Cliff interviewed by The Great Curve - 1/16/06
Meth o.d. of Mayhem: Q&A with Clifford Meth
by JK Parkin
Starting his career as an entertainment journalist in the 1980s and moving into the realm of dark fiction in the 1990s, Clifford Meth has built a fanbase over the years that includes Harlan Ellison, Kurt Vonnegut and Stan Lee. His latest collection of stories, METHo.d., drops in March and includes artwork by Jordan Raskin, Michael Netzer, Al Milgrom, William Messner-Loebs and Steve Lieber, as well as a cover by Jim Steranko.
When he isn't writing "darkly humorous" short stories or movie scripts, you can probably find him helping out a friend in need, such as Dave Cockrum or Loebs. Just don't call him a "do-gooder" ...
JK: For those who may not be familiar with your work, can you give us a little background on how you got your start?
Clifford: I was an active part of comics fandom in the late 70s, participating in ‘zines like Bill-Dale Marcinko’s AFTA and soon began selling articles to ComicScene, Starlog and Fangoria. Ended up spending the first 10 years of my career as an entertainment journalist writing for places like Billboard and The L.A. Times Entertainment newswire. The upshot was spending time with Howard Stern and Frank Zappa and Mickey Mantle; getting drunk with Evel Knievel and Minnesota Fats. The downside was I wasn’t creating anything. I was writing, but it was bullshit. And it’s hard to keep up with guys like Knievel.
In 1994, I made the deliberate switch towards fiction writing, if you can call it fiction (and some wise guy’s going to say, “if you can call it writing”). I was still a full-time staff editor, but I dug in and started turning away freelance work so I could write short stories. My friends Dave Cockrum and the late Gray Morrow helped open doors by illustrating my work, but the big break came when Harlan Ellison stepped in. He fixed a few of my manuscripts, introduced me to an agent, and stayed in my corner.
JK: Over the past couple of years, you’ve become involved in promoting several good causes – helping your friends William Messner-Loebs and Dave Cockrum, Harlan Ellison’s KICK Internet Piracy campaign, etc. Can you give us a little background on how you became involved with each of them and what the outcomes have been?
Clifford: In reverse order, Harlan’s battle with AOL was easy to get behind. A number of his stories had been illegally posted to Internet use-groups and the tech-trail led back to AOL. While the other parties were quick to pull Harlan’s work off their sites, AOL dragged its feet and basically told Harlan to piss off. Dumb move. If you’re keen on being in a pissing match, I don’t care how big your dick is--don’t cross swords with Harlan. As for my involvement, it was minimal. I simply donated the proceeds of one book [god’s 15 minutes, Aardwolf Publishing] to his legal fund. Harlan had written the Afterword for the book anyway. Getting behind him was easy. When I was a kid, my gang used to quote Mark Twain: “A friend is someone who will stand by you when you’re wrong—anyone will stand by you when you’re right.” Of course, this was even easier because Harlan was right. And, at the end of the day, he won.
As for Dave Cockrum, well, it’s the same principal. He’s my friend. That’s a holy word, where I come from—maybe where you come from, too. I think I’ve picked up this reputation amongst comics people as a do-gooder; as a soft-hearted guy who wants to help people. It’s just not true. I’m an asshole like everyone else. I just write better than a few of them. But I am genuinely committed to my friends; it’s no different now than when I was in a gang as a boy. Friends is friends. That’s religion to me. So when Dave Cockrum fell ill, seriously ill, I stepped up. He was in a quasi-coma and he was dying. His wife Paty, who is also my friend, was besides herself; I don’t think I ever heard her cry before--she’s a tough, old gal. But here’s her husband laying in a V.A. Hospital, which is fucking horror show, a piss hole--an assembly line for the dying poor who happen to have served Uncle Sam--and there’s no money and no hope. So I had to do something, right? I called Neal Adams and said, “Look, Neal--you’re the magician who pulled this off for Siegel and Shuster. Work with me on this.” And Saint Neal said yes. Four months later, I negotiated a settlement and Dave came home, with money in the bank and private healthcare. Marvel was happy, too, because they did the right thing and got off relatively light. I was the only one who lost. Now everyone thinks I’m a stinkin’ do-gooder.
Messner-Loebs and I go back 30 years. We did see fan work together and remained in touch all this time. He got famous, made a small fortune, then made some dumb moves and found himself in a shit hole. So I made the rounds again and recruited Saint Neal and together we organized a benefit book and art auction and raised awareness and got old Bill some work. No big deal.
I’m not going to give you this whole thing about responsibility for others and being your brother’s keeper and helping out folks when they’re down. People either know this instinctively or from their parents or they don’t know it.
JK: Can you give us an update on William Messner-Loebs and Dave Cockrum?
Clifford: Bill is working again. I’m sure he’d like to be working more, but he’s up from the bottom… Cockrum is very ill, but he’s financially secure. The illness is in G-d’s hands. I talk to these guys all the time—we kick ideas around and tell industry gossip and laugh a lot, but I don’t take their situation’s temperature that often. Let’s just say they’ve both seen worse days.
JK: Will The Three Tenors have an encore?
Clifford: Doubt it. You can’t go home again, baby.
JK: Let’s talk a little bit about METHo.d., the new collection of your short stories. Jim Steranko, whose work is legendary in comics, is doing the cover. How did Jim become involved in the project?
Clifford: I’ve known Jim since I was 15. Pulled a switchblade on him at a convention in New Jersey. When I started writing, he was one of the first guys I sent stories to. Jim’s a tough mother and arguably one of the greatest designers in the game. I say arguably but I can’t think of anyone who would argue against that… As for this project, well, I just picked up the phone and asked him.
JK: Were you a big fan of Steranko before the project? What are some of your favorite Steranko comics?
Clifford: Huge fan. Towering fan. Loved Nick Fury, his three Captain America books, and all of his book covers. Steranko is the Jimi Hendrix of comics. He’s sheer magic. His style is unmistakable. He and Neal did to comics what Harlan Ellison did to science fiction. The earth moved when these cats came down the hall.
JK: In addition to Steranko, there is a virtual A-list of comic stars involved with the project. Who else is contributing, and how are they involved?
Clifford: Oddly enough, this is my first book that Dave Cockrum isn’t participating in. He just wasn’t up for it, but his wife Paty did a story. Paty is an old Marvel Bullpen member--a classically trained artist (as in learned from drawing people, not from drawing comics) who worked for Stan Lee and studied informally under Marie Severin as a Marvel colorist and production artist, but she did odd issues of Amazing Spiderman (as Paty Greer) and Claws of the Cat (with Bill Everett inking her!) She’s a loose cannon, too, which amuses me no end... Messner-Loebs did sequential art for my story “Back on the Horse,” which I wrote after I was divorced. It’s about those, you know, “first” dates. He called his art “Back on the Whores.” It’s hysterical ... Al Milgrom and Steve Lieber had illustrated two of my stories for The Three Tenors, so I grabbed those ... Michael Netzer and I have been corresponding for some time--he’s an old pro who did Batman and Wonder Woman and all sorts of things for DC when I was young, and he contacted me one day and said, “Gosh, I love your stories” and I said, “I still have a Batman sketch you did for me at a convention…” Then there’s Jordan Raskin, who Mark Texeira introduced me to several years ago--we all got loaded in San Diego. Jordan’s a smart guy, good writer, and sensational artist. I sent him a story and he said, “I’m in.”
It’s usually sort of informal like that. I’m in touch with lots of people. I’ve been corresponding with Jeff Jones for some times and only recently worked up the guts to ask him for a story illo… It’s a small club. There’s a few guys who think their shit doesn’t stink, artists who work hard at being professional hardons, but most of these cats are regular guys. And they think it’s cool when someone can actually write. Alex Toth wrote to me he hadn’t seen a decent manuscript in decades until he read my story “Looking for Linda.” That made my day.
JK: Is Peter David doing something for METH.o.d. as well?
Clifford: Pete wrote the introduction. In fact, we just finished working together on a separate project--what a terribly clever man he is. I have immense respect for him.
JK: For readers who haven’t read your stuff before, what can they expect from the stories?
Clifford: Pain. Depression. I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone looking for a lift.
JK: What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
Clifford: One Small Voice will be an omnibus of my fiction from Aardwolf late this year and it features a painted cover by Neal Adams and art by Alex Toth and Frank Brunner. There’s also Comic Book Babylon, which collects my “Past Masters” columns from www.SilverBulletComicBooks.com – Stan Lee wrote the intro for that… I’ve adapted Dave Cockrum’s Futurians for the big screen for IDT Entertainment and hope they actually go ahead with it. And then there’s the things I can’t talk about.
JK: What’s the script to Futurians like? I remember loving the graphic novel and comics as a kid.
Clifford: My script adapts the first Dave Cockrum graphic novel and adds a romantic element and a deeper science-fiction twist. It's a fun script--much lighter than my usual output. I really can’t say more than that at this point.
JK: You describe yourself as a “somewhat controversial” figure. How did that perception come about, and do you feel it is unwarranted?
Clifford: Did I say that? Yeah, I must have. I guess publicly telling a certain effete English artist to kiss my ass in Macy’s window was controversial. Or offering Gary Groth foodstamps to step in the ring with me. I didn’t do these things for attention, though. I just can’t stand those creeps.
Reprinted courtesy of www.TheGreatCurve.net