NYC poet and playwright Galinsky was hosting a local reading last week at Book Club Bar in Manhattan when I bumped into a former “Mr. Lower East Side.” Talking to him reminded me of how much I missed Reverend Jen's Anti-Slam. A freestyle salon that allowed anyone off the street to go on stage to do whatever they wanted, within reason, for six minutes. When the egg timer rang its bell, the audience was encouraged to give a resounding applause. No losers here.
I felt a pang of mid-pandemic panic and wondered, “Where has all the performance art gone?” Someone suggested Bushwick and I was reminded that there were venues like Rubulad and The Brick that still existed for weird music and theater, but I lamented the slow death of the underground NYC art scene I used to occasion.
When I wasn't reading independent comix, listening to hip hop and industrial music, and watching psychotronic movies, it was the open microphone happenings like RevJen's Anti-Slam and the Mr. Lower East Side Pageant in the gritty bars of Manhattan that helped embolden me to double-down on my personal work.
At its extreme, art is meant to provoke, challenge, and make people feel uncomfortable. Force you to confront humanity from a different perspective. Art has always pushed boundaries with a mission to shine a light, bring context and encourage empathy for one another. Performance art has always been a space where other artists, patrons and producers seek the alternative, blasphemous, abstract and insane. And sometimes it makes you wanna vomit.
I grew up in an upper west side household that celebrated artists and actors, musicians and authors. My father, a writer, hosted screenings of classic movies on his old 16mm film projector. We had actors party in our living room regaling us with the underbelly of Broadway and the hyperbole of Hollywood. My mother was the deputy director of the NY State Council of the Arts. So, I was made privy to creators seeking public funds for their chosen field from the 1970s through the 1990s. My godmother, Oscar-winning actress, Shelly Winters, taught me about acting and encouraged me to draw my stories (as did my parents) even though the comic book industry was largely considered immature and a dead end.
Some call it “a calling” but at age twelve, I devoted my life to creating comix – back when comix weren't cool (way before the socially acceptable “graphic novel” and Marvel & DC's cinematic global domination). As my passion for story-making evolved, I expanded my skills to writing theater with the aim to conquer television and movies.
I was supposed to dwell in the gutters between the comic book panels where Soho Zat, See Hear, and St. Mark's Comics were my churches and Factsheet 5 was my bible. Venues where outliers print published pamphlets. No permissions. No apologies.
But where did the performance art go?
I fondly remember a Mr. Lower East Side pageant where a contestant went on stage and tied three old desktop computers to his exposed balls and called his mother on his cell phone to tell her what he had done, a proud son. At that same venue you were likely to have menstruation blood hurled at you as you shrieked in horror. Johnny Bizarre had the swagger of a burlesque Mickey Rourke but his best trick was hammering a stainless steel roofing nail down the shaft of his penis and asking an audience member to retrieve it with their teeth. Tommy Nutsack would sometimes emerge from the crowd like a Golem, fully nude, dragging his elephantine testicles, the size of a hot water bottle, and read a break-up letter from his former wife as he cried, unable to fully say out loud her last words to him. It wasn't all balls and dicks. There were plenty of twats and tits. But mostly, it was about the heart. Naked and unafraid.
I'm no longer hip to what's happening on the streets and in the basements of the absurd. Prices skyrocketed, places shuttered, and the Pandemic clobbered everyone. Society went digital. Tik Tok...Zoom Boom. Guilty as charged. But in the spirit of taking creative control, I was a pioneer of webcomics who occasionally curates events, most recently with writer/cartoonist Whitney Matheson via Nightwork Studio.
It appears most of the theater of shock and awe moved off-grid and online. The next generation found a way to actually monetize their voice. Patreon and crowdfunding is important but I miss physical community and the gift of confronting the unpredictable in a dark room filled with people, laughing and gasping.
I was invited by the kind folks at HiLoBrow to write about my enthusiasm for a certain sidekick...the TIN MAN.
Here's an excerpt:
"I played the Tin Man in my elementary school musical production of The Wizard Of Oz and, like the rust that almost kept him eternally frozen by a yellow brick road, I was paralyzed with fear to be on stage in front of my parents and peers. One could misconstrue my nervous stuttering and embarrassing dance moves with method acting, but I was simply too shy. It took many years to construct a faux bravado, a veritable tin skin to help quell public shame and anxiety."
Savage FINcast – Episode 113: In this episode, hosts Craig, Jim, & Raven are joined by creator of The Red Hook, Dean Haspiel,and creator of The Night Watchman, Dave Kelly, to talk about their collaborative Savage Dragon back-up 3-parter "Bride of Wax" as well as their overall comic history.
The 328th meeting of the NY Comics & Picture-story Symposium will be held on Tuesday, March 1, 2022 at 7pm EST. ONLINE PRESENTATION VIA ZOOM. Please email email@example.com to register for this event. Free and open to the public. Comics and Sequential Art: Will Eisner, Teacher and Mentor (a Will Eisner Week 2022 event). Famous for his iconic Spirit character and for his groundbreaking graphic novels, Will Eisner also spent 20 years teaching the art and craft of comics, mostly at New York’s School of Visual Arts. Join noted comics creators including Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man), Emil Ferris (My Favorite Thing Is Monsters), Dean Haspiel (The Red Hook), and Jennifer Hayden (The Story Of My Tits) will teach lessons out of Will’s textbooks, leavened with their own personal insights. Also, see rare footage of Eisner, himself, demonstrating his artistic principles. Danny Fingeroth, Chair of Will Eisner Week, will moderate.
(Me and author/Yaddo fellow, Cheryl Tan, at her book signing for ANONYMOUS SEX)
I will be mentoring a bunch of lucky creators (again) in the art of comix at The Atlantic Center of the Arts residency #188, in New Smyrna Beach, Florida next year from February 12 to March 4, 2023.