Being a review of Dennis Culver's excellent mini-comic, Funwrecker.
The incomparable Dennis Culver has created an all-inclusive term that defines what it means to go through life with a penchant for social guerilla warfare. The term is funwrecker, and it's an important state of mind for anyone who takes it upon themselves to go out into the world to spread the message that comics are cool. As a raw concept, the funwrecker is firmly rooted in the absolute truth once stated by the late poet William Carlos Williams, "There's a lot of bastards out there."
Here's a simple and frightening truism for you all. There are people in this world who despise comics and will by association despise you too. Obviously this isn't news to anyone still reading comics past the age of say... 13. The funwreckers of the world will always stick up for themselves, calling out ignorance when they see it. They will slap down the people who decide to drop a slop bucket of stupidity on their day, and force feed it back to them in fun and creative ways. Funwreckers can define those moments in life where you decide to stand up and say, "Hey, you're an asshole, and here's why!"
Any person who goes out into the big scary world with the intention of spreading the good word about comics will eventually become a funwrecker, or that person will be summarily killed and eaten. Comics fans are vastly outnumbered, and the other side has a lot more in the way of social armament than we do. As a comics activist you have to be smarter, hipper, funnier, and way more informed than your audience. You also have to be willing to call out the hecklers and embarrass the hell out of them so they will stop fucking with your act.
Though I hadn't yet found a label for what I was doing, there was a defining moment when I realized that the good word "comics are cool" needed to be spread. It was the same moment that it first dawned on me that the stupid and the ignorant needed someone around to help reorganize the social gene pool. I became a funwrecker my freshman year in college.
Like a lot of beginning writers, I made the mistake of caving in to the bowel-shaking reptile brain thought that I hadn't clue one about how to write. In a flash of panic stupidity, I signed up for a two semester creative writing round table, with a stable, well tenured professor who actually had a few books under his belt. I would learn from this maestro who was secure in his talent and his creativity, and actually capable of passing this arcane knowledge on to the bubbling protomass of writer hopefuls.
I lasted about four weeks. The teacher turned out to be a mostly failed novelist with a passion for trying to assassinate the aspirations of anyone who had the misfortune to get themselves trapped in his classroom. They were four weeks of living Hell, much akin to being sunk up to my chin in a lake of boiling yak vomit, while fat imps practiced the cannonball around my head.
"Stories with first person narration are inherently bad and are therefore invalid." Off went the first imp. Sploosh!
"Any story under 1500 words in length is incomplete and therefore inherently bad." Kersplash!
He told a sixty year old lady who was auditing the class that she was "...too old to make any significant contribution with her writing." Most of us agreed she was the only one of us who had a clue as to what she was doing. Splosh!
Several of our first week's writing assignments were flunked, mine included, because when given the first line, "The apartment was a mess." we either punched up the language, or we simply didn't use that sentence as the first line of the story. (I was guilty on both counts.) "Kowabunga!" Sploosh!
The big assignment for our second week was a deconstruction and critique essay, to be presented orally to the class. We could choose any novel we wanted, talk as long as we wanted, as long as the final essay was over 1500 words in length. In my usual slacker fashion, I doped out the professor's routine, 2 to 4 students per day in alphabetical order. Naturally, I decided to blow off the assignment until the last second. As usual, events conspired to deprive me of slack time.
The fifth presentation was an outstanding, brilliant critique of Bernie Wrightson's excellently illustrated adaptation of the classic novel, Frankenstein. The man who gave it was a well established member of Las Vegas' underground 'zine scene, a longtime comics reader like myself, and a damn fine artist in his own right. He absolutely knew what he was talking about. He gave a great presentation, witty, insightful, and risky, considering the instructor.
True to form, our professor rejected his presentation outright. Didn't even criticize it, just casually flipped out, "and that's an F for you." The whole class was stunned, but after watching the professor pick his fingernails and generally do his level best to look overtly bored through my friend's presentation, I suddenly had a slow, boiling mad on that needed to be placated with an explanation. I jumped up out of my seat and calmly, through clenched teeth, growled, "Would you please explain to us exactly why you are flunking this presentation?"
He stared at me like I was an impetuous child, and sneered in his patronizing, matter-of-fact drone, "Comics are trash media and have no place in the classroom, let alone everyday life." I sat back down, shell shocked. At this point I decided, "Fuck these imp bastards. I'm getting out of here. I will not drink another gallon of yak vomit."
Our professor had two sources of pride in his weak, nasty little life. One was his fire engine red Fiat. I seriously considered bashing in his headlights and windshield, before I finally decided that driving a Fiat was its own reward. The other thing he always droned on about was his, "gothic horror masterpiece," The Mist. To my mind, this was an open invitation, the equivalent of, "I double dog dare you to ask the head cheerleader out on a date with her jock boyfriend standing right beside her." My sense of balance, Karma, call it what you will, snapped back into place a bit, when a quick search of the campus library turned up a pristine paperback copy that had been checked out exactly never.
The Mist took me two days to read. It was god-awful, as in, I'd read better from Judith Krantz god-awful. It was a horrible, smarmy little potboiler of a screed, with no drama, paper flat characters, and an ending that left you begging for the last few hours of your life back.
It was the perfect opportunity to see if our professor could take it as well as he dished it out. I completed my critique in two nights, and I bided my time. If this didn't work, I could still introduce the front of his car to my baseball bat, Fiat or no.
When the time came to make my presentation, I stood up in front of forty people and for about thirty minutes, I systematically shredded his, "gothic horror masterpiece." I was harsh, but I'd say I was as objective with it as I could be. I think I was more than fair when I ended with, "... In short, The Mist is an uninteresting bit of fluff derived mostly from the cast-off ideas long ago discarded by the worst forms of trash media." I walked back up to my seat through a standing ovation. Later that day, I was called into the Dean's office where I was politely asked to drop creative writing, and offered a place in a two semester comp/rhet class in trade.
It occurs to me that there are several interesting codas to this anecdote. My artist friend who critiqued the Wrightson book now works as a graphic designer in San Diego, and does side work as a storyboard artist for Disney. Not bad for a guy with purple spiky hair and more piercings than a well-used dartboard. The professor in question left UNLV the next year to concentrate on his new novel. As far as I know it has yet to materialize, and I can't help but feel that the world is a much better place for it. Several weeks after I "dropped" creative writing, the Fiat ended up with busted out headlights and four slashed tires. I swear I never went anywhere near the thing.
Dennis Culver has tapped into a stark truth with this minicomic. He takes us to a place that is sometimes uncomfortable, but always entertaining. Funwrecker serves as an inoculation for people who have been exposed to noxious infections like, "Comics are trash media and have no place in the classroom, let alone everyday life." If you want to learn how to go after the source of the infection, check out Dennis Culver .com His online journal will make you laugh your ass off, while shouting, "Oh Hell yeah! Been there!" While you're at it, show the man some love and order some of his minicomics too. He's the directing editor of The Black Label imprint from Absence of Ink Comics, and you can get all his stuff from their website.You won't be disappointed.