Interview with S. T. Cartledge
By Spike Marlowe
November is just around the corner. This also means Eraserhead Press is about to decide which of this year’s New Bizarro Authors are going to have the opportunity to work with them again in the future.
I thought it would be fun and informative to interview this years’ authors, both so I could better get to know them, and so you could get to know them, too.
If you like what you read here, I highly encourage you to check out the authors’ books NOW. This is the last month that the New Bizarro Authors’ sales are counted as part of their sales quota in order to become full on bizarro authors.
The first straight-up bizarro book I read was Cameron Pierce’s “Lost in Cat Brain Land”, shortly followed by Carlton Mellick III’s “Satan Burger”. As for the first fiction I consider bizarro… that could be answered in a variety of ways. I’m a fan of the idea that bizarro is essentially what the fantasy genre should be. In which case, Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”, and Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” would be at the top of my list. Stories that place emphasis on the possibilities of imagination. I also think some fantasy offshoot genres can get pretty close to bizarro at times. Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” is a favourite of mine. Then there’s the manga that I got into around the same time that I started reading bizarro, and I don’t think I’ve found anything that captures the essence of ‘weird’ quite like bizarro or manga such as “Akira”, “Uzumaki”, or “Blame!” There are bizarro elements throughout, but there is also the visual aesthetic of weird that I would love to see more often in the bizarro movement. I can’t tell you how excited I am for Cameron Pierce and Jim Agpalza’s graphic novel collaboration, “Fantastic Earth Destroyer Ultra Plus” to come out. But first fiction I would consider bizarro, it would definitely have to be the children’s fantasies of Alice and Charlie.
2. Do you have any phobias?
Do you want me to elaborate?
Ok. I guess I should start with ‘snakes’. This phobia had me from childhood. I think snakes are cool, but they can stay the hell away from me. I don’t think I’m nearly as afraid of them as I used to be, maybe because I don’t really see them, except for in zoos. When I lived in bumpkin country it was all like “ohh snakes are everywhere, if there’s a bush, there’s probably a snake in it, and it is probably one of the really deadly ones.” But spiders never really bothered me much. I guess now I’ve come to terms with the animal kingdom being what it is, and snakes just attack humans because they don’t know what those big ugly vertical stalk creatures are.
Heights, kind of. Not so much heights, as edges of really high things. Open spaces with sheer drops. I’ll get kind of close to edges, so long as there aren’t any bumbling idiots around who think it’s funny to ‘pretend push’ me plummeting to my death or severe injury.
Worse than heights are jetties. There was this long fishing jetty in my home town. There was a take-away van nearby, and every so often my family would order dinner there and, while waiting for our dinner, we would walk down the jetty to pass the time. It was a hobby of my father’s to pick me up and pretend to throw me into the water where I would surely drown or be eaten by sharks or drown, and have my bloated corpse mealed upon by sea lions, sting rays, squid, and schools of fish. I can still walk down jetties, but the people accompanying me usually find me behaviour strange, in that I always have to have them in my line of vision, and I must always be on the side of the handrail. And, of course, if there is no hand rail and I do not trust my company, I must have ample space to walk beside or behind them. Yeah, thanks dad…
3. What’s the strangest real life bizarro experience you’ve had?
A few weeks ago someone tried to get me to punch a drill-person for free shit. I did not punch the drill-person because I think that drill-people have feelings too.
On the first night of BizarroCon, I had just met Jeremy Robert Johnson and Cameron Pierce. Jeremy hands me a plastic knife and tells me to stab Cameron. Cameron tells me not to stab him or he’ll end my career in the publishing industry (or something along those lines). I did not stab Cameron because I think that Cameron has feelings too. He broke my knife.
People like to tell me to do things I don’t want to do. I don’t really have many real life bizarro experiences, although it is fun to think and say strange things. I have been told that I talk in my sleep.
I went to a party dressed as a serial killer once, which isn’t that strange, but then there are photos from that night where I’m wearing my serial killer mask and tying someone else’s shoelaces or holding a cup like it’s the most precious thing ever. Those photos are pretty bizarro.
4. Kafka or lemon crepes?
Lemon crepes. I’ve got a real bad sweet-tooth, I really don’t fancy cockroach shells in my dessert foods. Besides, I’m an avid book-buyer in the sense that I’ve got a ridiculous amount of books that I haven’t read yet, including the Metamorphosis, and the trashy Kafka kitten parody, the Meowmorphosis. I know. Feel free to roll your eyes now. There are hundreds and thousands of excellent books that deserve to be read. Kafka is on my reserves until such a point in time where I can finally get around to it. In the meantime, there is a steady supply of bizarro, manga, modern works of literary genius, cult classics, and lemon crepes.
5. You wrote your creative writing honors thesis on Bizarro fiction. Would you share a little about this project with us?
For the past year I’d been working on my honours thesis. I had finished my degree with a double major in creative writing and literary & cultural studies. I loved uni. I got the opportunity to write short stories, poetry, short plays, I even made a zine for one class. I wrote assignments on the Hobbit, Fight Club, Akira, and D. Harlan Wilson’s ultraviolent ‘memoir’ Blankety Blank. In my third year I was mostly choosing my own topics and assignment, and for my creative writing supervised project I wrote a short space western and an essay on bizarro fiction. Once I finished my degree I signed up for honours, initially researching into bizarro and the gothic. I had to write a 10,000 word creative project, and a 5,000 word academic essay. As honours theses almost always do, my topic changed throughout the year. I needed to keep it focused on a specific topic and, unfortunately, bizarro is too large a topic on its own. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out whether to focus on common trends between bizarro and gothic, narrative techniques, which texts to reference, which points to articulate, and how to keep the sprawling bizarro juggernaut to a 5,000 word essay. And then there was the issue of making a clear thematic connection between the essay and the creative project. The creative project, a sci-fi/fantasy bizarro action adventure experiment in perspective and memory (the Orphanarium) came together quite smoothly. In the end, the essay shifted towards bizarro and apocalypse fiction as significant affirmations of identity in contemporary society. When everything is crumbling to pieces (apocalypse), bizarro is the genre that takes that from a place of doom and gloom and turns it into a celebration of new worlds and new possibilities. I’m taking a break from study for now (maybe a year or two), but I’d love to return and take my research further, the ultimate goal being a doctorate thesis on bizarro fiction.
6. This is it – you and the granddaddy of bizarro fiction, Carlton Mellick III, are on the lam. You’ve found yourself in the middle of eastern Australia, in a dive bar. Both being guys who love to entertain, what happens next?
From what I understand of Carlton from meeting him at BizarroCon last year, there would not be much entertaining to be had while we’re both sober. I would think such a scenario would begin with a discussion over what manga is worth checking out. A few drinks in and the discussion would evolve into brainstorming what a bizarro manga might look or read like. From there, a few more drinks, and our brainstorming would involve characters made out of (or wearing) scraps of bar food. We pitch ideas back and forth, random drawings and words on napkins, and when drunkenness overcomes us, we start acting out characters, greasy worm-fingered samurai versus beerbot-3000, battling with barstools and pool cues, making crazy action noises and exchanging cheesy dialogue about who will defeat who to conquer the bar. Maybe the samurai will have one of those chip-bowls made out of woven wicker, beerbot will have soggy coasters stuck to his face, and no one will be able to stop us because in this moment we are immortal.