Has the Internet Killed Merchants of the Bizarre?

I remember my senior year in high school, rummaging through anything I could online to find weird materials to share with my friends. One of the things I slipped up on was a VHS tape called “Weird Cartoons.” Most of what I found on that VHS is now found on “Johnny Legend’s Complete Weird Cartoons,” which appears to be available on DVD.

When I found this VHS tape, it was for the most part unheard of in my area. Before the Internet was predominant, only a handful of people had personal computers, and cable television was virtually non-existent in the North Country. We had a few network stations and that was about it. If you saw what by today’s standards qualified as a “weird cartoon” it was probably because one of the older network television stations let one of the racist cartoons slip through the censors. That wasn’t the good kind of weird. That was just awkward, especially in retrospect.

But the Ladislaw Starewicz stop-motion WAS weird. “The Devil’s Ball,” which apparently was part of a longer film known as “The Mascot,” really got me excited about the underbelly of history that I’d missed in the textbooks and on network television. I had been exposed to very tame art in elementary and junior high, but watching The Devil’s Ball–in which a drunkard stabs Satan in the gut and rips a gold coin out of a monkey’s throat right before it is about to rape a ballerina–I discovered that there was a time where art existed before the censors did. Scroll forward to around 8:55 in the video below to see what I’m talking about:

I became a merchant of the obscure and bizarre in my hometown. I didn’t want money in exchange for what I introduced my peers to, however. I wanted notoriety. Even on a microcosmic, local level, that’s all I wanted. I just wanted people to acknowledge that I had access to the weird, that I knew where to hunt it down and find it.

At first, when I was one of the few people in my hometown to have cheap dial-up, that trend continued. I remember the day I found “shit eaters” online after I typed “eat shit and die” into my browser after a rough day at school. I had never heard of coprophagia before that moment. And I never looked back . . . incidentally, neither did any of my friends. Sure, they looked away. But they could never “unsee” what they saw on that fateful day.

Things are changing. Starewicz is on YouTube, and his work has a fair amount of views. It’s there for the folks who want to see it. The value of the junk collectors, the collectors of the rare and obscure, has been lost to the predominance of free-access information on the internet.

And maybe that’s a good thing. It’s just going to take a while for us folks who took pride in being merchants of shit, and merchants of the rare and obscure, to accept our fate. We’re becoming obsolete. We don’t mean as much as we used to.

Now, just as I’m coming to terms with this, everything is changing again.

The sad thing is, most merchants of the bizarre were happy with barter. But information, no matter how obscure, is being integrated into the corporate mechanism that has taken over our world. The golden age of free information online is gone, or it will be in the near future. With the barter system of the merchants, recipients never had to pay anything out of pocket. Simply by viewing, by being influenced, they inspired the merchants. That was our payment.

I think everything gets commodified one way or another, but when money gets involved, that’s when things get dirty. When some corporate entity expects people to pay for what the merchants offered for little to nothing, it’s a true shame.

It’s strange how in American culture, there is this element of ownership inherent in dissemination of information. I told one of my students about Westborough Baptist Church a few weeks ago, and he decided to do some research on the group. He won’t forget that I exposed him to that. I become the source of his search knowledge in a particular vein, and my occupation as teacher, as one who imparts knowledge, is thus validated.

So maybe merchants of shit are not as obsolete as we thought. The information is there. We become, like we always were, crossing guards, street lights that guide the folks down the information superhighway, towards information that appeals to them. But we’re not the only crossing guard, so we have to be the best at what we do if we hope to draw people in and acquire validation.

No matter how I try to make sense of the problem, it always comes back to the issue I raised in Uncle Sam. Either we introduce the old to a new audience, or we create something new for the old audience. One thing I never factored in was the fact that if something bigger or better is doing our job more efficiently, our efforts don’t matter either way.

For some reason, the more avenues by which we can access that once-thought rare information, the more demoralizing this all becomes to me. The fact that exposure is quantified on websites like Youtube, that I can see the fact that 50,000 people have watched “The Devil’s Ball” is discouraging. The fact that “Coprophagia” yields thousands of results on Google rather than just a handful like it did ten or fifteen years ago, is disheartening. Someone already did my job, faster and more effectively than I did.  And in the near future, it’s likely going to go corporate.

The bizarre, the rare, the obscure, the pulp, it is making the transition to mainstream. I wonder what our place in tomorrow’s world will be when the underground is ripped from below and thrust above ground. Will it die a quick and painless death as so many trends before it? Or will a new underground movement sprout from the current trends?


The Antithesis of Artistic Elitism: Junk Treasures on Retro Bizarro

In 1972, Marvel released a comic series titled “Night Nurse.” You may not have heard of it. I hadn’t until about two weeks ago. It faded into obscurity after a few issues, never to be seen again until Brian Michael Bendis incorporated the night nurse into one of his tales. The hokey dialogue, cheesy scenarios, and grainy three-color ink is a throwback to everything that is bad about comic books, everything that stands in the way of graphic novels being accepted as literature . . . and I want those issues.

I collect junk. I don’t care much for the philosophical and literary works that are being infused with hypertext and made available online for scholars. There are plenty of people who have committed themselves to sharing this information with the next generation. I prefer the limited run of Madballs to the countless volumes of Shakespeare. I’d rather read Clive Barker’s aborted Marvel creations like Hokum & Hex than another work by Nathaniel Hawthorne. And I know I’m not the only one. Along with Brian Michael Bendis, Neil Gaiman has incorporated obscure characters in his mainstream work as well, like the DC character “Prez” in the Sandman series.

For me, the incorporation of these characters into the work of top-selling authors is validating. Junk collecting is prominent among authors whose works sit on the shelves of literary elitists. It is relevant. It is significant. And I’m proud to be among the ranks. Nevertheless, marketing strategies are already being employed to manipulate the junk collector. So being a junk collector entails treading a fine line between true acquirement of the obscure, and falling victim to the perpetuation of the illusion of obscurity which many retailers use to manipulate collectors.

Junk collecting is relevant because it ensures that information discarded by artistic elitists gets picked up by the catcher in the rye of one’s culture. The junk collector takes the refuse of capitalist endeavors and keeps it until it carries alternative values, nostalgic, monetary, and historical. This is an important role. More important than the college undergrad collecting every work of literature featuring the academic stamp of approval. Everyone already knows Socrates is important, so who the hell cares if you have his works on your shelf? You’re just a cog in the intellectual system regurgitating the values of your predecessors. But if you have a few of the old depression-era Whitman Big Little pulps, then you’ve got something that has fallen off pop culture’s radar. And that’s important.

Junk Collecting in Brendan Mitchell’s Night Owls

Junk collecting is a phenomenon that crops up in a lot of underground works today. Brendan Mitchell’s Night Owls recounts the tale of a young man on a quest for the rarest of films. On his search he runs into Troma producer Lloyd Kaufmann, ass-kicker Shawn C. Phillips, and Ron Jeremy. Part 5 of the series is below:

Unfortunately, Brendan’s journey is one that ends in disappointment. The ass rape he endures to acquire the video turns out to be in vain, for the video he seeks is obscure for a reason: it sucks.

Junk Collecting in Jordan Krall’s Beyond the Valley of the Apocalypse Donkeys

A similar type of disappointment occurs for the protagonist of Jordan Krall’s Beyond the Valley of the Apocalypse Donkeys. Our main character, a film reviewer, strives to find a rare film which he only had the opportunity to watch once. Upon finding it, he loses it to a VHS player with malicious intent, or so it would seem. His search leads him down some dark and seedy paths. He almost dies as he gets caught up in the downward spiral that begins with a search for a rare and obscure work.

These two works point out the danger inherent in junk collecting. In some cases, we have the potential to lose ourselves to something greater. In other cases, such as depicted in Night Owls, we get “raped,” whether literally or figuratively, and we end up with trash.

The most recent pit I’ve fallen into is the acquirement of rare video games. One of the games that had been on my list for years, which I finally gave up on, was a CD-i, live action Zelda game. It’s rare as hell. The reviewers warn you that it isn’t worth the money. For some reason, every damned red flag that popped up along the way told me this was something I wanted. But was it something I wanted to spend over $200 dollars for? Probably not. Since copies fly off Ebay incredibly fast, chances are this game isn’t as “rare” as I initially thought. People are taking painstaking efforts to make sure this work is preserved, so it will survive the generations without my endeavor to acquire it.

When it comes right down to it, Night Nurse and Prez will live on as well. For me, the important thing is to spread the word about these obscure gems. They’re not literary gems, mind you, but they are nostalgic gems. They are a part of our history. They, like pulp softcovers such as my 1881 copy of “The Blunders of a Bashful Man” or my moldy copy of “Pinocchio in Africa,” are valuable in ways that highly visible classics can never be. And when I can’t afford the obscure “gems” I seek, I have a wish list here on Retro Bizarro.

The Future of Junk Collecting

Junk collecting has changed over time. Back in the day there were fewer works being published. A lot of today’s junk treasures were books whose publishers had hopes and dreams. The authors aspired to create commercial successes when their works were created and printed, but they failed. A lot of companies hoped the world would forget.

Atari buried millions of copies of this piece of shit in a New Mexico desert landfill in hopes that people would forget it existed. Despite that, somewhere out there, some jackass is willing to pay top dollar for this game.

With the possibility for digital publication today, there’s less risk involved, so failure doesn’t matter as much. And there’s less quality material today, so that reduces significance of the once-rare below-par works that peppered the literary world. Back in the day, it was refreshing and/or amusing to see errors in commercial products. Today, seeing errors in kindle books is so ubiquitous that it is just annoying.

Do these changes make junk treasure a thing of the past? Will tomorrow’s world see junk treasure the same way my generation does? It’s likely that the trash-to-treasure phenomenon we encounter today will always manifest in some way or another, but it is changing fast.

What kind of junk from your childhood do you strive to re-acquire now that you’re older? What do you collect?

Win a Signed Copy of my Book and a Signed Print

Here’s the deal: become an active subscriber to my blog and I’ll enter you in a drawing to win a free copy of my book signed by the artist and myself. Actually there are two prizes. The drawing will be on January 26th:

1. The first e-mail address drawn will win a free copy of my book signed by the artist and myself AND a signed and numbered, limited-edition print of the cover art. There are only 25 8×10 copies and ten have already been given away in a promotional event that ended in December.

2. The second e-mail address drawn will win a free copy of my book signed by the author AND a signed and numbered, limited-edition print of the cover art.

If you become an active subscriber to my blog, you are entered. If you become an active subscriber to my blog, and “like” the Facebook page I created for my book, you’re entered twice.

Here’s the link to the facebook page for Uncle Sam’s Carnival of Copulating Inanimals: here

Here’s a picture of the print and the book:

Snot Bubbles and Fart-Propelled Kids: Garbage Pail Kids on Retro Bizarro

I still remember the first time I laid eyes on a pack of Garbage Pail Kids cards. Nasty Nick, though now a staple card representative of the first set, was nothing special. Brainy Janie looked like a redux from the Mars Attacks cards I found later in life. But Oozy Suzie, Slobby Robbie, those kids were downright disturbing . . . and for that, I loved them.

Riddled with vomit, snot, and entrails, the Garbage Pail Kids cards remain burned into the memory of hundreds of thousands across America. Spawning countless future sets and spinoffs (anybody remember Grossville High sticker cards?), Garbage Pail Kids laid a foundation for the “gross” market.

Things were never quite the same after Garbage Pail Kids. Where once the family gathered around a board to send siblings and parents into a state of bankruptcy, now children could wile away the hours digging plastic viruses out of snot issuing forth from a giant nasal cavity. Innocent cartoons from the past were replaced by cartoons a decade later like Ren & Stimpy and Billy & Mandy.

So is it the gross-out factor that makes GPK bizarro? Not entirely. It’s the blurred lines between demographics, such as can be found in Lotus Rose’s Macho Poni. It’s the outlandish yet relevant parody also found in books like CM3’s Cannibals of Candyland. And why are these titles and Garbage Pail Kids so successful, despite the constant bitching and moaning of parents across the country? Because they tapped into something that was already there. The creators identified an unsaturated market . . . the rest is history.

Shining Moments:

Nervous Rex had cigarettes sticking out of every orifice in his head.

The transvestite Swell Mel likely served as an inspiration for Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs.

Boozin Bruce hangs off a light pole, hallucinating pink elephants with a bottle of liquor in his hand.

Interesting Facts:

The Garbage Pail Kids were so successful that both a film and a cartoon series were released. The intro to the cartoon series, now available on DVD, can be viewed below:

Garbage Pail Kids still thrives to this day. The official website features the latest GPK series, as well as countless spinoffs. You can find it at the link below:


Bookmark Features Couch-on-Couch Copulation

Steve Lowe's Crudely Rendered Couch Copulation: an homage to Uncle Sam's Carnival of Copulating Inanimals?Steve Lowe, author of Muscle Memory, is offering a free book mark to anyone who purchased a copy of his book featuring the original artwork. The greatest part of this is that he’s adding personalized artwork to the back of the bookmarks. The image included in this blog was drawn for the author of “The Egg Said Nothing.”

Yeah. He’s kind of a pervert.

There are still several copies of Steve Lowe’s “Muscle Memory” with the original artwork available on Amazon. Buy a copy, suggest he draw crude things on the back of his book mark for you . . . and then send that book mark to your local authorities. Immediately.

You can buy Mr. Lowe’s book here

Here's the original artwork from the book

Here's the bookmark you acquire, featuring the book's new artwork