Meathaus: A loosely defined collective of friends and associates contributing to irregular comics and art anthologies and an art-blog-website with a special emphasis on drawing, sketchbooks and comics.
An Exegetical Exploration of Meathaus Enterprises
Jay T. Sacher
In which special attention is paid to MH’s history and key players, with an eye towards explicating the major thematic elements that recur in each issue of the publication, all of this you understand, written with a slightly confessional, non-objective bent since the author happens to be a Meathaus member. On most websites, this sort of missive would appear, in a less complex format, when you click on the “About Us” button.
What we’re attempting to clarify herein is the following: when an average small press/alternative/underground comic book consumer strolls past the tables of an average small press convention, and after deciding that the line to buy Craig Thompson’s book is too long and after avoiding eye contact with few desperately aggressive fantasy comic books vendors, he or she happens upon the Meathaus table, what then, at that moment of pre-possible-purchase, should he or she expect from the contents of our publications, and what does he or she actually expect, and in a broad epistemological sense, what do those contents mean and where do they come from?
Let’s parse this out.
Violence. Modern science has all but confirmed that the universe as we know it was forged from an initial singularity by the energy of a tremendously violent, one-of-a-kind event. Ancient myth and spiritual thought, while not in exact agreement with the disciplines of science, can at least metaphorically agree in that there is some key act of violence or previously unheard of or unexpected activity that heralds in–and goes hand in hand with–the Age of Man, be it Shiva’s dance of destruction/creation or Eve’s biting of the apple. This heritage of violence has filtered down through history and into the pages of Meathaus.
I can’t quite say that Meathaus arose from a Big Bang, but introspection does reveal an underlying metaphor of violence at its genesis. The dawn of the new century suddenly saw a few students from New York City’s School of Visual Arts with degrees in their hands, their empty pockets blowing in the wind. My time line here may be a little shaky, some may have graduated before that date, some after, some may have just pretended to graduate. There was Chris McDonnell, Esao Andrews, Farel Dalrymple, James Jean. There was Mu Wen Pan, Zachary Baldus, Stephen Halker. There were others. There was a decision made to do a 24-hour comic, which, like the big bang before it, spread out slowly, devolving and reforming along the avenues of the city we all called home. In our hearts, we all believed the label that McD baptized us with: “Awesome Dudes Who Like to Rock!” But where did this awesomeness come from, wherefore the desire to rock?
And then I remembered the SVA radio station. Even me, a non-SVA student, had heard tales of this sad little outpost of college rock. The thing about the SVA radio station is, it doesn’t play anywhere. It has no radio antenna, no broadcast range. It has no listeners. Just a few friends in a booth, playing songs to nobody. Perhaps nowadays, it’s streamed online, but I think if that’s true, the students of SVA will suffer for it. For one must consider: how productive is the rage of the disenfranchised? Taking a cue from Footloose, the impotent SVA radio station allows the post-graduate student to transmute his anger at his empty voice and turn it into something grand. Violence begets creation.
Sex. I’d like to ask, who in the modern era has ever gotten laid through drawing comics (clarification: I’m not talking here about the comic book artists that get laid despite the fact that they’re cartoonists [you know who you are], but to those who believe that comic book authoring will turn you into Mick Jagger, circa 1971 on a Lear Jet)? One person: Dan Clowes. Can you think of anyone else? We are reasonable people, and realize that despite the fact that all art can be deconstructed to nothing more than the feathers of a peacock; simply a mating call confused by the necessities of higher intelligence and sexual biology, yes despite this, no issue of Meathaus has been constructed with a calculating eye towards sexual conquest. Maybe this is our shortcoming, maybe we’re too aware of not being aware of it, maybe we’ve labeled ourselves wallflowers too early in the dance. I posit that we’re developing an aesthetic, one that is truer than the truth. Consider my talented friend Mu Wen’s take on the forbidden fruit of a sexual love for your elementary school teacher: “We fell in love with them when they were writing on the blackboard with the shaking butt and we picture how they look when they’re naked.” Van Halen couldn’t have said it better.
Humor. Recent studies have determined the evolutionary synthesis of laughter. The closest comparable activity in another species is a frantic noise that chimpanzees make to one another when there is something unknown, foreign or alarming in their immediate jungle neighborhood. Like laughter, this mysterious cackling that the chimp makes is an involuntary response to outside stimuli. In other words, it differs from other actions that humans and chimps make in that it is not a cognitive response, but instead belongs in the realm of the gag reflex or any other mammalian threat response (such as the cringing, raising of arms and closing of eyes when an object is thrown quickly at our faces)–the chimp doesn’t see the foreign entity and then decide to “laugh”, it has no choice. Thusly humor exists in all that is mysterious, alarming and threatening, which is why if a man gets run over by a truck, it can be funny. Smallpox is always funny. Bad puns almost always. Presidential assassination attempts are hilarious. The most mysterious line of dialogue from any issue of Meathaus is also the funniest: “That’s no way to feed sweat to a baby elephant!”
This line comes from a comic penned by Theo Edmands, late of The Flaming Fire and Manhattan, now a resident of Toronto, and even taken out of context, this snippet of comic dialogue retains its power. At stake here are a few issues: 1. Do you suppose that The Flaming Fire are bent out of shape that there is a popular rock outfit called The Fiery Furnaces? Do they have a–um–heated rivalry? And 2, if we take for fact that there is a wrong way to feed sweat to a baby elephant, then there must be a right way, but Mr. Edmands is a sturdy enough soul to understand that such practical hands-on concerns are best left to philosophers and city planners.
The Dilemma of Tedium and the Bondage of Envy. No explanation necessary. This is the conflict of modern life. See especially the MH pages penned by: Tomer Hanuka, Farel Dalrymple, Brandon Graham. A brief example of the D of T and the B of E: I work in publishing, and in the summer, we have half day Fridays (which, how tedious sounding, yes?). And I mosey from my office down to visit RHB behind the counter at the coffee shop. I’ll sit down on my stool and try to talk with Roger in between his latte steaming. But almost directly upon my taking a seat, my eye will wander and get ensared by the latest issue of Us Magazine laying there on the counter. Each phenomenally boring, predictable page drags me in, a vortex of sparkling teeth, cleavage and vapid smiles. I don’t put the magazine down until I know everything there is to know about Nick and Jessica. Everything that is, until next week’s issue.
Unheimlich: We’re now in the territory of Freud. His famous essay Unheimlich (roughly translated as “the uncanny.”) was an attempt to lay out the hard-to-codify literary boundary between supernatural fairy tales and stories that try to describe a certain crisis of perception that can befall a human being muddled by the turning of the world and the impermanence of all things. Say you’re looking out your window at a street lamp and you start blinking back and forth. As you close one eye and open the other, the street lamp hops from one position to another–the good old parallax view. And say you keep this blinking up a for bit too long, five minutes or so, until it develops that drunken numbing carpal-tunnel feeling in your brain, and you suddenly wonder, “Wait! I’m not moving! And the street lamp is! Which of my eyes are providing me with the true location of the lamp? Are they both true, are they neither? Can I ever know? Does the lamp even exist in a fixed location if the placement of my eyeballs can affect it so drastically?” That is the uncanny. Henry James’s the Turn of The Screw was an exercise in the uncanny. Much of the work of David Lynch is uncanny. As is Ren & Stimpy. Scooby Doo is not, nor is The Lord of the Rings. The uncanny is when things are unfixed, undefined and blurry. Comics own a special relationship with the uncanny, almost by default. A comic book reader can never not be aware that she is looking at an illustrated story, the presence of the artist in the story is always prevalent, and once you’ve created a duality that exists outside of the story and yet wholly affects your perception of it, yup, you’re talking about the uncanny. You see a pot roast talking with a cartoon character (see the work of Jim Campbell)? I see a non-reactionary meta-argument about the nature of friendship.
The point here is that as a potential Meathaus purchaser, at least one or two of the above themes have got to float your boat. So grab a paddle and give us some money.