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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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You’re (Kinda) Safe For The Holidays

Covers to Monstrous and The Hidden

Worried about the upcoming holiday season? I hear ya. I’m a prep-for-months-thinking-of-cool-s#i+-for-relatives type. Last year, we waited for weeks for a home bottling kit so Pam and I could make my nephews custom sodas, with crazy labels. Urine Luck. Skittles soda. Cookie Dough. I know what it was like waiting for that kit to show up.

This year, everyone’s panicking about the supply chain. What I can guarantee you concerning stuff in our store? It isn’t waiting on any container ship. It’s here. If you want to order some horror goodies for Xmas, Chanukkah, a birthday, you will get it. The USPS is what you need to be concerned about—not me.  : )

Also, FREE gift wrapping…by the blind guy. Yup, we’ve posted vids in the past of me wrapping everything from Ovaltine containers to my own Xmas gifts (the wife was responsible for that one), but you wanna hook up a friend or loved one (Hell, maybe a not-so-loved one) with something wrapped by me, there’ll be a box to click to make it happen. If that isn’t enough, though? How about getting it on video?

Yeah, that’s going to be an option. You’ll get the file so you can hang onto it until the occasion so the surprise won’t be wrecked, and this’ll include:

A) Personalization. You want me to describe what’s going on to Chuck or Lisa or your parents? Consider it done. Better gimme a heads up if it shouldn’t contain objectionable content, though—I nick my finger on the paper? I’m not gonna hold back. Speaking of which…

B) Your gift recipient will be the winner (or loser) of wrapping-paper-roulette. Many of you know I go out of my way to obtain the ugliest paper possible, and I’m not going to go out of my way for complete strangers. I’m going to grab a package, Pam’s gonna tip me who it goes to, and then I’m gonna reach into a holiday tin containing about 15 different rolls of paper, and what I pick, I pick. (For Chanukkah orders, you can specify. Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel and all…)

C) Do not expect perfection. Yeah, I’m anal about trying to get things to look nice. Key word here is: trying. It’s entirely possible you could get one of my wrapping disasters, in which the decorative side of the paper faces in and it looks like the gift you’ve given is wrapped in typing paper. Ehh, s#i+ happens. You’ve been warned.

D) This can be done across multiple orders…assuming you have more than one friend/family member who you exchange gifts with who doesn’t have a restraining order. I have no problem wrapping something for Dave, for the chick you and Dave ruined your HS friendship over, or the therapist who’s trying to help you and Dave move on. You supply the names, place the order, I can break up the personalizations into as many packages as you desire. Did I say break-up? Should I have chosen a different term?

E) Gifts get tagged, so again, specify if you need something to be for Chanukkah or Xmas or a birthday, if there’s no box for that, complain to Pam.

If you don’t care and want the possibility of a Chanukkah-paper-wrap-job-with-a-Santa-Claus-gift-tag? Yee-ha!—I’m in. 

Okay, enough of that. MONSTROUS is a classic-era inspired pair of stories, cover art by Rodney Fyke, colors by Tomiwa Olu. The Hidden: A Danni Locke Mystery is exactly what it says, although as you can see from the image, there’s plenty of horror going on. Voodoo, beheading, torture and mutilation—what you expect from stories of mine. Deals available on orders for multiple products, all that jazz. 

Enjoy Halloween, and feel secure in ordering from Fright Unseen for your holiday needs. Comics, LGBTQ-centric tales, limited ed portfolios, work I’ve done with Bernie Wrightson, Zacherley, Basil Gogos and others—there’s plenty to choose from. The key thing is, if you have friends or family who love horror, I will make their gift fun, and bust my ass to get it there on time. If I have to hit the Post Office every day? Done. You’ll get Delivery Confirmation. I’ll sign whatever you get if you’d like. No one’s holidays should be held up because of supply chain problems. And nothing coming from here will be.