Times New Keeferton Keef shows no signs of lethality or psychosis

28Sep/170

NOSTALGIA LANE: PHIL ELLIOTT’S TALES FROM GIMBLEY

After my folks split when I was a kid, I moved with my mother to Iowa, and spent time each summer visiting my father in Albuquerque. He worked on the University of New Mexico campus, and so on weekdays, when I was a bored adolescent, I'd walk down to campustown and spend hours milling around, visiting shops, getting coffee and loitering.

I had a full circuit of comics shops and bookshops that I'd try to visit regularly: The Book Case, The University Comics Warehouse, Birdsong bookstore, Living Batch bookstore, Newsland, Addicted to Comics, Salt of the Earth bookstore... all within about a half mile radius. Most of these are now defunct, sadly, but when I was in middle school I spent hours and hours in each of them, nurturing a love for science fiction, horror, and humor; and then more hours in The Frontier restaurant, reading what I'd picked up.

One of my favorite shops was a little gem called Best Price Books. It had a little cafe and coffee shop, where I was first introduced to the concept of the italian soda (my preferred was blueberry with cream) and the latte. They also had a good array of books... and a huge selection of super-cheap comics.

That wasn't uncommon in used bookstores, of course. The late 80s and early 90s were a strange time for comics, and there was always a lot of inventory to be picked up for pennies on the dollar. Most places had the same old stuff-- runs of subpar Marvel and DC books, or reams of kiddie comics (Richie Rich consistently occupied feet of space in ratty long boxes, ferreted away in bookstores' dark corners).

But Best Price Books had weird stuff. A full run of Star*Reach comics. Cerebus. Big chunks of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers and Fat Freddy's Cat. A few scattered issues of Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children. Ted McKeever's brilliant and bizarro Eddy Current (which got me into trouble when I took it into my fifth-grade Art class and tried to show it off). Even a few copies of Zap and Raw and Weirdo, along with myriad underground one-shots, also-rans and never-weres. They had the usual Marvel and DC stuff too, but mixed in with the Justice League America and Marvel Tales you'd find stuff like Watchmen and Wasteland. They weren't always in good shape, but they were always cheap.

I bought so many weird comics. If my parents had known the depths of the art-house weirdness I was plumbing with these things, they would've either snatched them away in a heartbeat, or congratulated me on becoming a weirdo early on. I didn't let them know what I had.

(Tangentially, there was an Albuquerque video store I discovered a few years later called "Wavy Brain," that was unlike any Blockbuster or Hollywood Video in existence. That store had the craziest movies, bootlegs and international versions of things; stuff you couldn't find anywhere. I remember one weekend I had the house to myself, and I rented:

That late-nite movie marathon warped my fourteen-year-old brain into shapes previously unimaginable.)

I credit those outings-- those comics, those movies, those shops, those people-- with turning me into a weirdo in the best possible way.

One of the comics I found in the super-cheap bin at Best Price Books was a black and white comic from the UK publisher Harrier. I'd known about them already, because I'd already found-- in the same bookshop-- some issues of Deadface, Bacchus, and Avalon. This one was called Some Tales From Gimbley.

I picked it up, flipped through it as I sipped a beverage of some kind or another, and was immediately hooked.

Gimbley was different from almost anything I'd come across. It wasn't a superhero comic. It wasn't a funny animal comic (or a martial arts fighting-animal comic; those were rampant in those days, after the success of TMNT). it wasn't Science Fiction, it wasn't Horror, it wasn't sword & sorcery. The closest thing I had to compare it to were the slice-of-life stories in some of the black-and-white underground comics, but those leaned toward the edgy and dirty, and Gimbley was much more gentle. These were short little vignettes-- many of them only a single page long-- incorporating humor, magical realism, poetic language, absurdity, and a permeating wistfulness.

This was comics in a form I'd never seen before-- as sequential graphic poetry.

I fell in love with it immediately.

A few years after discovering Gimbley, while in high school, I went on a trip to Denver with my mother, and found a copy of John Porcellino's King-Cat Comix & Stories in a comic shop. King-Cat hits many of the same notes: wistfulness, clean linework, the incorporation of poetic language and imagery, zen calm. But Gimbley was absurd and funny, in a way that King-Cat usually isn't.

These were the days before the internet, and Harrier was a UK publisher, so it was years and years before I was able to track down more of Phil's work, but I carried that copy of Tales From Gimbley wherever I went, reading and re-reading it until it was in tatters. In high school, I used Elliott's Scenacre Cottage Gimbley short as the basis for a short-short story. I don't remember if I mentioned the inspiration to my teacher; knowing who I was 25 years ago, probably not. Sorry, Phil.

One of the things that amazes me every time I reread Gimbley is Phil's style, how malleable and fluid it is. Sometimes he uses incredibly clean linework, in the style of Joost Swarte or Hergé, but then the next page features thick and chunky slashes of expressionist cartooning, and I loved that he could bounce around between these styles, apparently effortlessly, so effectively.

A few years ago I became Facebook friends with Phil, and commissioned him to draw a family portrait. His work hangs up on the wall next to James Kochalka, Chris Onstad, Ivan Brunetti, Jeremy Bastian, John Porcellino, and Keith Herzik.

Recently, Phil posted on his Facebook. "I've decided that I can't keep lugging all my artwork around and am selling everything and anything."

I reached out to him immediately, and got two of my favorite single-page strips from the series. They arrived yesterday:

It's difficult to express the delight and excitement I had when I opened up the package and held the original art for those pages in my hands-- those pages I read in one of my favorite bookshops as an adolescent a quarter-century ago, those pages I'd re-read dozens of times over the years, those pages that informed, entertained, and delighted me.

I think I'll hang the first one in the guest room.

Phil recently collected all of the Tales From Gimbley in a self-published collection called In His Cups. You can get a copy from him, at an unbeatable price, here, and I'd recommend that you do so. You can also visit his website here, and if you want to read more Gimbley, he's put a bunch of them up online here.

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8Aug/170

AND NOW, A LOOK INSIDE MY HEAD


My left optic nerve and surrounding, 2017.


My right optic nerve and surrounding, 2017.

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8Jun/177

I Miss My Friend Bill

I miss my friend Bill. I am so sad that he has left this world, and I am so sad that the world doesn't get to have him in it anymore.

Bill was sweet. Bill was kind. Bill was extremely helpful. Bill was intensely funny. Bill was brilliant, and knowledgeable, and deeply sardonic, and gleefully dark, and fun. He had far-ranging, eclectic, and obscure taste in music, and he was always excited to share it and talk about it and make it.

He was a constant creative partner. From the old radio show, to zines, to art, to music, to short stories, he was always excited and delighted to take part in any number of ridiculous things.

We had so much fun over the years. I loved him so much.



Bill in bunny suit, 2009.

[CHAT LOG, March 31, 2009]
Keef: Let's rent a bunny suit and I'll take pictures of you for many hours on Thursday doing strange things.
Bill: haha. word. I'll wear a bunny suit for you.
Bill: what's the suit look like?
Keef: no clue. they have several "bunny" suits.
Bill: we're talking full body with a bunny head, right? Not "bunny suit" like the Christmas Story?
Bill: one of those is infinitely cooler than the other
Keef: correct, full suit and mask over the head
Bill: sweet
Keef: which will be uncomfortable and hot and awful
Keef: especially if you have to run, which i may ask of you.
Bill: no one said art was comfortable.
Bill: I'd have a fuck of a time saying no to this, dude.
Keef: ahahahaha saying no to what?
Bill: wearing a bunny suit for art.

We rented that suit, and took pictures; and, when it became apparent that we wouldn't get everything done in one day, I went ahead and bought the suit (it was cheap), and then we just kept doing photo shoots, resulting in one of the creative endeavors which I am most proud of having finished in my life.

There's no way in the world I could've done it without him.


Last year, Barb and Bill took Rosie on an outing to to some restaurant or other. Later, Bill posted this photo of himself and Rosie:

I beamed with pride. I was so happy for him. I was so happy for Rosie. I was so happy that they were close.

He loved doing bedtime with her. It often didn't work very well in terms of bedtime-- they'd be reading books and singing songs and she'd never get tired enough to go to sleep. I wish I'd kept some of that baby monitor audio of him singing to her. "Pancho and Lefty," or some esoteric Randy Newman thing, or the Eagles. A lot of old country music. Sometimes she'd wordlessly sing along.

I joked with him: "You're going to be the fun uncle she can call when she needs to get bailed out of jail."

He laughed.

Now, when I walk around the house, wherever I go, whatever I see, I remember Bill and Rosie doing something in that spot.

Posted up in front of the little chalkboard, scribbling together.

Bill pushing her really fast in her little cart down the lane that runs through the kitchen, her legs lifted up, with an enormous grin, squealing laughter.

In her miniature "kitchen" in the back room, demanding that he "sit!" and pulling on her miniature potholder to make him cookies (which were "really, really hot!").

Sitting at the back table, drawing together in a sketchpad.

Every single place I look, there's a memory of Bill and Rosie.

I treasure them all.


In 2001, I took classes at the Iowa City public access television station, and started working on making short films. One of the very first things I wanted to do was to go out to the Coralville dam. There's a spillway out there that's basically an enormous gray concrete plain, a third of a mile on a side. I wanted to film someone running from the opposite corner, so they'd be extremely tiny for a very long time, and then come into view and zoom by in a flash.

"Hey, Bill," I said. "How would you feel about running naked toward a camera for a third of a mile?"

He laughed. "That is hilarious," he said.

The first take went well, but I wanted to do a second one. He gave me a dirty look, but jogged all the way back out to the far corner and started running back. As he was about halfway back, an official Department of Natural Resources jeep crested the hill behind us, and he started yelling, "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit," out of breath, zooming past the camera and diving into the back of the car.



Bill, nude and running in the distance, 2002.

Here is a photo of the filming that my father took. (Yes, my father was there. He always really liked Bill, and Bill always really liked him.) That's Mike taking photos, me manning the videocamera, and, of course, Bill, nude and running, in the distance.


I maintain a list of every concert I can remember attending. A month ago, after a Facebook meme about concerts made the rounds, Bill messaged me:

"I'm now going through your show list to see which ones I went to with you, or which ones I remember... I'm leaving off Bassturd & Buglies performances and SXSW parties, because I've been to too many of them to be accurate or remember. 94 that I'm sure about. Realistically? definitely over 100. That's 17 years of show going. This was the first one: Sep. 21, 2000 - Gabe's, Iowa City - Alto Heceta / Joan of Arc / Jets to Brazil."

One hundred shows-- and that's a very conservative estimate-- out of five hundred total. One out of every five concerts I've ever attended during my lifetime, Bill attended with me. The most recent was Uglyfest, which was both a Buglies and SXSW show; before that, it was Drab Majesty, in February. They're a post-New-Wave band, playing that sad 80s synth sound, which was not Bill's cup of tea at all.

But I asked him if he wanted to go, and he was happy to go with me. He was almost always happy to go with me. And vice versa.


In 2000, I was going to live in a house near campus with my friend Mike. We each had a room in a three-room apartment, and needed a third.

"We should get my friend Bill to move in with us," he said.

"Who is this guy?"

"A friend from back home. He's in a band, the Corporate Donuts. He goes by 'Bill Donuts.' He'd be great."

I shrugged, and asked, "Yeah, but man, is he cool?"

The fact that I even asked that question is hilarious to me now.

Bill ended up living in the dorms, but he immediately became part of our tight group. I found an old blog he wrote about the first time we met. Here is that:

"I want to share the first memory I have of Keef. I was sitting in the apartment he and Mike shared in Iowa City on my first night in Iowa City, in August of 2000. Keef was out with Irving at the time. Suddenly, while we were watching Kids In The Hall episodes Mike had taped, Keef burst through the door with a gigantic sack full of frozen meats and tossed one to Mike, and another to their room mate of two weeks, Bob. He was talking sort of like Charlton Heston and Santa Claus and very excited about the gigantic sack of frozen meats. Then he hugged me. It was love at first sight."

I had forgotten about that completely. I'm so glad he remembered. I'm so sad about all the other things he remembered which have now been lost.


Just a handful of days before he passed away, Bill and I took Rosie to a park to play on the swings and the slides. Swings are her favorite. She's a two-year-old, and just reaching that point where she mimics and repeats things. As we got out of the car to walk to the park, Bill turned to her and said, "Come on, dude!" She ran after him and grabbed his hand, and they walked toward the playground.

As they got closer to the swings, she started running ahead, pulling him behind her. "Come on, dude!" she yelled. "Come on, dude!"

"Thanks, Bill," I said. "Thanks a lot for teaching her to sound like an episode of Full House."

He laughed and laughed and laughed. "Come on, dude!"


Bill and Rosie, May 21, 2017.

Last weekend, after Bill's funeral, Rosie wanted to show me something she'd set up in her little dollhouse. She grabbed my hand and pulled me along. "Come on, dude!"

I teared up, but did so gladly.


Bill gave this to me on my birthday last year. It's a magnificent encapsulation of him: his generosity, his creativity, his humor.

I am so glad to have known him.

I am so sad that he is gone.

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6May/170

Profiles in Degeneracy

Bill and I recently knocked down a bunch of wasps' nests around my house, and I posted the following to social media:

Some folks laughed, and the rest had no idea what I was talking about. I got a few questions about it, and I realized that I never really talked about this in public, or at least not widely, so here it is. It's a very strange story.

In late May of 2010, I was in the now-defunct Austin location of the now-defunct Domy Books, which was run by my old Houston friend Russell. Domy was an amazing place, half art-gallery, half art-bookstore. I fell in love with the Houston location when we lived in Houston, and then was delighted when they opened another store in Austin. They had all the best zines, all the best art-books, all the best local and crazy art. It was great. The Austin location has been subsumed by Farewell Books, which continues the tradition, and still does amazing things.

But now I'm getting sidetracked.

Russell had told me that there were some great new zines, and I'm a giant 'zine nerd (obviously). I was flipping through them, and pulled out some great stuff. Give Up had put out a new 'zine, and King-Cat had put one out since I'd last been there, and I was piling up a small stack. Then something strange and unexplained happened.

I've had a small handful of genuinely supernatural or inexplicable things happen to me. I saw a man when I was six in Albuquerque who had to be dead, and yet he was walking through a vacant lot. The eyes of a bust in Davenport in 1987 briefly flashed red. I had an important dream in 2012 that came true (and, more importantly, gave me time to prepare).

In May of 2010, in Domy Books, I flipped through the box of 'zines. I got to the end. I saw the empty end of the box. Then, there was a strange flash, and the smell of ozone, and I got an electric shock in the knuckles of my right hand (the hand touching the box). Then, a small book appeared out of nowhere in the previously-empty spot in the box.

Profiles in Degeneracy Auction Catalog, Summer 2010.

At this time, I'd already been subscribed to a Hollywood memorabilia auction catalog, so I knew exactly what it was-- a small-run book, advertising the particular lots that would be auctioned off at a future date, usually accompanied by photos and short descriptions. Except instead of autographs, props, and movie posters, this auction catalog was full of memorabilia of an entirely different kind-- gruesome, horrifying, disturbing, titillating. The title was apt-- these were accoutrements to some of the most degenerate events, actions, and people I'd ever seen.

So, of course, I was intrigued. I asked Russell about it, and he said he'd never seen it before, and it wasn't anything Domy was selling. So I took it home with me without paying for it.

Once I got home, I discovered something even more bizarre. The memorabilia had titles, descriptions, and photographs regarding people, places and things I was familiar with-- but in an entirely different context. This auction catalog had appeared wholesale from an alternate dimension. In the world where this auction catalog was created, Dan Quayle was not the 44th Vice President of the United States, but a serial-killing taxidermist from Indianapolis (taxidermied raccoon with human teeth and hands sourced from his victims, estimated value $85,000). Ray Kroc was still the founder of McDonald's, but in this dimension he was also accomplice to Ed Gein, who contributed to the initial McDonald's franchise cookbook, before they were both arrested and executed in Milwaukee in 1974. (One of ten extant copies of that cookbook, est. value $300,000.) John Wayne Gacy was still John Wayne Gacy (Pogo the Clown Painting, $2800.)

And Wolf Blitzer... well I'll just share the relevant two-page spread with you.

Warning for the upcoming material, in case in wasn't clear already: this is Not Safe For Work.

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29Mar/170

LIES ABOUT SPIDER-MAN

The 1970s Electric Company adaptation of Spider-Man, "Spidey Super Stories," was originally envisioned very differently. PBS had pressured the Children's Television Workshop for more "crossover" programming, which was intended to appeal to children while incorporating popular adult interests.

In the winter of 1973, they filmed the first episode of "Spider-Man's Finnegans Wake." In addition to Spider-Man, it featured Morgan Freeman's "Easy Reader" character as a sort of Mysterio-By-Proxy / Finnegan, already dead but constantly in view. The episode began with Spider-Man reciting a variation on the first line of the Joyce novel:

Zoinks, gang! A way a lone a last a loved a long the Hudson river, past the Port Authority, from swerve of Brooklyn to bend of The Bronx, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Central Park and Environs!

In test screenings, both children and adults disliked it with a fierce and unbridled passion, with 75% of child viewers stating unprompted that they "fucking hate[d] Spider-Man now," and one adult viewer tearing up his pocket copy of Ulysses and wiping his own bottom with it.

* A similar attempt was made in the 1980s to cross "Fantastic Four" over with "Gravity's Rainbow," but John Byrne's failure to grasp the source material led to an opening splash page with the Human Torch just flying over the iconic New York City skyline, shrieking the entire time. Jim Shooter wisely killed the story, but The Thing's new catchphrase, "It's Postmodernin' Time," persisted for three issues in 1984.

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