Monday, July 30, 2007

Pass the Maple Syrup, Hoser

OK, so I'm in Canada for a few weeks. When I come back, I'll have a whole slew of new posts for the blog. Can your mommy/daddy parts take the anticipation? Duh-duh-duhhhhhh!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Oh, Ed, We Hardly Knew Ye

Like lots of other folks, I'm interested in Ed Gein. Whether it's the cannibalism, the graverobbing, the box of salted vulvas in the closet...there's just something fascinating about the guy. I've been hooked on his story for many years, since the day (yeah, I couldn't put it down) I read Harold Schecter's wonderful Deviant, probably the best book ever written about Gein (a must read for anyone interested in our skin-wearing Wisconsin farmer, or interested in abnormal psychology in general).

So the other day I decided to have a Gein filmfest. No, I don't mean I rented Psycho or Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Maniac, or any of the other myriad films based somewhat on Gein's exploits. No, I sat down and watched two films about Gein himself.

The first was 2000's In the Light of the Moon (retitled simply Ed Gein), starring Steve Railsback, and I must say I enjoyed it immensely. Railsback is an underrated actor, with a history of playing...ahem...marginal characters (you may remember him as Charles Manson in the classic Helter Skelter), and he really gives a tour de force performance. His portrayal of Gein is not some over-the-top drooling madman, but rather a depiction of just what Eddie Gein really was: a really, really troubled human being. He deftly keeps the character from becoming a caricature, and instead gives us a peculiar little man who alternately becomes the target of our sympathy and revulsion.

Railsback doesn't have to carry the project on his own, however, as both the scripting and production values are sharp, and quirky enough for the material. I was especially taken by the amount of research that went into the film. For example, there's a scene where Ed sits at his kitchen table, trying on noses. Yes, human noses. Most impressive, though, is that we see that it's FOUR noses, a detail the average person wouldn't know. I really admire that kind of accuracy in a film based on a real-life event, as it gives me confidence that I can accept the rest of what the movie depicts.

And gods...I watched 2007's Ed Gein, the Butcher of Plainfield, starring...Kane Hodder???!!! What in the name of J. Fred Muggs...???

Yeah, it's Kane Hodder, the big galoot under the Jason mask for a handful of the Friday the 13th movies. Now, even if we put aside the fact that Hodder's never had to do more acting than it takes to swing a machete, it's kind of hard to ignore the fact that the actor playing the 5'7", frail Ed Gein is in actuality a 6'4" hulking monster!

Don't get me wrong. If they decide to make a movie where Joey Buttafucco is irradiated with gamma energy, then Hodder is the ONLY choice. But Ed Gein? This is nothing but stunt casting. They must've figured Hodder's name on the DVD box would hook at least a few fans who didn't know any better (god, I hate that kind of cynicism).

And how is his performance?'s there. I mean, he plays a satisfactory crazed killer. The problem is, Ed Gein wasn't a crazed killer. He was a sick little man who robbed graves and wore skin panties and ate human organs and made kitchenware out of skullcaps and had one of the worst mother fixations ever. But he wasn't a Richard Speck or a Ted Bundy, and certainly not a Leatherface.

And as much as I loved the accuracy in Railsback's movie, that's how much I hate the "fast and loose" playing with the truth in "Butcher." Hodder's Gein runs around killing folks left and right. If someone gets in the way, wham! Hey, that may work for Mrs. Voorhees' little boy, but it's NOT what happened in the case of Ed Gein.

And therein lies the main problem with the more recent film. Y'see, Ed Gein's life was FASCINATING. Few people can hear his story and not be drawn into it, provided they have a strong stomach. And the most compelling element of it all is that it's completely TRUE. But the makers of "Butcher" didn't have enough faith to do what Railsback did, to tell a fact-based account of Gein's life, knowing that the reality of his bizarre escapades is enough to keep the viewer transfixed.

Folks, we don't NEED a guy running around slicing and dicing everyone he runs into. Have some faith in your audience. Yeah, Ed Gein was a seemingly meek little man who largely kept to himself and tended his own business in his little farmhouse. But he was also a MONSTER unlike just about anything we can imagine. And that's all we need to keep us riveted to the screen.

Keep your damned pitchforks and machetes and Ronco Vegematics. I'll stick with a diminutive fella from Wisconsin who wore a crooked smile and a bra with real nipples.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Meet the Peanut Gallery

So here's a new feature of this new blog. Let's take some time to learn about the assembled. We'll start with a friend of mine whose blog is the first link I've added to the site. Ladies and gentlemen, Erin Palette.

Let me use this space to tell the truth about Palette, the truth as only someone who goes through her garbage can tell it. Let me clue you in on the length and breadth and width and girth of Palette, the seismic and balsamic readings of Palette, the very things that make Palette what she is: somebody I'm writing about.

Erin Palette keeps herself looking young by an arcane ritual involving the prostatic fluid of Mr. Ben Vereen.

To say Erin Palette is acquainted with the night is like saying Monica Lewinsky's va-jay-jay is acquainted with Bill Clinton's cigar. The night has overwhelmed Palette, and turned her into its medieval puppydog bitch.

Erin Palette has the intelligence to use the word "jejune," but not the wisdom to keep from doing it.

If an infinite number of Erin Palettes sat at an infinite number of typewriters, they'd be working on really out-of-date equipment.

She was born with a superfluous fifth elbow.

Palette used to work for the library, but they kept finding her with her decimals all dewy.

Erin Palette was mentioned by name in Jim Shooter's "little fucks" memo.

When she was a teen-ager, Erin Palette and her date were parked in a car on a deserted road. They heard a noise and quickly drove off, nearly paralyzed with fear. The next morning, when they checked the car, they found hanging from its door handle...a bloody hookworm!

Palette once asked me if I wanted a "hertz donut," and when I said yes, she pierced my chest with a clawhammer.

She was the original choice to play Linc on "The Mod Squad," but producers felt she wasn't "Jewish enough."

Erin Palette has taught me what it really means to be dizzy.

Palette is our first line of defense if the United States is invaded by Port Orange.

She has the world's largest collection of crotchless hats.

Erin's doesn't have her mojo working, but it does get a sweet SSI check every month.

When it comes down to it, I'm proud to call her someone I almost sort of know in a weird internet kind of way.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Omega Troy

OK, so I started this thingy up a few days ago, and while the counter is reading something like 70 hits at the moment, no one has posted any comments. Do I have cooties?

Is anyone out there?


Monday, July 9, 2007

Let My People Go (But Not To This Movie)

Sweet sassy molassey, I've lost the will to live.

As a few of you may know if you've read my posts elsewhere, I've maintained that Terror Toons is without a doubt the WORST movie of all time. Well, I'll stick to my guns with that contention, but I think I may have found First Runner Up.

But let me start at the beginning. A few weeks ago, my son Gabriel and I went to our local Blockbuster to exchange some movies (we belong to one of the "all you can rent for $20 a month" plans, and you're able to take the DVDs you receive in the mail into the store for immediate replacements, making it twice as good a deal).

So there we are, wandering through the racks when Gabriel, who has a real gift for camp, picks up a DVD box and says "Hey, how about this?"

There before me was something called The Watermelon Heist, with a cover depicting a lot of smiling black folks, including TV favorite John Amos, and Last Comic Standing's Corey Holcomb. It looked like a particularly goofy grade D comedy, and we had a good laugh over the cheesiness of it all.

"OK, we'll get it next time," I said to Gabriel, CLEARLY joking.

But genetics are a powerful force, and my kid has apparently inherited both my sense of humor and my penchant for tossing a monkey wrench into the ointment. So when we stopped into Blockbuster yesterday, I found myself once again face-to-face with The Watermelon Heist.

"You said we could get it this time, Dad."

Sometimes I think the part of me I most abhor is my near-obsession with keeping my word. Before I knew it, we were driving home, with John Amos' grinning face staring up at me.

Today, before I knew it, we were putting the DVD into the player.

An hour ago, before I knew it, I had spent 89 minutes of my life watching The Watermelon Heist.

And dying a little bit inside.

I...I really don't know what to say about this movie. I'm not even sure I can call it a movie. It's more like something Josef Mengele might have used to test human endurance. It's like something out of Lovecraft, except that if it were, at least it might be mercifully unspeakable.

But how can I truly convey how gut-wrenchingly awful this THING is? How can I get across that it makes a Stygian septic tank look like an Al Jaffe pile of doggy doo?

Do I tell you about lack of a better word...plot? That it's about half a dozen black hillbilly types who have spent their lives on welfare, can't pay their property taxes, and therefore have to steal watermelons from farmer John Amos to win a "best watermelon" contest and collect $25000?

Do I tell you that, while the movie is mainly filmed, about 10% of it is made up of quick shots taken ON VIDEO? Do I tell you that the closest thing to a laugh you'll get here is when Amos is watching Chris Rock on TV for about two minutes, so they just insert the stand-up footage directly into the movie (and I'm guessing it's not with Rock's permission)?

Do I tell you about the "characters"? Included are Holcomb as Nicodemus "Nicker" Brown, his semi-retarded, constantly humping and masturbating brother Horny, his brother Numbers (thus named because he...uh...loves to count things), their Bryant Gumbel-sounding brother Whitey, and their sisters, the head-bobbing, talk-to-the-hand twins Mercedes and Caprice.

Do I tell you how the film seemed to have been written and directed by the Grand Wizard of the Novi Michigan chapter of the Ku Klux Klan? Do I tell you about the main characters dressing in chicken costumes to make a buck when the welfare checks just aren't cutting it? Do I tell you about "Horny" professing his love for "blond white women" and his attempts to hump his own female relatives? Do I tell you about how practically every other black character in the film is a Kool-Aid swilling, menthol-cigarette smoking, collared green-eating pimp?

Ya know, I would be remiss if I didn't point out two things about the film's "big name," John Amos: (1) He played the adult Kunte Kinte in Roots. (2) He left his role on Good Times in part because he (and his co-star Esther Rolle) believed that Jimmy Walker's "J.J." character was insulting to blacks (which in itself was ironic; while Walker was possibly the only thing funny about that truly awful sitcom, the influence of Rolle and Amos gave us such war atrocities as the episode about racially-biased testing in schools, a bit of excrement that may well be one of the most offensive and singularly mind-numbed episodes in all of 1970s television).

Given that, you'd think he'd be at least a LITTLE hesitant of taking part in a movie that makes David Duke look like Desmond Tutu. But not only does he dive into the dung heap headfirst, but also brings his entire family along for the trip (the film is directed by his son K.C., and supposedly "inspired by a true story" told to him by his father, John Amos Sr.).

Shame on you, John Amos. Shame on anyone who had anything to do with this drizzingly shitburger. And not because it demeans blacks, but because it demeans us all. I would suggest some appropriate punishment for your crimes, but truth be told the only torture sufficient would be to make you watch Terror Toons, and I'm afraid that would just give you ideas.

The Watermelon Heist is the only movie to ever cause my son to turn to me and say, sincerely, "I'm sorry I picked this one, Dad. I really am."

On the plus side, we feel closer than we ever have, much like the guys who braved mustard gas together in the trenches of Ypres.

If you find yourself staring at the DVD box of this film on your video store's shelves, folks, just remember that sometimes the abyss stares back at you.

I'd Buy THAT For a Dollar!

You know where I love to shop? Dollar stores. Love 'em, love 'em, love 'em. Whether I'm here in my Hoosier home, trying to fend off Malachai, or hanging out with my sweetie in Canada (where they're often called "loonie stores"), I just can't get enough of that bargain-basementy stuff. Sure, call me trailer trash if you will. Call me a cheapskate if you must. Hell, call me "Tiny" if you've seen me naked. Just call me if you're making a trip to the dollar store. Why do I love 'em so much? Here are just a few reasons:

(1) Cheap food. Yeah, it's off-brand, or more often no-brand (ya gotta love a can marked simply "dinner"), but it'll get you through the night. I'm especially fond of the corned beef hash, which is 34% lard, 49% nitrates, and 17% prayers that an employee didn't lose a digit in the production. Fry some of this stuff up, slap it on a plate with a couple of eggs and some butter-slathered toast, and I guarantee every death wish you've ever had will come to fruition. It's coronarilicious!

I'm also fond of their knock-off candy bars. Not only are they considerably less expensive than the "real" thing, but you can often find clones of candy that otherwise would elude you. I'm partial to the generic version of the "Munch" bar, the original version of which is about as common around here as diamonds, or kids from the public school system who can conjugate a verb. The knock-off, which is usually marketed as something like "Peanut Bar," is not quite as good as my beloved Munch, but it's close enough for jazz (just make sure you don't accidentally buy the suppository version, the Butt Munch).

(2) Cheap import wrestling figures. Yes, I know their paint jobs look like they were applied by Joe Cocker on a three-day bender. Yes, I realize that third-world kids with names like Xiang and Lupita probably had to assemble a thousand of them just to pay for a plastic bag to hold all their nothing. But damn, they're a dollar! Vince McMoney can kiss my rosy red backside. They're close enough to real wrestlers to fool most folks if they squint...from another room...and really pathetic children seem to enjoy them just fine. My son collects wrestling figures, and few things overjoy him more than when I bring home a new sack of these ultra-cheap grapplers. And you find some real oddities among them, too, like Gravedigging Gene, who looks pretty much like Sting (the wrestler, not the guy who hopes the Russians love their children, too), except he's...I dunno...he's COOLER than Sting somehow. Or the figure that looks suspiciously like Paul Stanley from KISS...well, provided Paul Stanley put on his make-up in the back of Matthew Broderick's car. And for a buck, you can replace these things the minute you break 'em, and believe me, you will!
(3) Cleaning products. What kind of sap pays full price for this stuff? Look, the simple fact is that eventually being in the proximity of these chemicals is going to give you impotence or brain damage (and truth be told, I'd prefer both; if I can't function as a man, I'd rather not be cognizant of it). So if it has to happen, why not let it happen on the cheap? Especially with toilet paper. Why pay premium prices for something you're going to put...UP YOUR ASS. Now I know some of you are going to say "But Troy, doesn't your ass deserve the best?" And my answer: apparently you've never seen my ass. Its main contributions to western culture are flatulence and the opportunity for sarcastic teen-aged girls to hang their heads out car windows and shout "Ooooh, baby, I want me some of that!"

(4) Sqwincher. Yes, I know I've already covered bargain foods, but Sqwincher is its own category. I first encountered it at a Big Lots store here in town (Big Lots, while not a "true" dollar store, has some wonderful closeout deals, and I'd highly recommend it to folks like myself who hold on to a dollar tighter than a dead nun's sanjaya). I bought a jug of this stuff thinking it would be akin to my dear, dear Gatorade, but...not only was it unlike a sports drink, it was unlike anything mortal man has produced on this big blue marble of ours. I took it home, put it in a glass with some ice, took a sip and was disappointed to find out it hadn't gotten cold yet. So I swished it around, and waiting a few minutes. And still it wasn't cold. So I added more ice cubes and...dear lord, where's the cold??? I put it in my freezer...overnight...and not only did it not freeze...BUT IT NEVER GOT COLD! What kind of NASA-engineered alchemy was this?

After some investigation, I've learned that Sqwincher is an electrolyte-replenishing drink formulated especially for people who work in an "extreme heat environment." It's like Tang, but apparently for our brave astronauts currently exploring the face of the sun! I never drank another bottle of Sqwincher after that, but I do put a couple of gallons of it in my radiator every November.

Anyway, put away your elitism, my friends, and don't be afraid to step into the cool confines of your local dollar store. You might not walk out with a treasure, but you will leave with the knowledge that you purchased something not "high-falutin'" enough for those snobs over at Wal-Mart.

Who the @#$% is Troy Hickman???

Part 2: There's Always Trade School

Where were we?

Oh, yeah, so there I was publishing my own mini-comics, and having a grand old time of it. Because my books were so well-received, I was asked by approximately nine million other mini-comics publishers to contribute to their books. I was busy, and I mean busy like Michael Jackson at an "Oil Up a Sixth Grader" convention. For a while my whole life became a blur of writing comics, correspondence (we actually still wrote letters in the early 90s, the Luddites and Amish that we were), and mailing out orders for my stuff. Any "free time" in the midst of all that was spent churning out articles ABOUT mini-comics for publications like Small Press Feedback.

In retrospect, it may sound like a lot of work for little pay off, but truth be told, I was having the time of my life. I was making lots of very cool friends, going to a ton of conventions, receiving a ton of great comics in the mail as trades (a staple of mini-comic society), and just generally doing what I love to do.

Along the way, I was also approached by a number of fledgling publishers about contributing to their full-sized indy comics, and I was overjoyed at the prospect of actually having a "real" comic sitting on the shelves of fine comic shops everywhere.

It was just around this time, however, that I realized two things about the comic book industry: (1) publishers are weasels, and (2) 95% of the best laid plans o' mice and publishers gang aft cattywampus. I don't know how many (probably well-meaning) small time folks with a grand idea and a vanity press contacted me about doing something for them, but it was damned near equal to the number of them who went under before ever producing a single issue of ANYTHING.

The worst was when a west coast company (which will remain nameless, not to save their pride or for legal reasons, but because I can't freakin' remember what they called their imprint) asked me to do a regular series for them. After some brainstorming, I came up with what could have been a very lucrative comic in the 1990s, a superteam book called Dawnrunners. The company paired me up with a very talented young artist named Brian Ching who was also new to the world of "pro" comics. Together we hashed out the basics, and went to work.

In record time, I'd written the first two scripts for the book, and Brian finished the penciled artwork for the first, and started on the second. We were stoked, and couldn't wait for issue #1 to hit the stands (I'm sure we both thought it would make us the next big thing in fandom). So we waited. And we waited. you might guess, the company went merrily down the tubes, taking our beloved Dawnrunners with it. Unfortunately, as is always the case with these things, it was done on spec, so we didn't even get a little pocket change for our trouble.Eventually Brian would go on to do various comics, including Star Wars for Dark Horse (interestingly, we would both end up working on Witchblade, though not at the same time). And me, well, as you know, I became the hardcore legend of professional wrestling.

But that's a story for another time. The point of all this is that I would see my hopes for full-sized comics glory dashed on the rocks yet again. I began to think I just wasn't meant for comics that I didn't fold and staple myself.

Until...enter one Andrew Ford, a fellow mini-comics guy. Andrew had decided to kick it up a notch and publish a full-sized, b&w science fiction anthology, and he recruited from the ranks of his small press brethren for talent. I was teamed with artists Verl Holt Bond and Michael Neno, and we produced what I still consider to be a lovely little story called "One Small Step," a just slightly autobiographical piece about a man's love for the space program and the promise of space travel.

Because I was so happy with the story, I prepared myself to see it go down in flames like everything else. But for once my cynicism was thwarted. Andrew may not have had the money or resources of some of the other small publishers (as I recall, he and his uncle WERE the entirety of their AMF Comics imprint), but what he had that they didn't was chutzpah. His drive carried the project through, and within months, Cosmic Waves #1 hit the stands.

Well, OK, hit the stands is a bit melodramatic, especially since probably only a couple of thousand copies were printed, meaning that the chances of actually finding a copy in your local comics shop was about 100 to 1. And yeah, even if you did find it, the cover might not have induced your patronage, with its garish colors and unusual depiction of a boy choking a goblin (apparently his mom never told him he'd go blind from that).

But dammit, it was a full-sized comic book carried through Diamond and available in shops, and that was good enough for me. Yeehah!

We won't flash forward a few months to the first time I found a copy of Cosmic Waves #1 in a quarter box at a convention. You folks don't know me well enough yet to watch me weep like a widow woman...

Next: My holes are all cream-filled!

Who the @#$% is Troy Hickman???

Chapter 1: It's Not the Size of Your Comic (It's How You Misuse It)

I spent most of my early life wanting to write comics, and when I met my pal and sometimes artist Doug Lumley in high school, it looked like it might finally happen. We tossed ideas back and forth, and eventually decided to self-publish an anthology of our own creations, such sure-hits as "Tushy LaFlaire, Crimebusting Prostitute" and an anthropomorphized mallard living in a Melvin Van Peebles world known as "Ducklips Badass." We were all ready to take the comics world by storm, making our mark on sequential art like no one else had, until...we saw how much it cost to print a full-sized indy comic (and this was around 1984, when it was particularly pricey).

So the idea languished for years. In the interim, I spent my time having a series of bad to mediocre relationships (the story of my ex-fiancee writing on the wall in her own feces alone is worth the price of admission, but that's a story for another day), and working on my BA and eventual MA.

By 1991, however, I'd become much more aware of the alternative comics scene, and found myself pulled into the network of mini-comic publishers. Seeing what folks were doing out there with just a photocopier and a few bucks, I was sure the time was right to try self-publishing again, albeit on a considerably smaller scale. Doug and I decided on digest-sized comics (5 1/2"x 8 1/2"), found a relatively inexpensive mom & pop print shop, and cranked out our first two creations simultaneously.

Yoyo the Dieting Clown was the sardonic story of a bulimic funnyman, based very loosely on my own weight issues (though I've only mastered the bingeing, not the purging). Made-Up Stuff is Stranger Than Fiction was a series of one-panel gags, with a tone I've often referred to as "what Ripley's Believe It or Not would be like if written by George Carlin."

As I recall, we copied one of them on blue paper and one on pink, so we probably looked the part of proud new parents as we lugged a box of them into the Artists Alley area of the Chicago Comicon in summer, 1991. We sat up our table next to other mini-comics publishers, including my pals Pam Bliss (Sparky the Dog, B-36) and Nik Dirga (Amoeba Adventures).

For the next three days, we manned our table and paid the kind of dues that only mini-comics publishing can bring. If you've never sat at a big convention with nothing but a crude black & white, photocopied comic in front of you, with tens of thousands of elitist, opinionated fanboys walking by, I'd highly recommend it. It's good for the soul, and certainly for the humility. Eventually, you might even gain a bit of callousness to the "small press glance," the contemptuous look that passers-by give your rinky-dink vanity project as they make their way to "real" comics (careful not to pass close enough that they might actually have to talk to you). Holden Caulfield may have felt his essay was handled like a turd, but God damn it, he got off easy.

Over the next few years, though, it became easier, and a great deal of fun. We published several more comics, including two more issues of Yoyo, and a Made-Up Stuff Annual. We also turned out three issues of the critically-acclaimed Tales of the Pathetic Club (about people with OCD, again loosely based on my own troubled cranium), and a spin-off, Twilight Guardian. I was especially proud of the Pathetic Club stuff, and it garnered me a lot of awards and such in the small press community (and a letter of praise from Harvey Pekar, whose work had somewhat inspired the series; I still cherish that note today).

After three years, though, Avernus Comic (our imprint) still hadn't published a superhero comic (strange, given what capes-and-tights fans Doug and I both were). That changed in 1994, however, when I came up with an idea for a donut shop that catered to superheroes and villains, a shop called Holey Crullers. It was a move that would change my life, albeit nearly nine years later, but that's a story for next time.

Next: It's So Stupid, It Just Might Work!