The Tool

The ToolOn occasion, in life, one meets the irredeemable shithead.

The asshole’s asshole. The Pork-sword who cannot find his better self–or get out of his own way. The art world is fairly littered with them. The slack-jawed dip-shit, who is convinced they know a lot more than they do.

The Tool.

I remember the first time I heard this word used to cast aspersion. I was 15 and I lied about my age to get a job at the local Taco Bell in Lombard, Illinois, which believe me, is its own punishment.

The parking lot was the preening ground for the last generation of actual greasers; a collection of monosyllabic asswipes who’d dropped out of high school. The cops ate free at Taco Bell, which, given the amount of trouble in the parking lot, was actually not a bad idea. They responded quickly and mostly fairly. You’d have the odd cop-on-greaser beating here and there, but I never minded those.

My manager was a twitchy hillbilly named Bill who had knocked-up his ill tempered 17-year old girlfriend and was preparing to marry her and go as far as he could in the Taco Bell organization.  Bill was an okay guy; a little naive about his job, but basically decent.  For about a hundred and a quarter a week they ran Bill like a fucking sled dog.  The guy worked 60-70 hours a week and, on occasion, would slip into the walk-in and nap standing up.  I felt bad for the guy.  He was doing the right thing by his girl and preparing to take on the responsibility of a family.  As bosses go, he wasn’t a bad guy.

He had a collection of delinquent assholes working for him, including me.  We were impossible.  We gave away free food to our friends.  One guy dealt pot out the back door and very often there were feel-up sessions in the place after hours.  Bill was as cool as he could be with us given his job title.  You had to screw up pretty badly to get canned.  He was easygoing most of the time.

One day a goody-two-shoes dickhead named Bob Holby came into our midst.  He was a D-bag who would rat us out to Roger, the other manager who was a former marine.  He was a tough Mexican guy who didn’t like us much but let Bill deal with us (the night shift) whom he referred to as, “The Animals.” Bob followed Roger around kissing his ass and brown-nosing every chance he got.  Even Roger thought the guy was an asshole.  The worst thing about Bob Holby was that he yukked it up with the cops.

He consorted with the enemy. He’d make them special enchiritos and verbally cup their balls every time they came in.  And once Bob Holby got there, they came in all the fucking time, because now they felt welcome.  Needless to say, we hated Bob Holby.  My friend Z used to blow snot-rockets into Bobbo’s burritos when he wasn’t looking and then we would watch this jag-bag take his dinner break with the cops when they came in, acting like one of them.

The worst job in the place was frying taco shells.  One guy would stand there all fucking day frying shells. It was hot and dirty and you’d get splashed by droplets of 550 degree grease when you dropped the basket in the fryer.  It sucked.  The taco shells got fried six at a time and if you loaded one wrong, they’d be uneven and Roger would make you do it over and over and over.  Needless to say it was the suck detail at Taco Bell.  We always made sure Bob Holby had to do it, arguing that he was the new guy so, tough shit.  The FNG (Fucking New Guy) always got the lousy jobs; that was the way this particular scrotum pole worked.

One day, asshole was frying and one of the taco shells got loose.  Bob Holby decides to be a hero and save the taco shell.  He sticks his hand into the deep fryer to attempt retrieval and winds up with one giant third-degree burn for a right hand.   At least we acted fast.  He passed out from the pain and we grabbed him and got his hand into a pitcher of iced-water, packing it with ice while he went into shock. Poor asshole.  Our manager, Bill, watched the ambulance pull away in disbelief.  He said, “The guy put his hand in a deep fryer to save a 3-cent taco shell.  What a TOOL.”  We laughed for a half an hour straight.

This piece is dedicated to that rare hero who could fuck up a one car funeral.

Published in: on July 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm  Comments (1)  

The Soul Rebel

The Soul RebelAs a kid I remember the sound of America changing; the assassination of Dr. King and the back drop of the anti-war and civil rights movements raging at the close of a tumultuous decade.  This churn of the cultural zeitgeist came with a soundtrack.  For the anti-war movement, it was the protest song like Neil Young’s, “Ohio.”  For the  civil rights movement it was the ferocious funk of James Brown, Sly Stone and the great Curtis Mayfield.

The other night, I was watching an episode of “The Wire” and they’d sampled a bit of Mayfield’s chestnut, “Come on Up” and it sounded as primary, urgent and fierce as the day it was written and that made me happy.  It is sometimes easy to forget the great Curtis Mayfield; and we should never let it happen.  His album, “Superfly,” was as musically tide-changing as Isaac Hayes’, “Hot Buttered Soul” in that these records were the aural wallpaper of a culture in flux–and they were records perfectly suited to their time.

When I was in high school, my friends and I would often ditch school and go downtown to see kung-fu and blaxploitation films.  The best thing about “Superfly” was its magnificent and revolutionary soundtrack.  It is a ridiculous film with a macho coke-head kind of ethos (though Ron O’Neal’s pimp-lid hat was kind of cool and launched a whole new rash of questionable head-gear).

Curtis Mayfield came out of Cabrini-Green in Chicago.  He dropped out of Wells High School and joined the Roosters, his first band where he met Jerry “Iceman” Butler, another great soul singer and future Chicago alderman.  He later joined the Impressions for whom he wrote the soul-stirring, “People Get Ready,” which was a huge hit.  In Chicago, he also collaborated with the Staple Singers, specifically the great Mavis Staples, who recently tore it up at Lollapalooza, hurling that heaven-kissed voice around the stars and back.

I always loved Mayfield’s voice; an angelic falsetto which seemed, almost, to float above the muscular music itself, particularly in songs like, “Freddy’s Dead” and the rest of the soundtrack of “Superfly.”  It was always a reminder that Mayfield’s chops as a vocal stylist had its roots in the Baptist Church; singing, like a great many soul artists, gospel music.
Mayfield’s songs ran counter to the message of the movie.  They were sharply critical of the drugs, as well as the stupid and glorified violence, central to the film.

Last year, my friend, film director, John McNaughton and I were at a Mardi Gras Indian gathering in Uptown, New Orleans.  We met a young man who looked like he was sculpted out of black  marble.  He was the “boneman” for a Mardi Gras Indian gang; the one who, along with the Spy-Boy and the flag-boy, makes way for the chief with a stutter-step dance and a shaking rhythmic procession.  In the park there was the pungent-sweet smell of reefer and beer and it was blazingly hot.  On someone’s box, a sweet echo of “People Get Ready” was emenating just above the crowd.  The bone man had a fearsome head mask adorned with white and red slashes and small screens for eyes.  He tood this apprenticeship seriously, saying that a great many Mardi Gras Indian Chiefs start as bone men.  The whole time he was speaking, the Curtis Mayfield song floated in the atmosphere like a loving musical talisman of community.  It cemented in my head that these songs are timeless.

My friend, Don McCleese, the great music writer, reminds me that Jerry Butler once remarked that Mayfield was the only guy he knew of in the music world who came fully formed; guitarist, singer, songwriter, producer.  He did everything well; a true renaissance man.

I wish that here in Chicago there were a statue or mural or street named for him.  Even after the great Mayfield was paralyzed in 1990, he continued on like a bull producing, singing and writing songs; often while lying on his back.  Art always finds a way.  Curtis Mayfield grew up about one mile from where I am writing this.   As a Chicagoan, his music has a special kind of resonance for me.  When  people discuss the great soul music and slow jams of the ’60s and ’70s,  the inevitable locations are always Memphis, Detroit and Muscle Shoals, Alabama.  Curtis Mayfield was one of ours.  A Chicagoan.

This one is for him .  It’s called, “The Soul Rebel.”

Published in: on August 14, 2010 at 4:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Tool

The ToolOn  occasion, in life, one meets the irredeemable shithead.

The asshole’s asshole.

The ass-hat who cannot find his better self.

The slack-jawed dip-shit, who is convinced they know a lot more than they do.

The  Tool.

I remember the first time I heard this word used to cast aspersion.

I was 15 and I lied about my age to get a job at the local Taco Bell in Lombard Illinois.

The parking lot was the  preening ground for the last generation of actual greasers; a collection of monosyllabic asswipes who’d dropped out of high school.  The cops ate free at Taco Bell, which, given the amount of trouble in the parking lot, was actually not a bad idea.  They responded quickly and mostly fairly.  You’d have the odd cop-on-greaser beating here and there, but I never minded those.

My manager was a twitchy hillbilly named Bill who had knocked-up his ill tempered 17 year old girlfriend and was preparing to marry her and go as far as he could in the Taco Bell organization.  Bill was an okay guy; a little naive about his job, but basically decent.  For about a hundred and a quarter a week they ran Bill like a fucking sled dog.  The guy worked 60-70 hours a week and on occasion would slip into the walk-in and nap standing up.  I felt bad for the guy.

He also had a collection of delinquent assholes working for him, including me.  We were impossible.  We gave away free food to our friends.  One guy dealt pot out the back door and very often there were feel-up sessions in the place after hours.  Bill was as cool as he could be with us given his job title.  You had to screw up pretty badly to get canned.  He was easygoing most of the time.

One Day a dickhead named Bill Holby came into our midst.  He was a goody two-shoes, D-bag who would rat us out to Roger,  the other manager who was a former marine.  He was a tough Mexican guy who didn’t like us much but let Bill deal with us (the night shift) whom he referred to as “The Animals.”   Bill followed Roger around kissing his ass and brown-nosing every chance he got. Even Roger thought the guy was an asshole.  The worst thing about Bill Holby was that he yukked it up with the cops.  He’d make them special Enchiritos and verbally cup their balls every time they came in.  And once Bill Holby got there, they came in all the time, because  now the fuckers felt welcome.  Needless to say, we fucking hated Bill Holby.  My friend Z used to  spit hockers in Bill’s burritos when he wasn’t looking and then we would watch this pork-sword take his dinner break with the cops when they came in, acting like one of them.

The worst job in the place was frying taco shells.  One guy would stand there all fucking day frying shells.  It was hot and dirty and you’d get splashed by droplets of 550 degree grease when you dropped the basket in the fryer.  It sucked.  The taco shells got fried six at a time and if you loaded one wrong, they’d be uneven and Roger would make you do it over and over and over.  Needless to say  it was the suck detail at Taco Bell.  We always made sure Bill Holby had to do it, arguing that he was the new guy so, tough shit.  The FNG  (Fucking New Guy)  always got the lousy jobs; that was the way this particular Scrotum Pole worked.

One day asshole was frying and one of the taco shells got loose.  Bill Holby decides to be a hero and save the taco shell.  He  sticks his hand into the deep fryer to attempt retrieval and winds up with one giant 3rd degree burn for a right hand.  At least we acted fast.  He passed out from the pain and we grabbed him and got his hand into a pitcher of iced-water, packing it with ice while he went into shock.  Poor asshole.   Our manager, Bill, watched the ambulance pull away in disbelief.  He said, “The guy put his hand in a deep fryer to save a 3-cent taco shell.  What a TOOL.”  We laughed for a half an hour straight.

This piece is dedicated to that rare hero who could fuck up  a one car funeral.

Published in: on August 9, 2010 at 10:24 pm  Comments (1)  

The White Gator

The White GatorThere is an old folk truism about baby alligators.

The story goes that all kinds of dangers befall baby alligators.  Big fish eat them.  Snapping turtles eat them.  Flamingos eat them.  Ospreys eat them.  Adult alligators eat them.  Racoons.  Otters.  Panthers.  Herons.  Water snakes.  You name it; every creature in the swamp eats baby alligators.  Less than 10 per cent of them live until their first birthday.  If they do?  Well, by that time they’re about 5 feet long…and they spend the rest of their lives getting even.

I love alligators–our living relics of prehistory.  I love that every year some asshole in Florida gets eaten by one.  They get it into their booze-addled brains that you can swim on up on one of these dinosaurs like they’re pets or something.  It’s always some jerk-off and his asshole friend with the video camera who winds up recording the joyous carnage.  I also love the footage of the crying old ladies who can’t find their chihuahuas or yorkies, and they just happen to live next to the inter-coastal canal.

The smart golfer in Florida?  He gets the fuck OFF the course when he sees an alligator lounging in the fairway.  They look slow; they’re no.  They can run about 30 miles an hour in short bursts.  In other words, long enough to catch my pasty white ass.

Albino alligators are rare but they DO occur in nature and are astoundingly beautiful in their own weird way.

The American alligator was damned near extinct years ago and were put on the endangered list.  They recovered quickly and now the fuckers are everywhere.  My advice is stay the fuck out of their way.  Don’t try to feed them.  They eat better than you do.  Don’t try to get close; buy a telephoto lens.  When you see a  baby alligator, get the fuck gone.  Mom’s around and protective as hell; she will eat your ass.  When they ask for volunteers at the alligator farm to wrestle the alligator, don’t do it.   The alligator will kick your ass and may whack you with its tail which can break your spine like a Triscuit.

What can a Gator Girl superhero do?  Who knows.  She could for sure eat your ass if you cocked off to her and maybe she could be useful in the area of asshole removal.  I just thought she would make a really boss superhero who would have no problems with basic superhero skills like intimidation and persuasion.  I’m guessing she could pretty much sit wherever she wants and could probably discourage any ass-hat behavior in her presence.

Albino alligators in captivity must be kept in the dark to protect them from the sun.  The albino gene leaves them defenseless from sunlight.  They also have pinkish eyes.  There is one in the Knoxville Zoo and people don’t believe they are real until they slide into the water or blink their eyes.   It is an odd dichotomy; a deadly creature, rendered as vulnerable as an infant by sunlight.  Odd, beautiful, lethal and biologically flawed–like all of us.

Published in: on August 5, 2010 at 12:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Red Cat

The Red Cat
When I first got there, it seemed everyone around me was a lot freer than I was, as odd as that sounds.  It was a crazily sexy place with grownup women who were frank and forward about what made them happy.  It was hot, so there was always a lot of sweaty skin and poetry and music.  It was like entering one of those snow-globes without the snow.  It was Spain and France preserved in architectural amber.  It was history.  My friend, Charlie Neville, showed me Pirate Alley where William Faulkner wrote his first novel.  He also showed me Congo Square which, along with Storyville, was the birthplace of Jazz.

New Orleans felt like liberty to me.  Nobody put on airs; people there had this music in their head, and they had to dance to it.

My female friends have been on me to create more women superheroes . . . good idea.  I love drawing women; the curve of the neck or hip or breast; such a joy.  As a kid, I would do anything to see images of naked women . . . I still will.  I’ve written many times that I could be very happy drawing birds and naked women the rest of my life and that is no shit.  At some point I will do it.  It will be my version of retirement.

I loved drawing this piece because it is kind of a shape-shifter figure–half cat, half Mardi Gras Indian Woman.  I love watching the Mardi Gras Indians and their “suits of pretty” on St. Joseph’s Day in New Orleans.  I love a town that, for any reason, is in costume for much of the year.  The atmosphere of Carnival, and the joy at being free and alive, has much appeal for me.  I love the profane pagan ritual of all of it, the swagger and soaring humanness of a people and a city alive with music and color and joy.

I consider New Orleans a prayer, a plea, and a reliquary of otherness; the most necessary city in our country.

How thrilled I was at the success of HBO’s Treme this year.  The pride I felt at watching my friends John Boutte and Paul Sanchez perform on that show, along with Tom McDermott and David Torkanowsky, and all of the other great musicians in that town.  How lovely it was to see the great Wendell Pierce get a role worthy of his talent, and Melissa Leo, as well.  I felt like the show evinced the “no surrender” spirit of that place, as well as the lurking despair that would manifest itself when one least expected.

I think there was balance; the ferocious pride of the Mardi Gras Indians, as well as the continuing frustration at trying to effectively police the Crescent City in the face of a crumbling tourist economy and low pay.  I feel like this show was rendered with compassion and a contrary kind of spirit that sassed back to strip mall America: “We are not like you, we are only like ourselves.”  There must be a place like this in America where Americans sleep till noon in order to serve the muse.  She is a demanding sort, and some of us have no choice.

Published in: on July 29, 2010 at 3:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Witness

The WitnessYouth is tyranny.  Youth is cruel.  I certainly was.  As a kid, we would often hang unflattering nicknames on each other, often in relation to some physical abnormality, haircut or speech impediment.  A kid with a preponderance of saliva in his diction became “Slurp,” another with Bozo-red hair endured taunts of, “Red on the Noodle, like a dick on a Poodle,” and another child who used crutches became, “Gimp,”  These nicknames as cruel as they were, stuck.

In 7th and 8th grade this kid moved to our neighborhood who had a glass eye and not one of the top of the line ones.  Naturally, he became, “Eyeball.”   He was a big, gangly doofus and he became the butt of many cruel jokes.

At a certain point, he became complicit in his own humiliation.  He would shoot marbles with his glass eye.  One time actually losing it to another kid, only to be further embarrassed by having his mother go to the kids house to retrieve the orb.  At other times, he’d pop it out and drop it into girl’s drinks to freak them out and elicit laughs from the friends he wished so desperately to cultivate.
One time, at a school carnival,I got on the Salt and Pepper Shaker ride with Eyeball.  I shouldn’t have.  I’d watched Eyeball eat every piece of shit they served at a Catholic school Carnival; cotton candy, funnel Ccakes, big pretzels loaded with salt, and an Italian beef sandwich.  Sure enough, after two vicious high-speed spins on this ride, Eyeball heaved his whole grease-load all over me.  It was the most foul, toxic shit you could imagine and promptly after getting off the ride, I pounded the shit out of Eyeball.

I’ve never felt right about it.  To this day I’d like to apologize to that guy for beating his ass for getting sick, for calling him “Eyeball” and for joining in the thoughtlessly cruel laughter of other boys when he’d embarrass and debase himself for our amusement.   I never knew this kid’s real name; I only ever called him, “Eyeball.”  The sadness and cruelty of this statement speaks for itself.

One of the things I’d always loved about Marvel Comics was the nature of one’s “super-powers” were often rooted in the pain of childhood.  I hope wherever “Eyeball” is, that time and life have treated him with more kindness than I did.  This one is for him.

This piece is called, The Witness.

Published in: on July 23, 2010 at 2:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Devil and Western Avenue

The Devil and Western AvenueThere is an underground industry in Chicago known as the “Midnight Auto.”  Those working and trafficking in this part of the auto industry, deal with hot cars and auto parts.  In other words, “chop-shops.”  Modern automobiles are worth far more when harvested for parts than as a working  car.  Thieves specialize; there are guys who only steal air-bags, others only batteries or distributor caps or tires.  There are even kids who only grab hood ornaments.  It is a varied set of options for the judicious thief–the American automobile.

The auto industry has  devised  “anti -theft” devices for years and thieves have evolved and changed with them. One used to be able to grab large American cars with a slim-jim, a small screw-driver, vice-grips and a tap-hammer.  Easy-peasy.

Now, even with all of the computerized shit, a jimmy still gets you into the driver’s side door and there are much more sophisticated ignition devices, but one must be something of a hacker.  Deterrents like “Lo-jack?”    Kid stuff.  Break the aerial–no more Lo-jack. “The Club,” you can cut it in half with a small torch, plus have the added bonus of pummeling the shit out of the rightful owner of the car with it, if they catch you.

The long and short of it is, if somebody wants your car, they can take it.

Car alarms only make people hate you.  When they go off, do you really think your fellow man gives a fuck that your car is being stolen?  Fuck no!  In fact, after five minutes of your car  alarm, they’re pulling for the guy who is jacking your car.

When I was a young man, all of the people I knew in this business sold their hot parts on Maxwell Street.  It was quick and anonymous and money and goods changed hands without so much as a receipt or too much eye-contact.  Now that Maxwell Street is gone, a lot of the trade has moved over to the hundreds of used-car lots on Western Avenue.

I love Western.  It used to be a veritable forest of neon car lot signs with the lines of multi-colored triangular flags covering the whole lot.  As a kid I thought they were palaces.  Western Avenue once boasted the longest streetcar  line in the world; the Green Hornet street-cars went the way of all things in the ’50s.

Western is  still the place to buy a used car in Chicago.  It’s a huge business here and competition is cutthroat.  So is the car parts trade.  Chicago is a paradise for parts thieves.  Car lots, particularly the relatively unpoliced, huge, shopping mall lots, are like a fucking smorgasbord, especially if you have a Toyota or Honda or even better, a Prius, with all of those lovely universal parts.  The Midnight Auto thanks you!

This piece is called, The Devil and Western Avenue. One of my Superheroes who just happens to do nasty stuff..

Published in: on July 17, 2010 at 10:14 am  Leave a Comment  

Bucktown All-Star (Goat Man)

The Bucktown All-Stare (Goat Man)My neighborhood, Bucktown, is named for goats;  male goats, specifically.  Four or five decades ago, this neighborhood was almost exclusively Ukrainian, Polish, Czech, and other eastern Europeans like Latvians and Slovaks.  Almost everyone had goats for milk and cheese; a hold -over from the old country.  Goat cheese is delicious and the Europeans sold it to Italian and Greek restaurants in the city. Like many new immigrant groups, at times, they felt, intuitively, the disapproving gaze of other tribes that surrounded them and endured the ethnic baiting and slurs that come with being the  newest immigrants.  The phrase “DP” was a hurtful reminder of the xenophobia that was not uncommon, often spewed by other immigrants.

Bucktown was a tight community and there were goats everywhere and they loved running the streets.  Goats are the randiest of creatures and not particularly picky about what they mount.  One older gentleman told me of having to chase off a goat who, in his words. “tried to put the dick to my beagle.”

It was not uncommon to see goats banging like jackhammers in the middle of Damen Avenue.  It is no accident that they are the symbol of the sexually insatiable satyr.  In Bucktown, it was one big goat fuck-fest.  They would bang dogs, cats, and even the odd large opossum.

Still,they produced the milk and the cheese and were in this neighborhood for years and endured the goat orgy as part of the life-cycle; a necessary part, actually.

Bucktown has changed a lot over the 16 years I’ve been here.  It used to be a perfectly good bad neighborhood, full of shysters, thieves, hookers and junkies. . .the good old days.

Now there is a Marc Jacobs store on Damen.  The bodega down the street from me with all of the fighting cocks in the backyard is an interior design studio.  The churro guy is gone and you can get croissants now.

I like my new neighbors; I just missed my old ones.  They were the ones with the stories, and the lives lived curb to curb, and by their wits.   I miss the bakery across the street that made the best rye bread I’ve  ever eaten and also sold salty creamy butter with it.  It was butter that didn’t come in a square or a brick.  It was amazing.

There is a lovely flower shop there now, Larkspur, and its owner, Beth, is my dear friend and I become instantly cheered up whenever I walk through the door and smell all of the  flowers-.  They are the smell of life and repositories of light.

I still love Bucktown.  Once in a while, I’ll walk down the street and hear snatches of Polish and Spanish and realize that the real estate creatures have not been able to wipe out the immigrant flavor of this place completely.  And this thought gives me great comfort.

Published in: on July 9, 2010 at 1:36 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Orange Spider

The Orange Spider for Louise Bourgeois

I once met Louise Bourgeois.  She was a marvelous, elfin, dirty old French lady who made some of the most compelling sculpture and drawings of the last 50 years.  She  was a bit like licorice; you loved her or hated her.  I loved her ferocious sculptures of spiders.  Gigantic and full of feminine menace, they were present, for me, in a way that was unnerving.  I remember the first time I saw one at the Tate Modern in London.  I was standing on the balustrade above  the piece.  From above, it looked predatory, and when people walked underneath the giant arachnid,  it looked as if she might just eat them.  I say, “she” because they always seemed female to me, for no particular reason.  They just did.  I think this was part of Louise Bourgeois’ power as an artist; the ability to feminize a powerful figure without saying so.  When I met her she was already in her 80s and she told me that, “Boys become artists to fuck all the girls.”  I replied that we certainly give it a good faith effort.  She laughed a greasy conspiratorial laugh and I liked her immediately.  She wasn’t like anyone’s grandma.

Louise Bourgeois died a couple of weeks ago. She was 98 years old; witness to a century.  She didn’t become well-known until she was in her 70s.  As progressive a place as the art world pretends it is, it was still, for much her life anyway, a boys’ network.  I don’t think it is any accident that so much of Ms. Bourgeois’ work was rooted in gender.  In the end, she won.   She climbed the art world’s mountain of nails and she got to the top. . .all 90 pounds of her.

Spiders have always scared the hell out of me.  Only lately have I stopped killing them.  They are incredibly useful; eating nits and mosquitoes and flies and lots of them, still…they give me the willies.

My favorite childhood story is about a spider: Charlotte’s Web.  It is a beautiful meditation on the life-cycle, without all of the religious horseshit.  At the end, when the hundreds of Charlotte’s babies are blown into the world, suspended by their silken-thread parachutes, I’d cry like a baby.   My daughter, Gaby loved this story and for years would make me read it to her at bedtime.

Charlotte and Louise are a bit alike.  Each lived long enough to spawn a new generation.  Charlotte with her babies, Louise the many young women (and men) who will look at her work, in its perverse playful and sinister humor and take these ideas forward into their work and into the world.  This one is for that magnificent, dirty old French broad.  Bless her.

It’s called  ‘The Orange Spider’

Published in: on July 2, 2010 at 8:06 pm  Comments (3)  

The Oil Man

The Oil ManOn April 20th, the worst oil spill catastrophe in human history began.  Today this broken drill bit is still pumping 60,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico off the coasts of Louisiana and Texas and now, Florida.   For years, off-shore drilling in Louisiana was discouraged and for a brief period of sanity, against the law.  It was thought that this practice would destroy the wetlands, which it has, removing from south Louisiana any natural or ecological self defense against hurricanes and levee breeches.  There is no silt build up or bedrock.  This geography is mostly swamp.

The “Drill, baby, drill” crowd eventually seduced President Obama, in the name of creating jobs; even hard, shitty, dangerous jobs.  The oil junkies made our President take leave of his better sense.

I don’t know what I expected from the President.  I was hoping for bold strokes and the audacity of new ideas, along with the stomach and will to foster these ideas into the world.  I knew that no human being could be equal to the onerous framework of hope bestowed on this President.  He could not be all things to all people.   His first year in office I reminded myself to cut  the guy some slack.  Still, I remembered the promises he made at Tulane University in 2008; how America would make New Orleans and the Gulf Coast its priority and how rare and special a place the Crescent City is.  He said all of the right things to get me drinking the Kool-Aid.  His only discussion about the Gulf War was about ending it; putting a halt to an immoral enterprise that has cost so many American and Iraqi lives for something that appears to be more and more every day; the easy flow of cheap gas.  It isn’t worth it.

This President knew that two years ago and now he doesn’t.

The oil industry has been rat-fucking the American citizens since its inception.  The early days of oil companies are rife with stories of them stealing land via eminent domain laws and slant drilling.  The movie, There Will be Blood was tame compared to how this industry actually behaved. What is most vile about BP is their bullshit commercial of the last several years; the “Hey, we’re the GOOD oil company that cares about you and environment,” shuck they’ve been trafficking in for years.

Three years ago they tried to ram a “Lets dump more shit into Lake Michigan” proposal on the city and the surrounding states.  These skeevy pukes spend millions on lobbyists to weasel their way around EPA regulations in order that they may continue to fist-fuck the American landscape and foul the world’s oceans.  We should be fighting these motherfuckers in the streets.

The oil companies have also done a brilliant job of branding anyone who opposes their continued  rape of the planet as  “eco-terrorists” and sadly, a great many Americans follow these bastards through the lookingglass where dark is light and light is dark.  there are a great many people working in the green tech fieds to try and lessen our suicidal dependence on oil and fossil fuels.  There are organizations like Greenpeace, who are often demonized as “eco-thugs” working hard to make sure maybe someday your kid can see a whale, or an eagle, or marvel at the natural beauty of our still fierce and lovely landscape.  I watched the show, Whale Wars, with great interest and realized none of these people get paid.  Their work is insanely dangerous, yet they do it because this planet and its creatures require some moral stewardship.   The BP spill should wake us up.  We should demand more of our President in the way of action,  and he should give us more.  He owes us. We voted in favor of history.  It is up to him to make some.

This is my scummiest superhero, The Oil Man.

Published in: on June 27, 2010 at 2:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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Pink Death

Pink DeathMy pal, Penn Jillette, once owned a vehicle named Pink Death.  It was a Ford Bronco painted a color Penn invented called “Stripper Inner Labia Pink.”  So candy-colored pink was this car, that the guy at the body shop made Penn  stand there and watch as they gave his formerly butch truck something like a hundred coats to get it the right blush of “Inner Labia Pink,” which is, “Stripper.”

I spent a week zipping around Vegas with Penn on assignment from Playboy and it was a holy hoot watching people’s reactions to Pink Death.  It were as if the goddamn thing were radioactive.

For years, Penn and Teller have had a bit where a rabbit winds up in a chipper and for years, Penn convinced me that they actually just threw the fucking rabbit into the chipper.  “Rabbits are CHEAP,” Penn would explain, and I believed him.  That’s a bad habit of mine; believing Penn when he’s pulling my joint.  He once staged an elaborate subterfuge to get me to believe that everyone got a discount from Federal Express, except me.  He surreptitiously e-mailed all of my friends to get them to go along with the gag and I believed them.  I called Fed-Ex and asked them if they thought I was a fucking mark.  I told them that I used Fed Ex almost everyday and that I should get the discount that my friends enjoy.

They asked me what I was referring to.  That while they valued my business, their rates were their rates and everyone paid the same.

I told them I wasn’t some douche-bag or a mark; that I knew how this game was played and I wanted in to the discount, and to quit working my stick.

The woman, Nora, assured me that there was no secret discount and that I was mistaken, which just infuriated me.  I started yelling, “I’m not a sucker, lady.  I’m not some fucking hick you can jerk-off like Dickie-Dope.  I’m not a mark.”

She asked me who told me this and I said all of my friends had told me, in fact, Penn. . .

Then I got it.  I swear I could hear him laughing his Newfie ass off all the way in Vegas.

The “Tony Called Fed-Ex” story was born and all of my friends know it.

I used to draw rabbits for my mother. As a kid, my sisters had them as pets and they got huge.  They were also not as gentle as you might think.  I saw one of our bunnies kick the holy dogshit out of a wild rabbit that had come into the yard and attempted to eat some of his food.  They’re nasty little fuckers and territorial as hell.  Whenever I felt the need to get out of the doghouse with my mom, I’d draw her a rabbit or a bird and she would then become convinced of my better side long enough to get me out of the house and back on the street with my friends.  I was good at charming my mother.  I once sold her a baggie full of Cheerios by telling her they were “donut seeds.”  She gave me a buck.

In the city where I live, you mostly see squirrels, though lately I’ve noticed a lot more rabbits.  I like them.  I love drawing their odd shape and when I spot one, the stillness of them is almost eerie.  Often they freeze right in the middle of the road and get creamed, which is kind of a dumbfuck way to get killed.  At least squirrels run away.

This piece is called Pink Death.  He is a radioactive rabbit.  His power is when he pisses on something in your garden. . . it dies.

Published in: on June 23, 2010 at 11:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Fish Man

The Fish ManI like drawing fish almost as much as birds.  The big cartoony eyes and odd colors and shapes–they are a ton of fun.  As a kid, my friend’s  father would buy fish from the market during Lent and the guy who sold it, no shit, looked like a grouper.  He was a hairy fucker who wore a Dago-t  and had moles all over his face and neck the size of dimes and a lower lip that protruded and always had a Lucky Strike sealed to it with spit.  His name was Louie and whenever something surprised him he’d say, “Fuckin A?”  For instance:

“Hey Louie, the Sox won.”
“Fuckin’ A?”

“Hey Louie, It’s going to rain.”
“Fuckin’ A?”

“Hey Louie, the precinct captain is banging your wife.”
“Fuckin A?  Poor bastard.”

He was a funny guy who really knew his fish and once taught me how to eat a smoked chub right off of the bones.  I loved the fish section of the market; all of the different colors and pungent smells and pink fish flesh seemed alien and otherworldly to me.
When I went to the Tsukiji market in Tokyo, it was an all out assault  on the senses; a  blinding sensation of motion and temperature and speed and ice–the fish laid out for the restaurateurs, often still writhing in ice-bins, their scales a repository of refulgent, shimmering light.

Fish are mysterious and beautiful to me-.  Later in my Tokyo trip, I spent time feeding the koi in Ueno Park, which are considered the royalty of aquatic life in that culture even though they are basically carp.  I love looking at fish and the way they move.

My dad took me to watch the smelt fisherman on Lake Michigan as a little boy once.  He told me to notice how many different languages I heard at Montrose Harbor as we walked the dock.  There were Greeks, Mexicans, Poles, Ukrainians, Slavs, Swedes, Italians.  It was one of those activities that brought out all of the tribes in a peaceful collaboration rooted in their native countries.  It was also magical.  I remember looking under the dock and seeing the silvery whir of bait fish, moving so quickly as to be indecipherable.  My dad was not a fisherman, nor am I.  It was just something he knew about and shared with me.

I love watching those fishing shows like The Deadliest Catch, even though they’re fishing for crabs, it is dangerous and hard work.  In the fish market in Tokyo, I saw any number of guys up to their elbows in fish-guts; butchering tuna, amberjack and eels.  It is hard dirty work.

It is also a reminder that the seemingly pastoral world beneath the sea is actually  around-the-clock  murder-.  There is nothing gentle about the ocean.  The truth of it is  little fish get eaten by bigger fish.  Those fish are devoured by still bigger fish and on and on.  The salient lesson seems to be, “Don’t be a fucking guppy.”

This piece is called, The FishMan.  His super power is he eats the shit that falls into the pond.

Published in: on June 20, 2010 at 11:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Baby Devil

The Baby DevilI always enjoy movies about evil children–The Omen, The Bad Seed, The Other and, of course, The Exorcist, featuring Linda Blair painting the local clergy from scrot to throat with green puke.

I love this kind of stuff.  Village of the Damned and Children of the Corn also set me off into fits of laughter.  In fact, all of the devil shit is hysterically funny to me.  When I was a kid, there was a grade-Z stinker called Mark of the Devil.  It might have been a Corman movie that got made for about six dollars.  They had an ingenious marketing campaign of handing out barf bags at the drive-in and the commercials cautioned the moviegoer to keep repeating to him or herself, “Remember, it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie.”  Damned if the thing wasn’t a hit.

The old drive-in movies were chock full of evil kids and toys, as were the comics; Creepy and Eerie especially.  Decades before Korn, Slipknot, and Marilyn Manson, the comics were full of satanic little fuckers doing evil at the drop of a hat.

The best bad guy is the Devil.  Satan, Lucifer, Beelzebub.  Whatever you call him, he leads the league in evil.  He is the catchall for all of the shit that men actually do to each other.  Here and there on cable there are shows where they have real-life exorcisms, always somewhere in East Bumfuck where the foreheads get wide, the chins disappear, and shit-kickers wave snakes around and drink battery acid as a testament to their faith.  Our country clings to its guns, religion, and hatred of those unlike them, and ascribes the wrongdoing in the world to the Devil.

Communists are the Devil.
Gays are the Devil.
Illegal Immigrants are the Devil.
Civil Libertarians are the Devil.
Non-whites are the Devil.
Anyone who opposes the NRA is the Devil.
Anyone who is pro-choice is the Devil.
Muslims are the Devil.
Atheists are, for damn sure, the Devil.
Rock and Roll is the Devil.

You get the picture. All of my peeps are, you guessed it, the Devil.  Years ago my pal, Penn Jillette, gave me a T-shirt that said “Team Satan 666.”  I loved this shirt.  It made your whack-job, bat-shit variety X-tian crazy.  They would walk by me with their mouth open slack-jawed and oafish and say to each other, “Can you believe what that shirt says?”  It was funny as hell.  I even had one guy roll up on me and scream in my face that I was a Satanist and that he was going to report me to the authorities.  I told him that I really wasn’t.  I just wore it to piss people like him off and, even if I was a Satanist, it’s not illegal to be so.  And he insisted that “it most certainly was against the law to worship Satan.”  I told him, “No pal, it’s not.  Sorry.”  He then said, “In Indiana it is.”  And I said, “Look, I realize you’re from Indiana, so I’ll speak slowly and try not to use any big words like “Constitution,” but Bunky, it’s perfectly legal to worship Satan in Indiana, if you so choose.”  He then pointed in my face and said that he was going to pray that I go to hell.  I gave him the Ronnie Dio devil horns and told him, “You have a pal in Satan, my man,” and he walked away cursing.  This T-shirt launched many encounters like this and finally I had to stop wearing it.

Needless to say, I don’t believe in the Devil, or his competition.  I don’t have an imaginary friend in the sky.

I believe nothing is more capable of evil than mankind.
I believe nothing is more capable of decency and kindness than mankind.
It’s that simple.
And it is that complicated.

Published in: on June 20, 2010 at 11:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Top

The TopWhen I was a young idiot and in a hurry to assert my masculinity, I made stupid remarks about gay people and indulged in the unfocused bigotry of my peers.   In other words, before I actually knew anyone who was gay.  What I did not know is that there were gay people all around me and these remarks, however offhand, said a great deal more about me than anyone else.

Luckily, I grew up and in the world of art there were no shortage of gay folks who wanted precisely the same things in life that I did.  A good many of these people were heroic; Dr. Ron Sable, a Chicago physician who was one of the first activists on the frontlines of the AIDS crisis in the mid ’80s, Larry Kramer, who loudly refused to let gay Americans become marginalized as lesser citizens, Danny Sotomayor, the late cartoonist and Act-Up activist. . .these were brave people, and in the face of their struggle, they made the rest of America change with them. The gay and lesbian community still struggles with ridiculous and arcane and draconinan laws that other Americans stopped having to address a long time ago.

The right to marry. . .really?  The religious right claims that gay marriage is a threat to the instution of marriage.  Huh?  Hey Bunky, I don’t need gay people to fuck up my marriage.  I’m doing that fine all by myself, thank you.  It is beyond silly that this is even an issue.  Of course, gay people should have the right to get married.  Why should only straight people be miserable?

When I started the superheroes, my gay friends told me I’d not be able to come up with a gay superhero.  They also told me that in this genre of the superhero, there was a huge gay male subtext, which I get a little bit.  I think a great many new  superhero idioms probably come right out of the Tom of Finland pictures, which are amazing.   Beautifuly rendered and proudly sexualized, they are wonderful drawings.  There is a great collection of them published by Taschen.  Get them.  Others will tell you they are a window into a sub-culture and at one time they maybe were.  Now they are more a window into our culture.

This piece is titled “The Top” and his super power is, well. . .he always has papers.

Published in: on June 12, 2010 at 7:52 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The White Canary

The White CanaryI envisioned this superhero as a Japanese manga kind of hero; a woman superhero.  When I was in Japan, I’d notice that it was mostly men with their faces buried in manga  stories.  Titles like the ever-popular, Tetsuo, seemed to be the norm.  However, my friends who are Japanese women assure me that women read them as well and are just as fanatical about comics as the men are.  It took Americans a long time to realize comics as literature.  Art Speigelman’s Maus seems to be the tipping point.  It was the literature that made me most feel the gravity of the Holocaust; my doorway into that dark chapter of the last century.  I didn’t grow up with anyone who’d been directly affected by the pogroms of Europe except my friend, Joseph Hasiewicz, the marvelous painter who was the father of my best friend.  He never much spoke of this to us.  Speigelman’s book made the Holocaust real for those of us who grew up culturally removed from the suffering  of the Jews, gypsies, Poles, Italians, Czechs and others who were slaughtered by Nazi Germany. Speigelman did the second generation of Americans born after World War II an immense and humanizing service.

The Superhero comics were always at odds with what I believed as a young man — Might makes right– violence can only be disarmed with greater violence– things like that.

This is why my superheros are not super.  The White Canary cannot even fly or sing; she just looks good.  She’s in this game for the outfits–the couture of superhero-ness.    This is the beginning and end of her story.  One of the reasons I never became a comics artist is that I am an ADD guy and I’m too easily distracted.  I once started a comic book about a dog called “The Passenger” and it would have just followed his life from story to story.  I say, “would have,” because I abandoned it after the third page.  I wanted to draw something else. . .something new.

My friend, Daniel Ferarra, who I, on occasion, publish projects with, makes fun of me mercilessly when we wlk through New York.  We will be in the middle of a conversation and I will become distracted by something in a store window and stop and look,  At this point, Dan will make monkey gestures and say, in his most infantile voice, “Tony see something. Shiny! Ooooh!”  The bastard. But he’s not wrong.  This reason, and  bourbon, are why I no longer drive.

Years ago, when I was still a test pilot for Jack Daniels, I was a manifestly dangerous driver because I would stare at everything but the road.  Birds, flashing lights, bouncing tits, neon signs, strange people walking down the street. . .you name it;  it was all more interesting to me than the rules of the road.

I loved reading comics as a kid because on every other page something cool was happening.  It was the perfect narrative for an easily distracted child like me.

I still like reading crime fiction and stories with lots of action.  I love shoot ‘em-up movies where lots of shit blows up.  All of these things remind me of the insanely action-filled comics I read as a kid.

I loved the comic novel, WATCHMEN, written by Alan Moore and one character in particular, Rorschach, a menacing vigilante in a fedora and and ever-changing ink-blot for a face.  It is a tale of the dystopian future, or it was.  Set in the ’80s, Richard Nixon is still President and there is a cadre of monumentally fucked-up superheros who’ve failed to save society from itself.  It is a cynical, funny, bile-laden tale that affirms the dark thought that a society gets as much evil as it deserves.  It is one of the greatest thisngs I’ve ever read.

This new superhero, with no super powers is called “The White Canary.”  she is only pretty and well-dressed and sometimes, this is triumph enough.

Published in: on June 8, 2010 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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