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?

My Midlife Crisis: Heart and Intestine on Retro Bizarro

Five years ago I said goodbye to childhood. Or rather, I tried to hold onto it as desperately as I possibly could. I drowned myself in Milk & Cheese (the comic, though if I had indulged in actual dairy products it would have explained my temporary excessive weight gain) and Ren & Stimpy. I also spent a lot of time watching Cannibal: The Musical on my 12″ television, and lamenting the fact that I had never went to film school like I wanted to when I was 17.

I worked a dead-end job at Dollar General at some point back then. I’m pretty sure that it happened a year or so before all of the above, but I like to lump it all together to justify why I spent my mid-20s drawing crude renderings of my frustration with the world, manifest as two lovable characters: heart and intestine. I look back on these comics and wish I could have done these fellows more justice, and still hope to down the road when I find someone crazy enough to do some artwork for future comics.

When I was drawing heart and intestine, I contacted the cover artist for my book, asking her if she would be interested in drawing some of the stories I’m about to reveal here. But back then we both had a lot going on, and never seemed to have the time to collaborate, so I drew the comics myself. Every weekend I’d bring my “portfolio” home with me, showing my friends and family. They were speechless, probably not in a good way.

Anyway, because it is the week of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d share my only holiday-inspired strip with everyone, and then share another love-themed strip.

Ahh, what a beautiful mess. Note the “T” in the word “get” in panel one, that looks more like a “Y,” a testament to my late-night lack of diligence and my “fuck it, it’s good enough” demeanor as I sloppily drew these comics. Even more confusing is the fact that the “V” in the title also resembles a Y. Perhaps this was my subconscious prodding me with a question, “why?”

Because my fucking poetry sucked, I didn’t have time to write fiction, and I really wanted to try this “hatching” technique I learned off the back of a box of Crayola Crayons, that’s why.

Note the total lack of context between panels. Presumably, Heart freaks out because he learns of candied hearts. Intestine tells him, “hey don’t worry about it, Heart. This is a normal occurrence on valentine’s day.” Somewhere between panel three and panel six, heart apparently decides he’s going to paint himself, burst forth from the chest of the human he’s embedded in and surprise said human’s girlfriend. Of course this is all, ineffectively, implied. And what about the guy? Is he in on the prank. Did he intend on giving his girlfriend Gina something different that he had hidden under the table? We may never know. Part of the problem is that I decided to create the intestine-lined, nine-panel page before drawing any of the comics. Every damned one of the comics uses the same nine-panel setup.

Here’s another example of the madness:

In this wonderful piece, intestine voices his concern about the mistreatment of the female in panel one. Of course, due to my excellent rendering, no one can really tell what the hell is going on. Is the guy choking the woman, or is he simply feeling her boobs? Either way, she seems quite gleeful when Intestine chops the guy’s head of with a katana blade.

Another point of concern: if Intestine is the one worried the guy is going to kill her, why is there a small line that makes it look like heart is the one saying Intestine’s line? Answer: I didn’t notice this line until I had already colored the comic, and by then was too lazy and broken to bother whiting the line out and recoloring. “Screw it,” I thought. “Everyone will get what I’m going for.”

Five years later even I’m confused.

There’s something to be said for the lettering in these comics as well. Too bad it isn’t something good. Take a look at that carefully crafted “n” in the word “when” in panel two. It just screams “oh shit, I didn’t measure the lettering and might not fit the words on this line. Oh, I guess it does fit. No point in going back to change it now. I’m working on a deadline, because this comic . . . isn’t going to show up anywhere for years.”

After that, this comic gets a little better. I really do like the innocent disposition of Heart and Intestine. In a world filled with violence, these two characters come to believe that we express love through violence. And every damned time I look at the terrible drawings of the cat confusedly uttering “meow?” as the dog chews on its head, or the rabid dog smashed to bits by the car I laugh like hell, at myself.  Would you believe there were about 10 “issues” between the first I show and this one, and at this point I was still struggling to get the points across.

Nevertheless, while Heart and Intestine suffered from countless problems, I really REALLY like the characters. I think the idea of two characters that can manifest in any person’s bodies (even celebrities, which I never bothered to draw because I started writing fiction again) in any given period of time, gives Heart & Intestine an infinite number of scenarios to engage in. They have had their own page on MySpace since I first started drawing the comics. Check it out. Laugh at me. Laugh with them. And expect to see some more of them, with a new artist, unhindered by the nine-panel format, very soon.

In the meantime, because I have so many issues of Heart & Intestine and so many other comics I drew back in 2006-2007, I’m starting a new blog called: I Write Shitty Comics. More information to come.

Happy Valentine’s Day