pixie_meat yThe other night I googled “Pixie Meat,” to refresh my blurred memory about this limited-edition art book (published by Water Row Press, Sudbury, Massachusetts) that showcases a portfolio of pen-and-brush jam-drawings by Gary Panter and Charles Burns, to which I contributed several short blocks of text that today would be described as “flash” or “micro” fiction, terms not in use back in 1990. I’d forgotten just how many copies were printed (by letterpress, assembled by hand), but a number of websites I visited assurred me the number was 226; of those, 200 were numbered and signed by the three of us. I wasn’t surprised to discover a few copies for sale online, nor was I surprised by the asking price: none was being offered at less than $500. (Each of us was “paid” in contributor’s copies; I don’t know how many Gary and Charles got, but I got a generous ten; I’ve given away several as gifts over the past almost-25 years, but I still have four, and those I intend to hold on to.

Pixie Meat (the phrase is such a Panter-ism that I’d lay money that Gary coined it; what the phrase means I have no idea, and never did) measures 12×15, with heavy black folio covers and a Velcro seal; the black-and-white drawings are reproduced crisply, perfectly, the text is hand-lettered, and there are several inserted pages of deliberately cheesy red cellophane. It’s a beauty, that book, a weird retro beauty; an artifact of late 80s art-cartooning, and something I’ve always been proud of having had a hand in, even though my contributions probably took no longer than a few hours to produce. 

I’ve known Gary for about 35 years now; Charles, for about 30. Shortly after my first novel, Freaks’ Amour was published, Gary telephoned me from Los Angeles (I think that’s where he was living); there was no need for him to introduce himself: I knew his work—he was already well-known by then in graphics and alt-comics circles for his seminal (and as it would turn out, hugely influential) “mark”-heavy, slashing punk-art. He’d called to ask in his soft, Texas-inflected voice if I would give him permission to draw a short adaptation of my novel for an upcoming issue of an underground comic book called Young Lust. Of course, I said; he thanked me and hung up, and I didn’t hear from him again till the comic book came out and he sent me a few copies. (His adaptation consisted of just one scene, but it’s so damn good, so visually bold and frightening, that it’s been reprinted several times since then, most recently as a “bonus feature” in the trade paperback graphic-novel version of Freaks Amour that Dark Horse Comics put out in May 2013.) 

Gary moved to Brooklyn in the early 1980s, and I got to meet him shortly after that at a launch party for an oversized Jimbo collection (the one with the plain cardboard covers) published by RAW Books and Graphics, Art Spieglman’s and Francoise Mouly’s publishing company. It was, in fact, on account of Gary Panter that eventually I was introduced to Art and Francoise, and to Charles Burns (most famously the creator of Black Hole, and the man with the most sensuous brush stroke in comics), as well as to most of the other RAW Magazine contributors. 

(I vividly recall that the evening The Simpsons premiered on TV, Gary, Art, and Francoise were at the house in Jersey City where I was living with my wife and young daughters: one of those little memories that continue to amuse and give pleasure the older I get. And I remember that for half an hour all of us tried to keep our attention focused on the cartoon backgrounds—on the framed wall pictures, in particular—since Matt Groening had told Charles Burns who’d told Art that the animators had kept sticking in pornographic images there, and nobody was entirely sure they’d all been identified and eliminated. No, we didn’t spot any.) 

Gary and Charles actively collaborated on the Pixie Meat drawings; I simply was given Xeroxes and a rough character count. What I did with each individual drawing or double-page spread, I laid it down in front of me on my desk—or tacked it up on my office wall—and just stared till some vague narrative line, or just as often, a euphonious, but mysterious, phrase slowly nudged its way into my deliberately-kept-blank mind; I’d nurse the phrase till it suggested another. (I still play this game from time to time—with art postcards, usually—either strictly for fun or because I’m blocked and could use a few minutes of free-associating to unblock.) 

Doing that project with Gary and Charles was such a kick, such a privilege, that I wanted to write something longer for them, something more narratively ambitious, but neither has ever needed a writer; they’re both superb writers on their own. Somewhere around the turn of the century, I scripted a one-page comic strip that Gary drew and which was published in Esquire, but I never worked with Charles again.

I rarely see either them anymore, and if I do, it’s almost always at a comics convention (usually SPX, in Bethesda, Maryland), when they’re ensconced behind either the Fantagraphics or the Drawn & Quarterly table, autographing new books. But even so, we’ll find a way to talk for a few minutes, to manage a quick catch-up. But we never, ever mention Pixie Meat. I wonder if they remember its creation as fondly as I do. Next time, I’ll ask.

Or maybe not. 



Self Portrait as the Devil, 1973

Self Portrait with Broken Capillaries

Self Portrait with Broken Capillaries, 1975

I’d sell my wife, my dog, and both my daughters to be able to draw; I’m sure they wouldn’t mind, not after all I’ve done for them. But since that sort of compact exists only in weird fiction, I’m stuck, goddammit, with doodling.

Every day of my life till I was about 22, I drew, and drew, and drew, but I never got really good—or, truthfully, any good. With a biblical shake of my fist, I used to blame that sorrowful defeat on my Catholic education, which from kindergarten through high school never offered a single art class, as well as on our dismal family finances, which prevented me (Aw, c’mon, Ma, we don’t have to eat!) from enrolling in the Famous Artists home-study school founded—in the magical realm of Westport, Connecticut!—by a lot of big-name guys like Norman Rockwell and Al Capp. Finally, though, I realized that nothing, nothing could’ve made me a decent artist; the realization dawned at long last the day I was brought to salty tears of frustration by my inability to figure out how to assemble an Office Max cardboard box—Side A goes where? I had, and I have, no 3D faculties whatsoever—none! So how the hell had I ever expected to draw figures in space and learn and apply scientific perspective?   Continue reading

Emily and the Flying Bed

TomFunnyPapers1Here’s yet another trunk manuscript from the mid-1980s, from during the time I was also writing Sunburn Lake, Joe Gosh, and the script for the Neuromancer graphic novel (while living in Jersey City and teaching undergraduate fiction workshops at Hofstra University twice a week). It’s my one and only stab at writing for very young readers–the first four chapters of what was intended to be an illustrated children’s book.

The circumstances surrounding this never-completed manuscript–so far as I can recall, it has been nearly 30 years–were these: book packager Byron Preiss had gotten hold of a couple of very nice color illustrations (just who the artist was, I can’t recall) of a young girl navigating dangerously around on her flying bed, and thought they ought to have a story attached to them, a story that he could then sell as a book. He called and asked me if I’d like to take a crack at it, and since my daughters were around 4 and 6 or 5 and 7 at the time, I thought it’d be fun to write a children’s story. I said I’d work up a few chapters and he could take it from there. I don’t know if he couldn’t sell the project, or never tried to, or lost interest in it, or even forgot all about it, but in any event, nothing more came of it.

Girls2But just the other day my wife Santa discovered the manuscript while going through boxes of manuscripts and galleys in preparation for clearing out our house as much as possible before we put it on the market.  I took a read through the manuscript and liked it; Emily, as described right down to the one eye that closes more than the other eye during smiles and laughter, is clearly based on my older daughter Jessie when she was a little girl; the ballerina in the children’s story-within-a-story is obviously based on my younger daughter Kate, who by then had already declared her intention of becoming both a farmer and a ballerina when she grew up. The dolls named in the story were their actual dolls–I especially remember Pink Doll and New Doll. (Jessie is 34 now, and Kate is 32.)

I’m including here a photograph taken around 1985, of me at my office desk in our Summit Avenue rowhouse, and if you look at the two drawings pinned on the wall directly in front of me and just to the right of the telephone–those are the ones Byron sent me that I used to concoct the story.


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22518Thanks to the great cartoonist, critic and educator, Stephen R. Bissette, who generously got the whole project going, last year Dark Horse Books finally–after more than two decades!–collected the 3-issue Freaks’ Amour comic-book series into a full-fledged and beautifully produced graphic novel. The series was originally scripted by Dana Marie Andra and drawn by Phil Hester and Ande Parks. To make the package deluxe, Steve wrong a long introduction, the artists contributed new drawings, Dana wrote an afterward, Gary Panter permitted us to reprint his 3-page Freaks’ Amour adaptation (first published in Young Lust, 1980), and I wrote a brand-new story set in the Freaks’ world, but decades after the story in the novel. It was a little daunting to go back to material I’d worked on when I was 28, 29 years old, but it proved a lot of fun. For some time I’d been wanting to do another “monolog/one-side-of-a-conversation” story–hadn’t done anything along those lines since Sunburn Lake–and so that’s what I did with “There Used to Be Freaks.” It’s very short and very pointed–it’s not the most subtle fiction I’ve ever written–but I was pleased with the result. (The graphic novel, by the way, is still very much in print and available.)

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