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Interview conducted by Monte Williams
A lot of people don't like Mike Diana. At all. Even a number of his supporters believe he's angry and vicious, with nothing to offer, maintaining simply that he has the right to say what he wants, even if it isn't much. Others fear that simply by encouraging him, they're exploiting him...kinda like if Wesley Willis wrote comics instead of songs ("You are a nice man/You beat up poor people/I like your car." CHORUS: "Bruce Wayne! Bruce Wayne! Bruce Wayne!")
Diana's work has been dismissed as the stunted, stupid, disgusting scribblings of someone with an eighth grade education... and celebrated as the provocative, unapologetic observations of an insightful, haunted visionary. But most members of his audience, from those who adore him to those who would literally and sincerely like to see him either in prison or hell, are unaware of how endearingly shy and accommodating he can be, how fascinating in his various contradictions (a colorful web site serves his now-worldwide audience, yet he prefers to write out his responses to interview questions by hand and send them via snail mail because he has no faith in his own typing skills.)
And some of you probably don't even know who he is at all, or what he's gone through. Here then, a brief description of Diana's legal experiences, followed by fresh words from Diana himself, scratched with apparently frantic abandon across 12 somehow beautifully soiled pages and shipped from one coast to another in the last days of the millennium, just before America had decided on a president.
Take a look.
'Cause Mike Diana's been fucked with, bad. And his story is important.
As far as Welcomes, Beginnings and Introductions are concerned, Stephen King said it best (even if he was borrowing from Douglas Fairbairn):
"This is what happened."
1994. Florida. Conservative, weary Florida, thin-skinned and shaking. With fear? With cold, despite the sun? You can never be certain.
But then: a voice. New. Loud. Crude. True and honest and abrasive.
Mike Diana's depraved voice shattered through Florida's religious, conservative fog like... well, something phallic, I suppose. And if you doubt that a dirty-minded little fuck like Mike Diana (I say this as a dirty-minded little fuck in my own right), often dismissed as a low-brow throwback to R. Crumb, could be a threat to a community... then you know nothing of Florida's reaction to the works of Mike Diana.
Four days in jail. Without bail. Obscenity charges.
All for drawing depraved little comic books.
llustrations kin to the angry, confused, pornographic-violent sketchings in the tablets of small town children everywhere.
Diana's zine "Boiled Angel" earned him three years probation. $3000 in fines. Over a thousand hours of community service. He was told he must maintain full-time employment and pay, himself, for a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation and journalism ethics classes.
Worse still: no contact with children under eighteen. Never to venture within ten feet of any minor.
Perhaps worst of all: Mike Diana could no longer draw. For his own pleasure. In his own home.
And here is what he thinks about it. It, and some other things.
Monte Williams: What was it like growing up in your Florida community? Was there always a conservative atmosphere disapproving of your art? Art in general?
Mike Diana: I moved to Florida when I was nine in 1979 with my mom, dad, younger sister and baby brother. My mom was born in Florida and her mother, my grandma lived there. We stayed with my mom's sister and her family for a bit and I discovered the horror of cockroaches!! I started going to school on the bus, my first school bus. I was halfway through fourth grade. I didn't adjust to the Florida school very well. I got barely passing or failing grades except I got A's in Art classes. I didn't like the non-stop heat and sun! All year around. It was ninety-five degrees on X-Mas day. I missed my hometown of Geneva, New York and wanted to go back. My dad got a house in Largo, Florida. I was in fifth grade and would now walk to school. I saw the streets change from two lanes to six lanes and every year it would get more crowded. Largo is only about one mile from an endless coast of beaches. We saw motels and condos built along every beach so you could no longer see the beach at all and each property would have NO TRESPASSING signs so you can't go to the beach unless you get a room.
Florida is overrun with assholes. I started trying sick stuff but kept it to myself. All through my 'zines I didn't show them in Florida or pass them out since I knew the people were closed-minded and conservative.
It was such a boring place, no art except beach sunsets that old hobby retired folks did. I didn't dare show my extreme art publicly. Once with a pal in Melborn, Florida, I wore a sack on my head, a cloth bank "$" bag. I had a 12-inch dildo on my belt and fucked a baby doll. The head with filled with wine cream so when I came, as show, the cream shot out of the eyes and mouth of the baby doll. My pal was playing music. But not many people cared. I was taken to church 'till age sixteen by Dad and grew to hate the Roman Catholic church and did art that was anti-Jesus, anti-God. Satan just for shock value! But I still kept these to myself!
MW: I'm wondering how much of a threat your 'zines could possibly have been to your community. What were your distribution numbers like at the time you were busted?
MD: My print run for "Boiled Angel" #1 was only 65 signed and numbered copies but by issue #2, I did 300 copies each issue. I would have each issue reviewed in Fact Sheet Five, the main review magazine, and get more orders each review. Some good customers stuck with me, buying each issue, and are still friends by mail or here in NYC. I only sold one copy of "B.A." #7 and #8 in Florida and that was by mail to the undercover cop that entrapped me. I would send copies around the USA and other countries.
MW: Who was your audience? I mean, you were forbidden to stand near minors! That seems ridiculous. Were you peddling your product on elementary school playgrounds or something, or did you have a subscription arrangement, or...?
MD: Most of my audience was fans out of state and also people who wondered about it by reviews. Some people I just would never hear from again even when I would ask them for comments, good or bad. I guess they just tossed it out!!
I never sold at schools or sold it in person anyplace. No one in Florida, even people who knew me, knew I was publishing until they saw it on TV news reports. Reason I was ordered not to be ten feet near a minor was due to child rape and XXX-rated comics I drew. They thought I was a real child molester.
MW: Where did your advertisements appear? Where was the book promoted?
MD: I was charged with three counts of obscenity. Publishing, distributing and advertising for sale obscene material. The only reason they charged me with advertising was that in issue #7 in the introduction I said, "Be on the lookout for the next issue #8!" They just wanted to give me another charge. My lawyer tried to get this count dropped, with no luck. Until the appeal, then the advertising charge was finally dropped. But mostly I just had "Boiled Angel" reviewed in Fact Sheet Five as well as other 'zines I traded with. I once placed an ad for "B.A." #8 In Flipside, but only got I think one or two responses.
MW: Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler once thanked Tipper Gore in one of his acceptance speeches, for ensuring that every 4-letter word on his album would provide more sales. Despite the pain and violation of your experience with the trial and its fallout, do you see a positive aspect to your struggle, what with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund coming to your aid, voices like Neil Gaiman showing their support and your art now recognized by a much larger audience than you would necessarily have found otherwise?
MD: I think from the time I moved to Florida with family in '79 my fate was sealed. I never should have been there. I feel the reason my drawings got so "graphic" was due to living in Florida. It's like they created me and my art, in a way. I was pushed by my hatred of Florida. I had been wanting to leave Florida from age eighteen to twenty-two but didn't, then when twenty-three I got the letter to appear in court.
If I told people how crazy, closed-minded Florida is they would never believe it, but the trial showed that's true. Someday I will get my revenge and do a true comic about my life in Florida. Show them how they really are.
The CBLDF helped a lot!! I like Neil Gaiman very much, he's a great, nice guy. He met my mom and her new husband when I spoke at a convention in Charlotte, North Carolina and met up with mom and sister who lived there at the time. I have had articles written about me that would not have been done if not for what happened to me. Such as Playboy and WIRED magazine. Talk shows also.
MW: Which artists inspire you, in comics or elsewhere? Are there illustrators or painters whose work you aspire to emulate?
MD: Growing up, I liked the old EC horror comic reprints. Jack Davis I enjoyed. Later I liked "Swamp Thing" by Berni Wrightson. The first issues. When I discovered old underground comics by mail order I liked Greg Irons, S. Clay Wilson, Rory Hayes. I used to go to the Salvador Dali art museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.
I like to look at old, bloody, gory religious art, also.
MW: Are there any comics writers you would like to work with someday, or do you prefer to work alone as both writer (where applicable) and illustrator?
MD: I normally like to do everything myself but I have done collaborations with different artists. I would consider anything.
MW: What are some recent comics you have read? Novels? Films you've enjoyed?
MD: I read "Black Hole," by Charles Burns. I've been very out of touch with recent comics.
I read a book, "New Oxford Book of Children's Verse," it's a collection of old poems, etc. Many strange in some way. It was given to me by a friend that was working at Oxford Press.
As for films, I've been seeing older films on video. Some I've liked for years. "The Last Man On Earth" starring Vincent Price (1964), "The Haunting of Julia" with Mia Farrow... I would like to see the new John Waters film, I can't remember the name. I missed it recently. I found an old cartoon called "The King and Mister Bird" that is very nice! Old 30's style art. I'm not sure how old it is. Giant robot in it.
MW: What are your creative goals for 2001?
MD: I plan to keep painting and using color. Finish a couple animation projects I started. I also hope to do short film, keep doing new comics and drawings!
MW: Where do you stand as of now, with the legal struggles? Are you still in New York? On probation? When do you see this madness finally ending?
MD: I was on probation and in New York, through mail to Florida, they told me I was not to draw and I had to take the journalism ethics course that the judge ordered as part of my probation. I took that class at NYU and the teacher, an older man who also worked at Daily News, the newspaper, he had heard about my case. I was doing community service work at a lower East Side community garden, about ten hours per week and at Gods Love We Deliver, a group that delivers food to HIV patients. About six hours per week there. Then my probation officer, a woman, quit the Salvation Army-run probation department and gave word to the court before she left that I had violated my probation. I still owe $2,000 in fines and must pay. I now have a warrant for my arrest in Florida. But I think if I pay the money they can let me off, finally. Hopefully someday.
MW: Do you think conservative, condemning views on art are likely to change any time soon?
MD: I think censorship ideas will get worse as time goes on. There seems to be an ongoing fight against violence on TV, games, comics.
MW: I've seen a lot of people ask you what your worst day has been, so I'll ask instead, what has been the happiest or most inspiring day or moment in your life?
MD: It would be very hard to pinpoint a day as happiest. Probably when I was very young as a child. I used to visit my mom's father's farm in Georgetown, Kentucky. Walking on the old walking bridge he made himself. Petting the cows. I used to think that all the cows were my grandpa's pets. I didn't make the connection of hamburgers and someone as nice as him selling the cows to be killed for meat. It made me feel strange to help him feed them the hay. But very inspiring times there for summers. When it was night it was pitch black, like closing your eyes. Spooky but nice.
MW: What do you want right now, more than anything, just for you? For the world of comics? For Florida?
MD: Most likely more time to draw and create art, do films. Too much to do and time stops for no man, or woman. I would like to stop everyone and everything just by thought like the old Twilight Zone when the guy had a stop watch that would stop everything in its tracks. Freeze everyone and all noise. But I would like to live in the forest someday.
For comics: It would be nice if underground comics were "big" again like in the 1960's. I feel the adult comics business has been slowly dying off. I feel censorship is getting worse in comics, also.
For Florida: I wish they would be open-minded and get rid of obscenity laws and let people live free. But that will never happen. Maybe Florida will sink in three thousand years, or sooner!!
MW: Who did you vote for in November?
MD: I did not vote. I had never registered and by the time I realized an election was here I had no time. Fuck it. I don't like Bush or Gore. I would have voted for Ralph Nader. I voted only once before and it was with my dad to vote for Ross Perot to try and keep Clinton out. I like the fact that Florida messed up like this and now we start out this term in such a crazy way. It shows people how the sunshine state is!
MW: What is the best thing your parents did for you when you were a child? The worst?
MD: My mom put me in an after school art program. Wendy Brown Art School. Made lots of projects. One I told everyone about in court was when our class went to Senica Lake in Geneva, NY and the assignment was to pick up beach shells and then back in class we put our items in the bottom of our plastic milk carton. Pour plaster-of-paris on top and when it dries we hang it like a real beach collage. When other students had shells I had the broken, water-smooth glass, cigarette butts, even a little dead and still smelly fish! I was making a statement that I could not ignore the pollution and dead fish on the shore. Senaca Lake was in newspapers for such bad pollution. I told this to the jury to try and make them understand art can be ugly and convey a message.
My parents also took me and sister to many fun places, Sea World, fairs, Disney World, Busch Gardens by Busch/Bud beer. Many camping trips. I felt sorry for my lil' brother, Matt. Seemed our lives had changed by the time he was three and both mom and dad worked and had no money or time to do fun stuff with Matt. We would drive by this crappy miniature golf place with elves and little houses. But after only a couple holes it rained and we got a rain check but never went back, only drove by on the way to other places.
The worst: I guess having me go to see a counselor, shrink to talk about things I had done. I felt like they wanted to pay someone else to talk to me. They never did anything real bad. I didn't like that my dad wouldn't let us have any pets. He said he had cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters, fish and more as a kid and that's how he knows they are too much trouble. Later he broke down and got me a pet tarantula. I was about 12. I would feed it live lizards we would catch outside. Small little lizards that could turn green when on a leaf like a chameleon. I also raised a bunch of crickets to feed it. After a couple years the spider died and I cried for days. My first pet died. I remember my mom trying to comfort me. "It's not fair, but life's not fair," she said. I made her call the vet but she said there was nothing they could do.
MW: Are you a parent? If not, do you hope to be someday?
MD: I'm not a parent. But maybe someday before I feel too old. Not sure yet.
MW: Kevin Smith ("Dogma," "Daredevil") once proposed that God is a big fan of "Preacher," the controversial comic by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon. His logic was that, while religious zealots might attack the book for its violent content and its tendency to mock God, God His/Herself understands the irony, satire and social commentary behind such work. Assuming for the moment that God exists, do you think He or She has a sense of humor? Do you think God is or would be a fan of your work?
MD: I feel God would have some sort of sense of humor. I would hope a real god would have better things to do than worry about adult comics. But maybe not. While he's busting someone for reading anti-holy comics someone else is raping a nun in a church. I think God LOVES my drawings and art work!
MW: Do you think free speech and freedom of expression is absolute, that compromise or censorship should never be an option? If you could (or had to) censor any piece of art forever, what would it be?
MD: I don't believe in freedom of expression. It's easy to feel free until you try and push the limits. Many films that would be rated NC17 or unrated due to violence or sex don't do well at movie theaters so directors either never make such films or cut out parts. I hate the film rating system and the power they have.
I think I would like to put a black box over the eyes of the Mona Lisa painting. I thought about that since my trip to Europe with Dad and sister and brother when I was sixteen. We saw the Mona Lisa original. Something about here eyes and look reminded me of a photo in a medical book where people have their eyes blacked out.
MW: Indulge me, please. Word Association: God.
MW: Anything you'd like to add?
MD: Thank you for the interview. I hope artists everywhere will not let fear of prosecution stop their creativity. Keep fighting for what you believe in!
I would like to thank Mike Diana for being so kind and accommodating throughout the lengthy process of the interview. His web site is a must-see, with many art samples, drawings for sale and the facts behind his trial.
I would further like to thank the good people at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. If not for their efforts at fighting for the freedom of creative comics writers and artists facing persecution by the closed-minded and cowardly, we would all be in a much scarier world. If you would like to show your thanks, as well, visit their web site.
A convenient donations form is available here.
Monte Williams can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Special thanks to the folks at Savant Magazine.