Visual Satiation brings down the curtain on its third chapter.
From the bottom of my heart, I’d like to thank all the great artists who kindly dedicated their time despite a chaotic 2020, Livetrigger´s crew for giving me another opportunity to probe some of the most interesting, creative minds around, and (last but not least) you, dear readers, for joining us on the journey up to now.
Before kissing you goodbye, there is one last artist I’d like to introduce you to for our Grand Finale…
1994, Florida, United States of America: Land of the Free.
24-year-old underground legend-to-be Mike Diana became the first artist in the US convicted of obscenity due to his graphic, explicit comics portraying black humour, blasphemy, drug, sex and violence.
Despite his First Amendment Rights, Mike’s trouble with the law lasted until 1997, a period during which he was subjected to incarceration, supervised probation, community service, psychological examination, warrantless searches by the police, and (unbelievably) the prohibition of drawing.
Regardless, he kept practicing his art and releasing his DIY comics, eventually becoming the notorious artist he is today.
Ladies and gentlemen please welcome Mike Diana!
Hello Mike, and welcome to Visual Satiation!
Let’s start off with an introduction for those who don’t know you yet: Who is Mike Diana?
Mike Diana was born in 1969 in an upstate New York town called Geneva.
My father was from Corning, New York, and his father worked at the glass factory there. I remember visiting my grandparents in Corning. Colorful glass paperweights that he made at the glass factory decorated the house.
I loved hearing stories related to our family from a very young age. They would talk about the great flood that hit Corning. The water was over your head in the living room. A dike was built along the river to protect from future flooding.
My dad’s parents loved dirty jokes.
Grandpa’s favorite word seemed to be the word “bullshit”. My grandparents would play an audio tape they bought of Redd Foxx comedy routine. They would play certain jokes from the tapes to let my dad hear.
I knew it was something that I wasn’t supposed to hear. Mom would cover my ears. I was amazed how my grandparents were laughing so much and my dad was very uneasy.
This attracted me at a young age to the power that certain words could have. At the time I didn’t totally understand the jokes. One was Redd saying that a small dog doesn’t take a shit, now a big Dobermann Pinscher, now that’s a dog that knows how to take a shit.
I became a fan of Redd Foxx as a teen, and actually bought the same two cassette album, and got to listen to it and see what I was missing. So I definitely leaned toward the more extreme type of entertainment.
I loved the old pre-code horror comics, and the underground ones when I discovered those.
My mom always encouraged me to do art when she saw I was interested in it at a young age.
At age 8 our family moved from New York to Florida. My mom was born there and I had cousins there too. I’ve always considered myself an artist.
Young Mike Diana
How was your quarantine, and how is the current situation in New York, where you’re based?
I have mostly been staying inside trying to stay away from people.
I have spent some time catching up with unfinished art projects such as the Deviant Children Coloring Book.
I worry about getting the virus because in the past, when I do catch a cold or the flu it really seems to hit me hard. It seems average persons get over a flu, and I’m still feeling bad for a number of weeks longer. I feel if I got a new virus, I don’t know if I would make it. So I worry about myself and others.
If I do go out I wear a mask, gloves and take some rubbing alcohol in a little bottle. I feel I’m very careful. A lot of Americans don’t want to be careful or don’t know how to be careful properly.
I see them out there without mask or wearing it under their chins.
That’s why the virus is kicking our asses. People want to go out like everything is normal. I worry about my mom in Florida now.
What about your background shaped the person and the artist you are today?
My mom was supportive of me doing artwork. She enrolled me in an after school art program called The Wendy Brown Art School, this was when I was in third grade.
I always wanted my art to differ from what I saw others doing around me.
One assignment was to draw ourselves doing something we do each day.
I did mine with a bunch of mechanical arms coming into the frame, one had a toothbrush, one had a comb. I remember an assignment in kindergarten was to draw a family portrait.
I decided to draw the entire family, mom, dad, me and my sister all in the nude.
I guess I didn’t realize it was a no-no. The teacher asked me “Where are their clothes?”. I tried to erase all the boobs and genitals and I drew clothes on top of them.
We had our family portraits hanging up for the day, and the parents would come to the school. Well, my dad could see the indentations of the pencil marks under the clothes… “Did you draw us naked?” he asked with a kind of embarrassing smile on his face. I said “No”.
Geneva (NY) is close to Seneca Lake. In third grade, our class took a trip to the lake to collect shells and other items from the beach to make collages back in class for another art project. The beach was littered with junk, and lots of broken glass that had been smoothed by the water.
There were also lots of little different colored plastic tubes on the beach, I don’t know what they were. Seemed like some stuff from a factory or something.
While all the students were picking up shells for their collages, I picked up the broken glass. Metal pull tabs from cans, plastic junk, even a small dead fish I found on the shore. Looking back at it I feel that even though I was young, I was not able to ignore the pollution on the beach.
Back in class we took our items and placed them in a cut off bottom part of a half gallon milk jug, we stuck a wire in back with a loop for hanging, then we poured plaster of Paris on top of the items.
When it dried we took off the milk carton bottom to reveal the collage. These were hung up for another open house school event. Well, the dead fish in my collage started to stink so I believe my mom threw it away after I brought it home.
In the middle of fourth grade, we moved to Florida.
I continued to create art that was not necessarily what you would expect from an average kid.
I loved pottery class and my mom liked owls. I made her a clay owl as my first project. After that, I made stuff I wanted to see exist in clay form. One assignment was to make a cylinder pot with a lid. I made mine equipped with lots of spikes and painted it purple, and the spikes had red glaze like blood on them. The teacher joked that I had made a weapon. I gave it to my mom.
One day mom and dad were arguing before the divorce, and mom threw the cylinder pit with the spikes at him. It was like a weapon.
She still has that clay pot as well as others I had made.
Later on, as a teen I became aware of horror comics, heavy metal illustrated magazines, underground comics, and horror films on VHS.
In high school, I started drawing comics on my notebook paper. These would circulate around the class. I had become friends with these two big guys who were on the wrestling team.
They loved my comics and each day they would ask me (almost in a threatening manner) “where are the new comics!?”.
Because they were my friends nobody would ever pick on me at school.
The comics were funny things about teachers we didn’t like, like the library lady we called “mushroom head” because her hair looked like a big mushroom or a math teacher that would put red dots next to our names in her notebook when we misbehaved, so in the comic, she would kill you by shooting little dots out of her fingers all over you.
Some of the comics I did were about a cat and a mouse like Tom and Jerry cartoons, but they would mutilate each other for real (this is before “Itchy & Scratchy” of the Simpson’s).
One had a giant dick that was squirting sperm on everyone, drowning them.
It was a fun time even though I hated school. I felt I had a certain power with art.
I could actually make people laugh and gasp.
After I graduated in 1987, I became addicted to watching the tv news because it was a never ending supply of inspiration for my art and comics.
The news channels seemed to be in competition to report on the most bloody, rotten stories. Priests molesting children, all kinds of murders, and domestic violence.
Thinking back on it, watching all of that was perpetuating my depression but it did take my art in the direction of wanting to deal with real life issues. The things I felt our society was desensitized to from seeing so often. I was drawing comics about priests molesting children long before it was something people were willing to talk about.
What are you currently working on, and where did you find the inspiration?
I’m always working on a few projects at once.
I’m finishing up the Deviant Children Coloring Book. Over 60 pages of ink drawings. Kids doing rude and deviant things. For example a boy in the park with a picnic basket full of human eyeballs and he’ feeding them to black crows. Another one, a girl on the beach builds a sand castle that looks like a tall penis tower.
I got my inspiration from old coloring books like the ones I used to have and color as a child.
In the old days the coloring books were just for children. Lots of happy images or scenes of children enjoying different activities. I always wished I could find strange coloring books.
When I was 10 or so I used to get some poster coloring kits, it had a small sized poster and markers to color with and the subject matter was more for older kids. Like motorcycles or something that looked like a scene out of a Star Wars type film.
With all the adult coloring books around nowadays, I figured it was time to create something with those drawings, and the kind of images I would have liked to see.
In “Boiled Angels: The Trial of Mike Diana” (the documentary of your story) you explain how you were first lured by an undercover detective who purchased some of your zines to then persecute you. Do you think it’s still possible in 2020 for an artist in the US to go through a similar ordeal because of their art?
Yes, in 1991 I was hassled in a major way by the undercover cops about the Gainesville student murders.
They told me I had to give a blood sample for DNA testing in order to clear my name as the killer. This was the Florida department of law enforcement that approached me about that.
In Florida they have so many police type of organizations.
I don’t think they actually thought I committed the murders, it was just a reason to harass me. I saw an article in the newspaper not long after I gave my blood sample. It said that Florida law enforcement had over 10,000 suspects in the murders. They were asking all of them for blood samples. It turns out they were just trying to build samples for the newly formed DNA database. In the article it said they couldn’t force people to give blood. They would need to get a court order if it was needed.
Once in a while, people that I meet or who write to me say that they were doing a zine that they wanted to get noticed. So they purposely made it extreme and sent it to the law enforcement. They had intentionally made it sick to try to get in trouble in order to get publicity like I had. But they end up disappointed when it seems nobody cares and they don’t get charged.
Well, I tell them: move to Pinellas County Florida. Move to that same area and have that Largo, Florida address inside the zine. Then you will probably get your wish.
Who knows these days if it’s getting worse since it seems like people these days don’t want to have to see anything that may challenge their own beliefs.
Nobody freaked people out as much as you did since horror and crime comics were first banned after psychologist Fredric Wertham‘s crusade against them in 1954.
You’ve been suspected of being a serial killer, then accused of being a psychopath who would turn others into killers, and told that your art wasn’t art… People just couldn’t stand your provocative work. From your point of view, what do you consider to be obscene?
It’s a tough question because art is such a matter of personal taste kind of thing.
I never have encountered art that I would consider obscene.
In the days of zine trading in the 90’s I would get some zines with photos from old crime books and medical books, and there were pics of dead kids, dead bodies, and other gross stuff. These were mainly from the old books from the 50’s and older. They were black & white, sometimes with grainy images if the copies were made with printing toner running low.
One pic I remember seeing was in one of Julee Peezlee’s publications. She did the Autopsy trading cards. The pic (from perhaps a 1940’s book) was an old refrigerator in a basement with the door open, and a mass of five tangled, little dead girls half hanging out but not falling out because they were stuck. The description explained that the girls were playing “hide and seek” game with another girl when the five girls decided to hide in the old fridge. Just from seeing the image I had a thought in my head of the girls closing themselves in the fridge, giggling how they wouldn’t be found in such a good hiding spot like that, and they start gasping for breath unable to get out and start crying.
They were showing that photo as graphic as it was to shock people, to show you how things can be. Take the door off of the unused fridge, is one message that gives. But now in zine form the image takes on a new life. I just found it interesting.
In my zine Angelfuck 1 I reprinted some pics from a child abuse book, but these days we have full color gore available on Internet. I don’t like seeing it so much. Sometimes I have to see something on accident on Facebook or somewhere else.
Mike Diana and his attorneys sit in court (1994)
At a certain point in the documentary, during an interview with Al Goldstein in “Midnight Blue” in 1995, he says, “You were lucky not to be black, otherwise they’d hang you up.” In light of the recent events that have rocked America, and as someone who has had first-hand experience with abuse of power, what are your thoughts about the current situation? What’s it like to be in New York right now? Have you been to any protests?
My mother was born in Florida so we would visit there. In 1978 our family moved to Florida.
A lot of people expect Florida to be a paradise, it is in a way if you have money. Like other places, you need money.
The black neighborhoods have the poor white hoods right next to them. The rich people and the ones slightly better off live along the beaches.
I had long hair as a teen and I fit into the group of metalheads in the eyes of the Largo cops.
Those kids with long hair had weed pipes or knifes. I can’t count how many police encounters I had as a teen on my bike.
Later on, when I got my car when I was 18, I would get pulled over all the time.
I started to rebel, and put a realistic human skull with blue lights in its eyes in the back window looking out. They would want to search my car.
After being on the tv news they would pull me over to harass me even more.
We certainly need police.
People are out there killing children and each other always, forever I suppose. We do need police reform but I feel that many problems contribute to the way things are. Drugs that are addictive being sold.
Money is what you need if caught up with the law. You can kill, you can molest kids. You just need money. We have people that join gangs, street gangs, hate groups, we need to really give people a hope in life, some real options, and reasons to exist. People tend to turn on others when angry and up against the wall.
My grandparents on my mom’s side did seem racist. They would tell jokes, they would say how the country is going down the tubes. But what the hell ya gonna do? I loved my grandma. She wouldn’t tell the jokes around people of color, she wasn’t out to hurt people’s feelings. She did a lot of nice things for people and had taken CPR classes. I believe if it came down to it, and she needed to save a black person with her CPR, well I know that she would have ignored the race of the person in need.
We need people that have good souls. Some kids join hate groups for the same reason they join gangs: they need a feeling of acceptance. People can change, and some are filled with so much hate it eventually eats them up.
Are protesters willing to talk to those they oppose without just yelling and screaming at somebody who’s a fellow human?
Are people on both sides able to give and take?
I have not taken part in any protests. I went on a few protests with my mom and her sister back in 1988, 1989. At the time, the governor of Florida was trying to reverse abortion laws and my mom was on the Pro-choice side. I took a video of one time we went and included it in the Baked Baby Jesus video. All in all, I don’t feel like a lot was accomplished by the protests I attended. It was more about two sides of the issue battling it out with each other.
You’ve been dealing with censorship throughout your entire career. How do you deal with it on social media nowadays, and what are the pros and cons of the platforms you use?
I have Facebook and Instagram, and it’s annoying to have censorship issues with these platforms.
I try not to spend too much time on Facebook.
It’s good to post stuff, but before I realize it I had been on there for two hours or more, and I have a lot of real life art to make and finish.
What do you like to do when you’re not drawing twisted stuff?
I’ve always loved going on road trips, seeing different places, and strange types of tourists traps.
Confederama was a cool place. It ended up being renamed after the war between the states. Electric map the billboards read. It was a map showing the civil war battles, little lights would blink next to the toy soldiers on the map with little puffs of smoke.
I liked going to caves. A friend who was a Boiled Angel contributor took a road trip to Ma Barker Day in Ocala so I went on that trip. Gator farms are also fun to explore. New York area has lots of places to check out.
I like to watch horror movies since an early age and I still do, especially the exploitation films of the 70’s.
You seem to be an avid objects collector… What are the things you like to collect and why?
I suppose it started at a young age. I had a collection of animal skulls my dad gave me. He was a science teacher. He also had worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for college credit and that’s when he met my mother.
He had dozens of different types of fishes in jars of formaldehyde. A bat fish, a little octopus that was missing a tentacle, bunch of little glass pill sized bottles with different types of tapeworms my dad found when cutting open fishes. He had even made a scrapbook with different types of seaweeds pressed dry on the pages all labeled with names.
When we moved to Florida from New York, dad made me get rid of most of the collection.
He said the jars could leak onto his antique furnitures he had been collecting at auctions.
At one auction he bought four giant garbage bags full of authentic, handmade, Haitian Voodoo dolls. No two were exactly alike, they all had different colors and patterns made of fabric scraps.
I loved going to the beach in Florida. One year there were thousands, or maybe millions of petrified sharks teeth mixed in with the sand that was washing up on shore. I had buckets full of sharks teeth. But one time I saw that, like a prehistoric layer of sharks was washing up.
I would go to yard sales and flea markets. I always looked for strange items, old religious items. Most stuff could be bought for a nickel, a dime or a quarter.
I would set up a shelf at home in my room like my own museum.
These artifacts would inspire me to do art, perhaps the reference of a squeak toy for a baby long ago turns into a character. I still collect stuff today, like little devil figurines.
Thinking about collecting, since I lost those precious items at a young age before moving to Florida, maybe that made me want to be able to collect things.
On one of our family trips out west I collected soda pop bottles, I picked up a bunch out of a gutter near the campsite, and had the trunk filled with them. Dad was pissed because I was filling up the trunk on the first days of the trip.
When I went on road trips later on in life, I would take a little broken piece of tail light that was on the ground at carhenge. When I went to White Sands in New Mexico, I took a little hand full of sand to keep.
What are your all-time favorite comics?
I liked the old horror comics from the 50’s.
I would sometimes find them at the place where I got comics. It was a massive place called Paperback Palace which had all kinds of books. The basement was all comics. I can still remember that strong comic books’ smell as you get closer to the doorway.
I got all kinds of old comics. Plop! with Basil Wolverton covers. I discovered the original Swamp Thing comic series from 1973. I got all the issues, and I would collect other comics where Swamp Thing made an appearance. There was something special about that age of 11-12, comics have an impact in a more intense way maybe. I would get a bunch of candy and eat it while reading them.
Plop! Cover by Basil Wolverton
Swamp Thing, 1973
What are your phobias and manias?
I used to have lots of nightmares as a child. I was afraid of falling off a high place or out of an airplane.
One night, around age 7, I looked out my bedroom window and saw the light of an airplane up there in the sky, and I got afraid because I knew I would then have a dream of falling out of it. Sure enough I would be falling out of the airplane, and have that feeling like a roller coaster in my stomach, and right as I was about to hit the ground I would wake up screaming.
The bed would bounce like I just had landed on it I swear.
For a while when I lived in the second floor, I would dream that demons and devils were peering at the window.
I don’t like fast rides very much, roller coasters are too much for me. I had been on them at different times but I don’t think I would go on them anymore.
The log flume ride would scare me because there was a pretty immediate steep drop. I’ve been having a dream lately where I’m stuck on a ride similar to that.
I prefer the old style haunted houses with the carts that move around on a track. I went to a good number of those as a kid. They scared me but it was fun.
Once I went with my grandpa on my father’s side, whose favorite word was “bullshit”, he had the hats the pins.
We went on the haunted house ride and for each giant skull that popped up and scared me grandpa would yell “that’s bullshit, just bullshit!”. It made me feel a little better I guess .
If you were a mad scientist, what scientific experiment would you put to the test?
I suppose try to make a Frankenstein type monster. It could be like a beast made up of a dozen people with different sexes and races ahah!
Maybe mixed with animals.
The object would be: do we all see how each other feel, about how animals feel, how we treat the planet and its wildlife. Of course like a mad scientist in a movie, it can go horribly wrong.
Name a secret talent of yours, and name something you’re hilariously bad at.
I guess for bad at trying to do my own taxes.
For a secret talent I would say: good at making tacos.
Name a movie that traumatized you in childhood; one that made you cry; and the last good one you watched.
My mom was watching the movie Sisters on tv when I was probably 7.
The murder with the birthday cake and knife happens, and my mom at that point realized I should not be watching it.
Maybe traumatized is not the right word but I think it had some kind of impact on me. I saw Puff the Magic Dragon, and the short part where the kid in the story sheds one single tear made me cry for days.
I saw Poltergeist in the theatre and it scared me. ET The Extra Terrestrial of course made all us kids cry in the theatre (ET The Extra Testicle I would say). Also Fox and the Hound cartoon movie made me cry.
The last good thing I saw was one called Bacurau, made in Brazil in 2019. Udo Kier is in it.
Dedicate a “goodbye” song to our readers of Visual Satiation (perhaps one they can listen to while re-reading this interview).
A goodbye song… Remember the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High?
Our dad’s friend from church had us over to watch it on their cable and color tv with their kids, and my dad was so uncomfortable at the sex jokes and stuff.
So the song was from the end of that movie, “Goodbye Goodbye” by Oingo Boingo.
I was listening to Oingo Boingo on cassette tapes long before he was doing movie soundtracks and The Simpson’s theme song.
Lastly, let’s give you a few minutes to draw a caricature of yourself and see how it goes! Ready? Go!
Thank you so much for being with us, Mike!
We wish you all the best for the future.
Stay healthy, safe & twisted!
Facebook: Mike Diana