For better or worse, pessimism without compromise lacks public appeal. In all, the few who have gone to the pains of arguing for a sullen appraisal of life might as well never have been born. As history confirms, people will change their minds about almost anything, from which god they worship to how they style their hair. But when it comes to existential judgements, human beings in general have an unfalteringly good opinion of themselves and their condition in this world and are steadfastly confident they are not a collection of self-conscious nothings.
“I think that our only route to freedom and our only route to pleasure can come after we have first recognized that freedom and pleasure are not possible in this world.”
not much time to post this week as circumstances have spiraled into Max Workload territory, after idly agreeing to perform a comic story for the upcoming Zine Not Dead event on March 5th (tomorrow). (The link goes to a facebook event page, which probably most people know how to glean information from but i don’t.)
Since i Truly Loathe the “comic reading” format, i’ve tried to make something a little less chalkboard-fingery and have accidentally made what’s basically becoming an animated movie. Also constructing a pineapple mask to reduce the risk of accidentally making eye contact with a stranger while being the center of attention.
Wish me luck
Here is E. M. Cioran, from “Some Blind Alleys: A Letter,” on why everything i do is a wretched mistake:
Penetrating the literary inferno, you will come to learn its artifices and its arsenic; shielded from the immediate, that caricature of yourself, you will no longer have any but formal experiences, indirect experiences; you will vanish into the Word. Books will be the sole object of your discussions. As for literary people, you will derive no benefit from them. But you will find this out too late, after having wasted your best years in a milieu without density or substance. The literary man? An indiscreet man, who devaluates his miseries, divulges them, tells them like so many beads: immodesty — the side-show of second-thoughts — is his rule; he offers himself. Every form of talent involves a certain shamelessness. Only sterility is truly distinguished — the man who effaces himself along with his secret, because he disdains to parade it: sentiments expressed are an agony for irony, a slap at humor.
To keep one’s secret is the most fruitful of activities. It torments, erodes, threatens you. Even when confession is addressed to God, it is an outrage against ourselves, against the mainstream of our being. The apprehensions, shames, fears from which both religious and profane therapeutics would deliver us constitute a patrimony we should not allow ourselves to be disposed of, at any cost. We must defend ourselves against our healers and, even if we die for it, preserve our sickness and our sins. The confessional? a rape of conscience perpetrated in the name of heaven. And that other rape, psychological analysis! Secularized, prostituted, the confessional will soon be installed on our street corners: except for a couple of criminals, everyone aspires to have a public soul, a poster soul.
Drained by his fecundity, a phantom who has worn out his shadow, the man of letters diminishes with each word he writes. Only his vanity is inexhaustible; if it were psychological, it would have limits: those of the self. But it is cosmic or demonic: it submerges him. His “work” obsesses him; he continually alludes to it, as if, on our planet, there were nothing outside himself which deserved attention or curiosity. Woe to anyone with the imprudence or bad taste to discuss anything but his productions! You will understand, then, how one day, leaving a literary luncheon, I saw the necessity for a Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of men of letters.
It goes on, and can be found in this shard of light.
It’s as if Cioran were addressing me personally, with an open copy of Monsters in his lap. Or it would be, if i didn’t also know that comic books are far beneath the contempt of even those who denounce literature.
Anyway, Sick will be coming out soon, stay tuned.
Once again Gabby’s Playhouse devolves into some kind of janky tumblr with more photodumps. This time these were not made by me but i thought they might help or divert. Who doesn’t love free content? Sorry we have no idea where they came from; if you know the source we will be happy to credit.
don’t say you never learned nothing at the Playhouse!
Here are some photogs i have taken over the past months that are not necessarily of mushrooms for once.
winter bike scenario
this casual expression of racism cracks me up every time i’m in the Joong Boo bathroom
still from the utterly perfect 1983 film Utu
is it now
sodcubeTM. for squarelawnTM
a symbol for something much larger i’m sure
nature’s phantasmagoric beauty
must be something good
v good day
water treatment plant
haw haw haw
VIP locker room
there are impromptu shrines here for people killed by car culture
fox lake / proof i’m going senile
chicago’s Dude Products, for dudes with delicate epicurean assholes
make it ditka’s face and you have the perfect chicago tshirt
actual chicago craigslist ad, actual chicago room
part of my “embroider it then stow it in a box forever” series
how’s he doing in the primaries?
never had a chance
not a mushroom
little tiny golden pholiota making the scene
truly gorgeous (and somewhat dry) chicken of the woods
the dankest of late-fall resinous polypores, spewin and droolin
dead man’s fingers, flippin the bird
deer fence notice
dryad saddle as some deer’s buffet lunch
golden pholiotas & artist conks, living together in harmony and it’s a beautiful far-out happening
a whole mess of sideways resinous polypores
the last hen of 2015 (as far as i’m concerned)
nice fat fresh shaggy mane
possibly also velvet feets
some creepy white witch butter or something
These were all taken by me. I can’t wait until spring, i’ve almost forgotten how much better life is when it stays consistently above freezing.
After a seeming eternity in out-of-print purgatory, my sex-life-destroying herpes memoir Monsters is back in print!
A few years ago it won a couple Ignatz awards, got into the 2012 Best American Comics Anthology, and was nominated for an Eisner. Now it’s got better binding.
It is available for preorder from Consortium here. It will probably be on sale retail from the Secret Acres website soon, and maybe from this website as well, if i ever move out of Chicago — the postal situation in this city is just too hairy to be worth it at the moment.
Thanks for your patience; Sick (the book) is finally done*:
It’s available to retail outlets for preorder from Consortium here — please let your local bookstore know if you’d like to read it.
I haven’t seen a copy IRL myself yet, but i have seen a grainy phone picture that… pretty much proves it exists?
I’m sure you will soon agree that this is not an easy book to sell — ostensibly (& please don’t tell the press otherwise) it’s a comic about the failings of American healthcare; in reality it’s a rambling jeremiad against the white race and western civilization as a whole. I am convinced it will be universally ignored/reviled/clearance-binned, for the simple reason that it doesn’t end on a high note, which breaks the basic rule of all narrative (and capital). So, apologies in advance for that! But still, i hope you’ll sift through the embittered logical cul-de-sacs and belabored watercoloring to find a shred of connection with what i’m trying to say about life. If not, i can only pray that my fellow citizens of empire will not indict or subtweet too harshly.
Some backstory: Sick began in 2011 as chunks of impromptu comic posts on this very website, when i started chronicling a mystery illness** i’d just suffered while living in Flatbush. I didn’t have a plan or an endpoint for the comic; like most things i draw, it was just compulsive depiction of a painful experience that left me a bit shaken and questioning a few of my life’s fundamental assumptions. Since i usually don’t have anyone to talk to about this and can’t afford therapy, things like Monsters and Sick happen, almost as a byproduct of me just trying to make sense of life.
But a few people let me know they really liked the Sick webcomic — enough people to almost shut down my website with bandwidth overload (Laughing Squid actually had to change their TOS because of it). Seeing that the story might, despite all expectations, have an audience, Secret Acres asked me to make a book out of it. And i thought, Well, that sounds easy enough; it was already mostly drawn. I just needed to tack on an ending… and make a couple adjustments to fit into its new paper format… and uh, maybe completely re-draw it… and watercolor it throughout…
After a couple years down this slippery slope, i not only developed a chronic, crippling shoulder injury, but also a suspicion that Sick was too self-indulgent and pessimistic to exist. Isn’t the world filled with people who have more to complain about than me? Given the privilege of a book deal, shouldn’t i be drawing something uplifting, consoling, blatantly escapist? Why pour another spoonful of tears onto the landfill of hopeless despair and pain that is modern life?
Unfortunately, by this time i’d already spent the book advance on rent. So, with a prolonged & extreme effort, millions of milligrams of ibuprofen, and the inhuman patience of Secret Acres, i finally managed to stitch a Book together out of the mess of Sick that had been festering in my lap for four years.
It’s immensely satisfying to be done with the book and have something to show for how i’d spent these last few difficult years of my life; but to be honest a large part of me wishes i’d just quietly burned the pages in an alley and paid the advance back. No amount of pats on the head from passion-project comics blogs or condescending nods from left-press listicles will counteract the damage this book is about to inflict on my personal brand. It is going to do to my social life what Monsters did to my sex life. Sick is just unremittingly bitter, brutally antisocial, and, worst of all, refuses to even give you the common courtesy of a happy ending. It’s polemic against existence, for fuck’s sake.
But what can i say now? I drew it, Secret Acres paid a sweatshop in Asia to print it, a frieghtliner burned hundreds of gallons of fossil fuels to move it to a storage locker in Brooklyn. The trees have been killed, the press has been alerted and the die is cast. I suppose i’m prepared to live with the consequences; i can accept that this is proof i’m a sad, damaged, irrelevant old man with few real talents, doomed to draw humiliating little cartoons about himself for as long as his failing body allows, at the expense of his own happiness and the world’s admiration; the facts show that whatever benefit i derive from this masochism must be more fulfilling than the wealth, health, love, respect, or good credit rating i would get from not drawing, and doing something useful with my life instead.
I guess i’ve always assumed it was important for an artist to reveal as much as possible about themselves in their art. I’ve stuck to that code to an almost pathological degree with Sick, mostly out of spite for the Western world’s rampant wall-to-wall hypocrisy & complacence, which has been a constant source of horror for me as a participant — and, i suspect, others, although most people are smart enough to keep such agonies to themselves, at a place and time in history where it’s career suicide for any sane person to speak their mind.
And i know my tactic of self-dissection-as-social-critique may be flawed. It has not won me much friends or fame so far. Now that enforced optimism is law, and google-stalking is standard practice among prospective employers and landlords, i suspect i’m really fucking myself over bigtime publishing comics this dark and antagonistic. There must be some small backlash growing to our present rah-team, third-metric, adult-coloring-book climate of cultural infantilization; still, Sick will be a real test of whether my vicious little navel-gazings are good for anything more than public humiliation, social exile, chronic pain, major depression and a $1k book advance every 5-10 years. But why complain? Most people get much less.
Anyway, i’ll leave you to be the judge of all this if/when you read the book.
It’s supposed to “debut” either at this year’s MoCCA event in New York, or at the Toronto Comics & Arts Festival (TCAF). UPDATE: it is definitely debuting at TCAF, May 14th & 15th! (Which means i probably won’t be at MoCCA in person; Secret Acres will still have the books at their table though.)
“Debut” lends this mess a sorely needed dash of glamour, but in reality it just means i’ll be standing next to the physical books for the first time in public — an easy target, stomach in knots, straining to live down the intense shame of revealing to you this grating depiction of my interior.
*In the fine tradition of Chris Gaines, Bruno Radolini, Sascha Fierce, The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, and dozens of other artists going against every grain of common sense in regards to profit, Sick‘s author credit is Gabby Schulz (me) — not Ken Dahl (also me), as with Monsters. Confusing? Yes! Annoying? Yes! Unnecessary? Yes! I just got tired of using my silly pen name from when i drew political cartoons in the mid-’90s in Honolulu. People grow. People change. People become irrelevant, and inconsistent, and too self-referential. People overthink their personal brand. People fuck up their Art Career and get a minimum-wage retail job just to survive.
**Not having health insurance, i’ve never even been sure what the book’s eponymous illness was caused by. My health has been steadily and generally deteriorating for years, physically and mentally; doctors and the internet have supplied few answers. At this point i’m ready to chalk it up to generalized EWS (End-of-the-World Syndrome, a collection of extreme mental stresses and potent environmental toxins that heavily erode the health of the most privileged citizens of the “developed” nations).