IMDb page of yours grows beyond the current handful listings so it might rival the endless, awe-inspiring, century-spanning monster of a list that your father has been blessed with. Keep up the good work, big guy.

Strange, Great Times

July 8, 2013 by

One of the most wonderfully strange things that ever happened to me was this.

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We called it The Ken Socrates Like-A-Look Contest.

Twelve gloriously beautiful loonies whom, to this day, I adore with the sort of undying affection that will earn you a restraining order in most states. They came from all corners of this crazy globe but they all had one thing in common.

The willingness to don the fur hat and sunglasses and, for a moment, just a fleeting moment, find out what it’s like to glide so effortlessly through the stratosphere of cool.

To each of you, a raised glass. Now and forever.

By Roads

March 16, 2013 by

hooksett new hampshire field

Came out of the brush somewhere on Route 103 East, couple miles from where it hooks up to 89. Sun about 5 degrees up from straight dawn, chilly as shit. Wearing nothing but some generic hunter green work overalls, sturdy enough but the name tag torn off and the legs all ripped to hell like I’d been wrestling a particularly vengeful badger. Maybe a fisher cat, I don’t really know. Things are hazy. I know there’s a night at a remote fishing lodge in the mix, little old thing, rustic, one story, up on pylons near the local pond. Bare bones, just for the hardcore angler/naturist type. I know there’s a heavily tattooed Inuit guy named “Crystal” involved, a duffel bag full of truly low grade homegrown, a couple machetes and a box of M-80’s that just kept singing out my name all night long.

I know the cabin’s a smoldering ruin right now and the smart folks have decided to scatter but that’s really about it.

Goddamnit but my ribs are sore and these fucking workboots are a size too small.

Check my pockets. About a dollar and 39 cents. Card from a real estate agent in Wyoming. A comb. Small canvas sack full of nickels. Half a pepperoni sandwich that’s not all bad considering the number of pine needles stuck in the bread. Breast pocket has a hand written note. “Come you bounty hunter. Come you county killer”. Big, crazy letters. Not my handwriting, I don’t think.

I whip the nickels at a passing Saab with two snowboards attached to the roof, shatter the passenger side rear window with a sound like spider monkeys being tortured with a cattle prod. Couple young, well dressed “winter sport enthusiasts” hop out to give me the eye but think better of it when I show them my teeth. Fuck you, roll on. These are my god-cursed woods.

Flag down a passing school bus (apparently it’s Tuesday, who knew?) and luckily the driver is a girl who enjoys a whiff of danger in her life and we spend a a quality quarter of an hour teaching the kids a particularly vulgar sea shanty. Got a good melody and after the driver passes me the flask she’s got hidden in the dash I start feeling weepy. Pop the doors and ditch out near Hopkinton, tuck and roll into the long grass. Some old snow breaks most of the fall but I’m not sure I’ll ever throw a frisbee again with quite the same accuracy as I used to.

Which is sure as shit a good reason to spend 90 minutes by the side of a New Hampshire dirt road screaming incoherently up at the drab morning sky. Voice all raspy and hoarse by the time I get to the barking part of the performance and now I’m just tired. Nap a bit beside and old rock wall where some kid threw a skateboard with three wheels and a torn up dog collar. I hug the thing while I sleep. Gives me a measure of comfort which you wouldn’t expect but that’s me, I guess.

By the time sun sets I’m home. A well meaning member of the local constabulary has brought me here. Whole ride in silence but with the haunted feeling we’d done it before only I have no idea of his name. Seems like a nice kid and so I just keep my mouth shut. Grateful he never mentions the smell. Drives off without a word never thinking to see if I have a key to the place. Which I don’t.

No matter. The wood shed is unlocked and there’s a bottle or two squirreled in the eaves. Short while I’ve got a proper back woods bonfire roaring. Sparks rise up to the neverending stretch of stars and dark, slowly turning above me. Vast. Uncaring. Without judgement or expectation.

A man with a bottle. Rocking and swaying.

Staring into the fire.

Under Western Skies

October 27, 2012 by

I realize I haven’t posted anything here about my trip to the American National Parks out west this summer. It was a glorious, dreamlike journey through the Badlands, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Exploring, hiking, camping. Eyes wide before beautiful vistas, plains and forests, mountains to make you weep just to gaze upon them.

At some point I’ll need to upload a more expansive photo selection and maybe even a word or two from the journal I kept (until general exhaustion stopped the entries entirely). Suffice to say it was an incredible experience. For someone born and raised in and around the murky green sea waters of Boston, it was truly a mind expanding trip. The country opens up out there in ways I never expected. The sky seems so huge above a landscape that seems to stretch into infinity.

Above, please find my favorite photograph from the trip. Below, a brief, musically enhanced summary of the journey.

Jaw, Meet Floor

September 29, 2012 by

Some stunning, stunning, original artwork from Dave Sim’s Kickstarter Campaign as rewards for the big money donations. Incredible, masterful work on display here. From a man who believes his art career is over…

Clearly.

It is not.

*Click on images for full size versions.

Count No Mortal

September 21, 2012 by

I’ve never been the sunniest of characters.

Entering into a discussion about the quest for personal human happiness, I felt the need to unknowingly quote Oedipus Rex.

“Count no mortal happy till he has passed the final limit of his life secure from pain.”

Of course, as a youth, I used to read Greek tragedies for fun. Willaim Faulkner, as well. I was that sort of kid. I still am. I find beauty in what others would consider excessively gloomy music, films of a decidedly twisted bent, art with a darkened perspective. Hell, I even enjoy my comedy black. It all appeals to me, at my very core, exploration and expression of those murky, even unpleasant, elements we find without and within in what I can only describe as an insane world.

There are reasons for it, most likely, as I explained further in the conversation.

“I’m probably the wrong person to even discuss this with, given a lifelong predisposition toward pessimism. Unfortunately, I learned at a young age some harsh lessons about the darker aspects of human nature, the different forms of human suffering, great and small. I think real happiness is very rare. I can’t think of anyone in my immediate life I can describe as having found it. Show me a truly happy person and I’ll show you 10,000 born into horrific, hopeless misery. We are, in so many ways, an ugly, ugly species.

So what do you do? I used to think creative fulfillment was the key to happiness, but the road is littered with successful artists and writers for whom that was no answer, either. Basically, my philosophy is to try and enjoy whatever happy moments you can engineer, however brief or otherwise. Because they seem to always be balanced by a measure of difficulty, stress and sadness. Savor the good things as best you can because it’s always possible the next nightmare is right around the corner.

Oh, look. Here it comes now.”

It really is the way I feel. I don’t see a lot of genuine human happiness or even the possibility of it in the average lifespan. There’s too much burden, too much suffering, to much horrific muck we have to shovel day in and day out. A state of true enlightened happiness seems the stuff of pure fantasy to me. I’m serious in my contention you need to take the time to savor those moments of peace or joy when you can create or stumble upon them. They can be all too rare.

So, is this morbid self-determinism? Have I created the darkness inside and around me simply because I believe it exists? My own pessimism making itself all too real? Perhaps.

Or perhaps is it just an unpleasant form of realism. A sickening inability to completely turn a blind eye to the daily cavalcade of disturbing news stories we’re inundated with, the problems and stresses breaking the minds and backs of the majority of people around us in everyday life, the slow march to nowhere we all seem to be on, spinning about on a planet we’ve all but ruined with our very presence. Our. Stupid. Pointless. Existence.

Then again, maybe I’m just having a bad day. It happens. Either way, I’ve got to go. Honey Boo-Boo is on and I can’t bear to miss it.

Told you I like it dark.

Love Kills

September 15, 2012 by

This should be so cheesy. I know it should. The Chromatics Kill For Love. All synthy and loaded with an early 80’s teenage neon vibe. I should hate it. It screams 1983 and Nicholas Cage in Valley Girl. Satin jackets, pegged pants and strip malls.

Instead it’s just completely beautiful. Fragile and wistful, full of the sort of heart-rending romance you could only truly understand when you were seventeen and driving through damp city streets at 2 a.m. Somehow it captures a feeling that many of us have so easily forgotten. Someone’s breaking your heart but it’s so exquisite. The ups and downs of love never feel quite so poignant than when you’re young and invulnerable, eh?

The sensibility that Nicholas Winding Refn so magically transfused into the film Drive, on the soundtrack to which the Chromatics appear alongside such similarly gorgeous music suited to that feel, like Desire’s sublime “Under Your Spell”.

Just heart-breakingly beautiful stuff.

The End of Glamour

September 4, 2012 by

dave sim

I’m worried about Dave Sim.

The final issue (number 26) of Glamourpuss contained a rather sad closing letter from Dave to his fans (“my almost totally silent audience of 2,400″ as he calls us) describing what he sees as the rather depressive conclusion to what is arguably one of the most important, astonishing cartooning careers in comic book history.

If you think I exaggerate on that front out of fanboy love, well, you’re only half right. I did indeed, before I began worrying that he’d lost his mind completely, consider Dave Sim an idol of mine. As a comics lover and aspiring cartoonist in the late seventies, early eighties, it was Sim who inspired what I wanted to do. I saw the talent and writing ability but I also saw the sheer gall, the balls to set out to self-publish a 300 issue comic book, with themes including religion, politics and gender, featuring a smart-ass, self absorbed, violence prone Aardvark in the Big Two work-for-hire dominated comics landscape of the time. Think about it. The audacity, the commitment, the genuine courage it took to undertake that task.

And then. In March 2004.

To fucking complete it.

So, yeah, I’m slightly biased in my admiration of the man’s work, if not of some of the quirkier aspects of his personalty that surfaced along the way. I admire the bloody mindedness it took to do that. It took a toll on him, for sure, and Things Got Strange, but the work? The actual cartooning aspect? Who else has anything close to that on his or her resume? A mere handful in the entire history of the art form. And, oh, by the way, it is, at times, utterly fucking brilliant. Warren Ellis considers both aspects of it, in typically interesting fashion:

‘Over the course of many thousands of pages, [Cerebus] has been a detailed political novel, a comedy of the court, a drama of the church, a vision quest, a biography of the last days of Oscar Wilde, several deeply strange attacks on feminism and women in general, and an exegesis of Sim’s own bizarre personal take on religion. It fascinates because Sim is an absolutely brilliant maker of pages, a sublime cartoonist with total control of the form… and because, during the progression of the work, you can clearly see his mind crumbling under the pressure of his immense undertaking and twenty-five years of increasing solitude in which he can only express himself to the world through the agency of a talking anteater.’

So, yes, bear that in mind. Genius often pays a price. It’s not a new tale in the art world, is it? One cannot argue the merits of the work as a whole, however. It is monumental. Singular in it’s scope and execution and the independent spirit it represented. Dave Sim, as he sang to us at The Last Signing, did it “his way”.

There was a time I adored him for it, I fully admit. A hero to me he was. I read Cerebus religiously, I wrote to the letters pages, and Dave wrote me back. Hell, I appeared in the letters pages once. Four illustrious photos in issue number 154, the “Connie Lingus Backlash Photos”. Half-naked in a diaper and work boots, hat and shades, sporting beer and weapons (thankfully grainy proof below). Yeah. You might say I was into it.

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So maybe that will help you understand the poignant sadness I feel these days when I read the last pages of Glamourpuss #26. When I see words like this, Dave Sim describing the failing sales of that book and Cerebus Archive and why he’s drawing the curtain, so to speak:

I had arrived at my career end point.

I pulled the plug first on Cerebus Archive, then on Cerebus TV and then on glamourpuss. Not really saying anything to anyone, just walking away and starting my Doomsday Scenario — selling my Cerebus original artwork as slowly as possible, and looking at ways to liquidate the Cerebus Archive itself, up to and including just sending all of it to a landfill site or paying 1-800-GOT-JUNK to haul it all away, selling the house, liquidating the last of my RRSPs and my life insurance policy and just… disappearing.

Read the full letter here at the wonderful Moment of Cerebus site.

There’s a lot of insight in there to the mind of Dave Sim, good and bad. There’s the frustrating seeming resignation to his fate, that he’s got little left to “sell” to the world and Doomsday is upon him. I have trouble believing that, myself. I still see the talent. His work is not yet that of a shaky-handed old man who can’t produce meaningful art. In Glamourpuss, especially in it’s central story “The Strange Death of Alex Raymond”, he has proven to me just the opposite, that he does indeed still have the hands of a Master. There’s a skill there that still makes me sick with envy. There were days I’d have killed for a small portion of that talent. To produce one page like the 6000+ he produced. That part is maddening, to think that, at a reasonably young age (only 56!), he’s resigned to a fate of near irrelevance in his work. This is not something, to me, that needs to be.

There’s also in there, his stubborn, admirable loyalty to his long time Cerebus art partner Gerhard, with whom he shared all the business rewards of their work at a 60-40 percentage and how, in honoring that agreement, part of what has left him so thin monetarily is paying off Ger what he was deserved from a business that, according to Sim, was steadily failing. He did so in 2011, to his utter credit. That you cannot help but respect. Whatever else may be said about Dave Sim, you can never question his integrity, artistic or otherwise. The man stands by his word, he stands by his beliefs. For good or ill, he will continue to do so.

So why does it bother me so? I haven’t spent this much time thinking about Dave Sim and Cerebus in decades. Well, perhaps that this news coincides with the recent Kickstarter Campaign I contributed to which had me rather excited to revisit my love of Cerebus. In fact, I just received a few very nice autographed items from Dave and John Scrudder, the architect of the campaign which would give us a digital version of High Society replete with high resolution art scans, audio and other goodies. Fascinating project which, tragically, has been delayed by an unfortunate fire (see links below).

That this was beginning to reignite an old flame in my heart only to be tempered by Sim telling us he was entering his very own “Latter Days” scenario, is part of it. It’s much more, however. It’s almost a “rage at the dying of the light” situation for me. I can’t stand the thought, cant stand it, as I grow a bit older, that an artist with so much former potency, is willing to just let it all fade away like this. It feels like a gut punch. It’s selfish, perhaps, on my part. Unrealistic, even. I don’t actually know Dave Sim, I have no tangible idea about what his life is like nor any place advising him what it should be. I’d be a fool if I thought I could do so. Period.

However. Speaking, as a longtime admirer of the work. A “fan”, if you will. Who has invested countless hours of his life in pure delight at the man’s art and writing. I feel like pleading to him to not give up like this. To find other avenues. I feel there is an audience, there has to be. Not to revisit Cerebus, which he obviously sees as his defining work, but to find new things, new creations. Whether it’s the gorgeous explorations of photorealism in comic art in “The Strange Death of Alex Raymond”, admittedly not the idea with the most potential for monetary reward, or something as yet completely unimagined. I’d be interested. I’d buy it. Many others would too. It doesn’t have to be The End.

It’s a blank page, at this point, Mr. Sim. An empty piece of S-172 illustration board. Its sits before you ready to be filled and you’ve years and years ahead of you to do so. Good years, I think, if you want them to be.

I’ll be here, waiting to see. Hell, I stuck with you for a 27 year long illustrated novel. I can wait as long as you need me to.

I’m a patient fucker.

P.S. Those of you new to this subject or who, like me, might have wandered for a time, there is a lot of great information available. Dave Sim can be heard from, sometimes, at Dave Sim Art. The site is run by communications director for Aardvark-Vanaheim Inc., Sandeep Atwal, who was also the gentleman scanning the High Society negatives when a fire struck his residence and destroyed them. Help him out if you can, details here. I’ve mentioned Moment of Cerebus already and there’s a wonderful Cerebus Facebook Group I’ve been lucky enough to join where a lot of active information can be garnered from some very astute folks.

Gerhard, the sublimely talented backround artist on Cerebus, who deserves a post entirely unto himself at some point, can be found here. Suffice to say, I consider him one of the all time great pen and ink artists I’ve ever seen.

Update: As of today, September 5th, Dave Sim Art has suspended all sales and the future of the site seems in doubt due to the fire. However, Cerebus Downloads seems to be pressing ahead for the September 12th launch of High Society Audio Digital.

A Dark Debate Rises

August 5, 2012 by

Dark Knight Bane

I’m noticing a distinct love/hate reaction to The Dark Knight Rises. Having seen it twice now, to give myself a fair chance at absorbing and judging the film, I’m not terribly surprised. It is a flawed film, for sure, and expectations after the sublime experience that was The Dark Knight might have been impossibly high for the finale of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Certainly they were in my own mind. Thus, a feeling of mild letdown upon seeing it initially in the theatres was mediated slightly upon a subsequent, quieter viewing that allowed me to more easily enjoy the film for what it iwas.

Don’t mistake me. There are many issues with this film and, as happens at times in Nolan’s work, plot holes develop for the sake of cinematic drama. I understand that and, quite often, it’s worth it in the end. In TDKR, those holes might be a bit more glaring in light of a film less impactful and dramatic than folks had hoped for.

Allow me to present, via Comic Book Movie, two clashing opinions on the merits of the film. A fascinating debate that I urge you only to look at after you have seen the film for yourself and can filter these complaints/praises through your own opinions of the matter.

99 Reasons Why The Dark Knight Rises Sucked

Response To “99 Reasons Why TDKR Sucked”

I have to say, for my part, I fall somewhere in the middle with a far less passionate, emotional response to the thing. There is a lot to what the complainer is saying and many of his points are quite valid. However, it’s obvious his skills and eye as a movie reviewer are more, shall we say, pedestrian than others. It reads a bit like a fan rant at a geek club and not a considered academic review. The response, in turn, may be a bit defensive and unnecessarily harsh by someone making a point of looking down his nose at the “fanboy” complaints.

Either way, it’s a good example of the debate storm the film has generated. One side or the other, or stuck in the middle like me, it’s rather fascinating and enjoyable to see us so stirred up about a “comic book movie”.

We have come a long way, my four-color friends.

Courtney Stoker: The Face of a Sad New Feminism

July 18, 2012 by

Anyone remember when being an activist meant actually being active? Going out and doing something important and relevant for a cause? Not sitting at home behind a keyboard, harrassing celebrities on Twitter over innocent remarks, hoping for 15 minutes of social media fame that you can blog about for the rest of your life?

courtney stoker

Meet Courtney Stoker. The self-described “immoral” sci-fi feminist overlord of an imaginary but soaringly righteous Police State of hard line, blog-serious Twitter watchdogs.

Be careful what you say, Celebri-tweeters! Courtney is ever vigilant and, should you misspeak in any way contrary to her dogmatic views on women who dress up as Princess Leia well, then, you’re going to hear about it!

Take poor Simon Pegg. Gentle, beloved, funny-as-shit Simon Pegg. Makes an innocuous, simply true comment on Twitter in reference to the San Diego Comic-Con about the visually alluring nature of seductively dressed Cosplay women and, boom, Mount Courtney explodes, ready to cover the internet in dark, obscuring volcanic femin-ash. The rage spews forth. Apologies are demanded. The horror! Read the whole exchange if you care to.

There’s no need, of course, if you’d rather deal in simple truth.

One: Simon Pegg is no enemy to feminism, in any way shape or form, and the misguided way this particular militant is attacking him suggests only her own inexperience and lack of focus on the agenda. Any serious activist will tell you. Don’t waste time engaging a possible friend when there are real enemies to fight. Her attack is utterly pointless.

Two: Cosplay girls are sometimes hot. They know it. We know it. Many of them at SDCC deliberately dress in that seductive manner to attract exactly the kind of male attention and publicity they know they will receive at such an event. That’s the truth. Courtney’s issue may be with these women, when you think of it. Not the men with the natural instinct to look at them.

And you know what, fuck it, it’s okay to be male and recognize beauty. Am I objectifying the human body when I marvel at a beautiful Renaissance nude, male or female? Then why am I doing so when admiring the living, breathing real thing? Lighten up, Stoker.

Three: Bottom line, Courney wants publicity. The thrill of showing the world her little Twitter interaction with a celebrity. Imagine how her heart was pounding last night when he replied to her! How her stomach fluttered when he actually responded! Which was his only mistake, by the way. Had he ignored her, he would have denied her the starfucking moment she so desperately desired. That she rushed so quickly to Storify to crow about. “Look! Look! A famous person spoke to me on Twitter! I’m somebody now!”

Sad truth: Real feminism is a cause that deserves better representation than a bumbling amateur like this. A person who says things like, “OMG, that is gross…” It needs real people with real courage and genuine intellect and the willingness to get off their ass and actually fight in a real, tangible way. Not a wee puppy dog barking at passing cars for no reason. A bird in an unlocked cage, tweeting at nothing.

One word for you, Courtney: BORING!


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