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But Joe — What About Your Work?

Something that’s come up in the wake of this MAUS controversy (which is totally manufactured, BTW), is my stance on not just books and graphic novels, but my own work in particular. If you’re not familiar, I came up in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s comic scene, doing books that were labelled: Underground and extreme. I have a great clip of David J. Schow (The Crow, John Carpenter’s HELL) introducing me at a Chiller Con as “One of the godfathers of splatterpunk.” 

But…my titles? What about them? Should Cry For Dawn have been available to middle-schoolers, like the kids the Tennessee censorship feud is about? In a word: No.

I can picture the reactions. Huh? WTF? But Joe—you’re anti-censorship! You oppose bans! What gives?!

It’s pretty simple. While I wholeheartedly oppose censorship (demands to silence Joe Rogan, for instance), Cry For Dawn was not for 12-and-13 year olds. There is nothing wrong with that. Our comics contained subject matter Diamond Comics required labeling as ‘Mature Readers’. We had nudity, we had profanity, we had rape. We had a vagina with teeth. We bent every rule we couldn’t break, telling stories designed to make people think, and to get a reaction. 

Cover to Cry For Dawn Volume One with caption: Banned In Canada; our initial printer refused our job after accepting it.

Doesn’t mean we had to hand it to middle schoolers, though. Here I am, 30 years later, talking about my interview with Art Spiegelman and discussing why there is no censorship going on in TN, because the truth is: there isn’t. Making a kid wait until he/she’s 16 to read a Mature Readers comic title? That’s no different than keeping that same kid out of an R-or-X-rated film. Preventing kids from seeing Cannibal Holocaust? Think about it. No kid’s being robbed or denied the opp to see that flick, there’s just a restriction on when. That we’re talking a Pulitzer prize winning graphic novel or a comic that broke new ground matters not. Good content being temporarily withheld from a reader is no crime, and it certainly doesn’t qualify as censorship. 

My new comic is filled with graphic imagery and subject matter. It’s basically Cry For Dawn 10, or what it could have been had we continued in the 1990s. It is rough stuff. Am I concerned that I may not snag as many teen readers as were sneaking into comic shops to grab Cry For Dawn in 1992? No. I don’t plan on going anywhere. I’m going to keep writing comic stories. I’m going to keep writing prose stories. Some are going to flip people out. Some are going to have people up in arms, like with Kids Meal in 1990 and BIRTHMARKS in ’91. Because, that’s what I do. If a kid needs another year or so to catch up? So be it. I am content to wait, rather than rush an audience into material they’re not ready for. Average 12-and-13 year old kid shouldn’t have access to Caligula, either. Doesn’t mean there’s anything ‘banned’ or being ‘censored’. I refuse to play victim simply because there are some rules in place for age-appropriate material, which is why I stand with the school board in Tennessee.

Illustration of a woman firing a crossbow to a zombie's head. Caption: Panel from my new MATURE READERS title — this is as tame as it gets.

Not that I’m gonna bitch if a kid like me skirts the rules and finds a way. Hell, that the kid is reading in the first place is impressive enough… I just hope he or she’s ready. The hard truth is, plenty won’t be, and I don’t think it’s worth the risk simply because a few whiners are screeching about something that hasn’t happened. 

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The Media Mockery Concerning MAUS

Before knee-jerking, please give this a moment to sink in. I got to interview Art Spiegelman back in the day, thanks to Fred Greenberg. So, let’s get this out of the way: The content of MAUS is incredible—Pulitzer worthy. It’s gotten awards, and is a holocaust masterpiece. Okay, we all settled?

It’s also rough. Art himself spoke to this at the time. It’s about the holocaust. If you don’t understand that there is ugly, hard-to-stomach content, then you’ve never read the book and shouldn’t bother going any further, because you’re unequipped to understand the debate.

Cover to MAUS

Art knew why MAUS would wind up being a ‘Mature Readers’ selection via distribution networks. Same as Rolf Stark (another talented creator I had the chance to interview), who understood full well that his graphic novel concerning the same subject matter would rile folks up. Not everyone would be giving him a pat on the back for depicting hard truths in a graphic way.

In 1985, I was part of the ‘pull’ put on at Elmont Memorial High School, where the PTA had had a hissy-fit and demanded that One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest be pulled from the library and classrooms. That, Albert Camus’ The Stranger, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and Heart of Darkness—all destined for the dumpsters because of content concerns. (Yes, I filled my backpack with those titles and more slated for the ban-bin.)

Now, let’s return to today. We live in a world where Huck Finn hasn’t been able to go down river in most HS libraries for the better part of a decade. Why? Same thing: content concerns. Now, let’s go to Tennessee. Is this a case of anti-semitism, as knee-jerkers on FB and Twitter are claiming? No. Read the statements and the list of citations by the school board. Is it about bigotry? Holocaust denial? Again, the media is having a field day, but no, that’s not even part of it. Nudity, rape and profanity? Now, there’s the issue. Just like with Cuckoo’s Nest, which contains rape and violence and profanity, MAUS contains some of these elements, and…it’s a graphic novel. It isn’t prose. Thus? art/images of nudity and violence. 

We’re talking about a middle school. They have rules concerning what gets into the library. If you’re so easily huckstered as to think that a book that’s over three decades old is suddenly being ‘targeted’, you’re naïvete is showing. There is no sex in Huckleberry Finn. There is no murder or rape. There is no mass-extermination based on the characters’ religion. And yet, it isn’t in most middle school libraries, and it’s removal from high schools nationwide has been the subject of countless articles. In other words, the amt of ‘objectionable content’ is minimal in comparison with a graphic novel with everything depicted visually.

I feel terrible for Art, and his book MAUS deserves better. First and foremost, though, what it deserves is for the media to report accurately on what actually happened, without trying to spin events to turn it into something it wasn’t. MAUS is a book I highly recommend and have for years. Would I give a copy to a 12-year-old, though? Would I find a better solution for kids in middle school who want to read it, such as having parents sign it out, same as I would for Cuckoo’s Nest, The Jungle and The Shining? (Another book that used to be in the Elmont Memorial HS library)? Yes. But the discussion should be about what actually occurred in TN, not what the media spin machine has tried to make it sound like. That’s the true crime here, not the ban and not the debate.

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Halloween For the Win!

Miniature pumpkins adorn large plants and small, planted trees.

After the disaster that was Halloween 2020 (which included government threats, unnecessary fearmongering over going door-to-door, kids stuck walking a circle in a parking lot for trunk or treat ‘events’), thrilled that many refused to buckle last year and did the best they could, while today/tonight? It would appear Halloween is coming back with a vengeance.

My place is in the middle of nowhere. We always need to set up at someone else’s house where they get (at least, used-to) hundreds of kids and parents. I’m looking forward to getting back in my casket, and scaring the hell out of people once again. At the house, though, I couldn’t go without doing anything, so got some pumpkins in the planters to be a bit festive, Pam can use ‘em for pumpkin pie when we bring ‘em inside on Monday, and at least the feel is back. Bringing candy over to Mom’s even though she lives in a retirement community, hoping some kids’re staying with grandma and grandpa and will be walking the cul de sacs. Hope you and yours—especially if you have kids—are rockin’ it this year! Stay safe, enjoy, and bring on the darkness!

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Psssst—Cancel Cultists? You Just Became The Puritans You Used To Hate

Dave Chappelle in 2018

Dave Chappelle doesn’t need my defense or anyone else’s; he’s too sharp, too quick-witted, and, essentially, has a license to print money after the faux-outrage Netflix brouhaha. I am thrilled he’s the beneficiary of such narrow-minded criticism and hatred because a guy as bright as he is can absolutely bludgeon the hypocrites to death with it. Even Netflix higher-ups know better than to side with the simpering cancel cultists on this one, because the slope they want to drag us down makes the one Bond skied in The Spy Who Loved Me look like a snow-covered Kansas driveway.

Imagine this. Today’s cancel cultists (not to get political, but look at them—largely self-described progressives and liberals—and what they’re shrieking about). Let’s take this crew of hand-wringers and knee-jerkers and drop them in 1971, at the NBC headquarters. NBC is considering adapting a hit UK sitcom, airing it in primetime on Friday night…and hiring an all-black cast. Groundbreaking, right? A progressive’s wet dream, right? But, now let’s look at the man they choose for the lead role. Redd Foxx, one of the bluest of the ‘blue comics,’ and his routines. How long you think that show lasts—assuming it goes into production at all—without Foxx? How do you think a leaked email chain concerning Foxx pushing to use the dreaded N-word, which he did in multiple episodes, would’ve gone? Episodes with a social commentary he fought for! (Look up articles on the ‘courtroom episode’ after watching the clip, in which he blasts the judge for the racial disparity by pointing out there are “…enough ni66ers in here to make a Tarzan movie.” 

You think that show ever airs given today’s ‘progressives’? You think Good Times gets green-lit? You think the white-dominated landscape of traditional family-based sitcoms and dramas becomes so diverse so quickly? Think Freddie Prinze ever gets on TV in a co-leading role in 1974 without Sanford and Son leading the way? Pffft. Today’s so-called progressives would have torched Foxx and NBC and demanded they pull the show. Don’t believe me? Look at Chappelle. Employees at Netflix are going to stage a walkout and are looking for support from the public. They want to cancel a successful, minority comic who’s known for biting, social commentary (recall, he was lauded by these same hypocrites for his George Floyd 9 minute ‘bit’ mere months ago. They championed that. And in a heartbeat, they want to kill his career.)

Rewind a bit further. Can you imagine Lenny Bruce (the role for which Dustin Hoffman got his first Oscar nom) or George Carlin, unquestionably referred to as ‘legends’ of the field, ever getting out of the tiniest of back-room clubs? Today’s progressives wouldn’t have let them sniff the big time. Richard Pryor? Are you kidding? Another black man who never would have gotten beyond the club scene given his routines concerning women, blacks, prison, etc. But, it isn’t all about ‘ancient history’ (despite guys like Carlin and Pryor dying in our lifetimes). Think about a kid like Chris Rock getting his big chance. Does he survive a leak of emails and script notes concerning the ‘Ni66a Please’ parody commercial? Does he ever get an HBO special if today’s progressives saw him do the bit about “You want to hide something from ni66as? Hide your money in books, ‘cause ni66as don’t read! Books are like kryptonite to a ni66a.”? Can you imagine the ‘outrage’ about such a skit? Well, you don’t have to. SNL hired Shane Gillis in 2019, but fired him before he ever got on set due to old jokes and ‘offensive’ bits surfacing. (Picture how many SNL alum would’ve gotten on-air given today’s cancel cultists combing their standup history. It’s probably a show that doesn’t make it to season 10) 

Here’s another one. Go look up one of the biggest stars of the ‘80s/’90s, Eddie Murphy. Find the ‘Gay Honeymooners’ bit, and tell me that if he’d been doing that in clubs before he gets Saturday Night Live, he ever gets a movie deal. Be honest. Watch that routine, compare it to what’s being protested and canceled all across today’s media, and ask yourself…does Eddie Murphy ever get the SNL offer, much less become an A-list movie star? Does Coming To America ever get made? Trading Places? Does he become The Nutty Professor or the face of Disney remakes for a decade? A black man doing such ‘homophobic’ and ‘insensitive’ routines? Yeah, think about that.

The cancel cultists making entertainment companies shiver are the new Puritans. The same folks they claim to abhor and want no association with. “I don’t like that! Anyone who does is a bigot/racist/hater/unacceptable!” That’s the mantra. Now, they’re targeting black artists in a way that would have totally changed the landscape for struggling minorities. We wouldn’t have those seasons of Sanford and Son or Good Times or Chico and the Man, and the groundswell of minority-led casts. Poof, gone, were these people in charge. Chris Rock is a barely-known standup guy who never gets an HBO show to discuss social issues and talk about tough subjects. Murphy doesn’t prove to megacorporations like Disney and Dreamworks that you can put a black man front and center in a movie like The Nutty Professor and Shrek despite his Honeymooners bit. These people would have been the racist and phobic network execs and showrunners they damned until they got shows like Will and Grace—shows their own actions would have delayed for years. The career-killers of minorities who dared to joke about women and alternate lifestyles and…social issues. These are the most dangerous people in entertainment, and it’s a mirror they refuse to look into. : (