Illustrator / Artist Joe Deagnon Recalls Canada During the Rewind Era and Channels Analog Anecdotes (and Other Insane Occurrences) to Create the Comix Anthology PARANOID TALES OF NEUROSIS Featuring Past Work from FILM THREAT and Much More!!
Joe deep in thought (or maybe not) on the left along with his CHICKEN OUTFIT co-writer Kirby Stasyna. Ya know. Just chillin. Lookin' good. PHOTO CREDIT: Jorj TakacsCan you tell us a little bit about your creative history / comic career? What was the impetus to gather up some of your older stuff and put ‘em into one book AKA Paranoid Tales of Neurosis? I started drawing full comic books when I was in grade school but they were mostly about my friends and our neighbourhood adventures; I’d put 10 page books together just to make my friends laugh. Throughout grade school and college, I collected and read horror and underground comics like Weird, Eerie, Creepy and Nightmare until I eventually discovered Heavy Metal and National Lampoon magazines, Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Zap and artists like Moebius and Robert Crumb. When I was ready to go to college, I decided on animation as my focus, as I had a love for film and cartooning. Sheridan had a habit of pushing Disney down student’s throats, most likely because Disney scouts would regularly recruit from the college. I was a Warner Brothers devotee, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig being my favourites, so it was a bit repressive for me. The course was excellent and I gained quite a bit of insight into drawing, painting and animation that I use to this day; though I found that it wasn’t for me. I switched to E.N.G., a course in video-editing and “video journalism”. I’ve been immersed in comics and video my entire career and after I left college, I got a day-job as the senior editor for a post-production house and decided to take a stab at publishing my own series at night calling it “Paranoid Tales of Neurosis” after one of my favourite Black Sabbath albums. Later on, I contributed to various magazines while self-publishing Paranoid Tales for a number of years, eventually moving to Toronto where I worked at various jobs as a cell painter on commercials, an adult theatre concession stand goon and a set designer for a prop house. When I first got to Toronto I was an assistant manager at Major Video - which was eventually bought by Blockbuster. When the internet came along, I started working online as a designer and eventually for the Canadian film distribution company, Alliance Films, which was eventually bought out recently by eOne. Currently, I’m the owner of Chicken Outfit Media, specializing in digital design, illustration and video post-production, while creating the comic series Chicken Outfit. While putting together the first issue of Chicken Outfit, I was contacted by an old fan of Paranoid Tales who asked if I was ever going to bring out the old issues, as they are out of print. Some of the work didn’t age very well and rather than publish all five issues, I decided to collect the strips that I liked best or that made me laugh still and put them out as a collection.
The cover for Joe's PToN anthology re-issue. "Corporate Video Capers" is a must.You spent some time working for Film Threat, right? Can you tell us a little bit about that experience? You touch on some of your time there in the comic, I believe… Censorship in Canada was pretty rampant around this time (late 80’s) and you couldn’t get a lot of uncut films. I remember seeing Maniac in the theatre which, after going through the Canadian “Film Review Board”, was 45 minutes long. My friends and I were incensed. This conservative mandate bled into home video and music. VHS tapes were censored along with theatrical releases for violent and sexual content. It became a badge of honour to collect uncut tapes of horror films, which were hit the hardest (in addition to adult films). You’d end up with these 4th generation Japanese laser-disc dubs of the film, but at least you felt that your rights weren’t being trammeled. We were all about experiencing films the way the director intended. It sounds archaic, but I was delirious when I was able to see The Evil Dead for the first time at home on VHS. It was liberating on some level. I’d published a couple of issues of Paranoid Tales by the beginning of the 90’s and had distribution with Diamond Comics and Heroes World. I wanted to get some press behind my work, so I sent samples around to various publications I liked at the time. Film Threat was one of the ‘zines I bought regularly. It expressed the frustration one felt about the candy-coloured, day-glow crap coming out of Hollywood and covered all the independent and cutting-edge indie films. They supported “transgressive” filmmakers like Richard Kern, Nick Zedd, Lydia Lunch, artists who had a strong voice for what was happening politically in the US and Canada. They were the first publication I heard about Reservoir Dogs in. Eventually, you could order tapes of films through their distribution wing. Indie Filmmakers’ work you couldn’t get up here in Canada, or anywhere else for that matter. Their “sister publication” Film Threat Video Guide covered VHS almost exclusively and opened up the field for filmmakers, giving them a forum and access to distribution channels, otherwise unavailable to them. I had a few run-ins with Revenue Canada (our version of the IRS) trying to get some of Film Threat’s releases into this country. The packages would be stopped at the border and I’d have to fill out a “B2 form” informing the government why I ordered the tapes and why I think I should have them. The eventual outcome was to either send the tape back to its origin or Revenue Canada would have them destroyed. Film Threat did a couple of reviews of my work and after speaking with publisher Chris Gore, he said they’d like to include some of my work in the Film Guide, which at that time was run by editor David E. Williams. I sent along a couple of one-pagers; “How To Make a Slasher Film” and “Filmgoers I Have Known”. I contributed a couple of other pieces and then they stopped asking for them. I think it was because of a particularly nasty piece called “Joe and Tim Turn to Murder”, a satirical strip on serial killer celebrity, but Gore and Williams deny this. Film Threat’s support gave me some good exposure and I went on to work with Gore for a few years afterward, creating some of his first websites and worked on the advertising campaign for his film My Big Fat Independent Movie. I executed the designs for a series of parody posters the film spoofed and was credited in the film as “Web Site Designer” which is, I’m pretty sure, the first and only credit of its kind.
A snippet from the "I Was a Major Video Flunkie" comic in PToN. Proof that Video Stores were some of the most insane places in the world.How do you think VHS has influenced your art over the years? Do you recall some of the first video titles you watched or rented? Any good stories to go with those? I am a huge horror and sci-fi fan and the VHS culture, horror sci-fi and cult movies were in their heyday in the 80s. My family had a VCR until about 1981, but man, what a revelation. We figured out that as 17 year-old teenagers, if you wanted to see a Restricted horror film at the theatre, you should go by yourself. What teen would see My Bloody Valentine or Videodrome alone, we thought the theatre would surmise? It worked. When the VHS and Beta came along, we were in hog heaven! My friends and I would get together every weekend and gorge on video. Get out the popcorn and watch until we couldn’t stay awake. It was a regular social occurrence all throughout high school. The first film I saw on videotape (Beta, actually) was Night of the Living Dead. It was a punch to the gut for a 14 year-old kid. I saw it at my friend’s house. His family ran an electronics store and he was the first kid on our block to have a VCR. I was mesmerized by this new invention. We’d been watching old 8mm reels of Godzilla mail ordered from the back pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine before that. You could pause the film? Rewind the gory bits?? Wow. A couple of years later when my father brought home a VCR, I was ecstatic. Video chains weren’t available in my town. That was a couple of years away yet, so we’d locate these grotty little variety stores where the owner would have VHS and beta tapes behind the counter in generic boxes with dot-matrix printed titles. We didn’t realize until later that these were dubs and not the official release, however. The first two films I saw on VHS at home (due to lack of choice) were Blake Edward’s 10 and Jaws. I think we were able to get Taxi Driver and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the second trip around.
A clip from one of my favorites in the PToN re-issue. WATCH THAT SHIT IN SLO-MO, YO!! And, gobble goop. Gotta love that.What do you think of the VHS format now? Do you still watch / collect it? What are your thoughts on the resurgence in interest and appreciation? Video and VHS was a part of my upbringing, so I have great fondness for the resurgence of the format. It’s very nostalgic for me. I discovered a lot of great films at the theatre, but being located in a small town growing up, the theatres didn’t run films that I was drawn to very often, or they were chopped to bits by governmental agencies. Finally able to get an uncut copy of The Prowler or Maniac on VHS, from a friend who went to the States or through Montréal, was a thrill. Although I don’t collect any more, I have a small selection of old tapes and televised recordings you can’t get on DVD or Blu-ray. I still own three VCRs (one S-VHS and two dub decks). As I am concentrating on my company and my comics, I haven’t found time to hook the decks up yet. I always get this niggling itch to do so and probably will one of these days. I would also like to get out and maybe do a little collecting at some of the local flea markets, just to see what I could find. With companies like Blue Underground and Synapse (as well as Scream Factory) I’m able to get my grind-house, sci-fi and horror intake. I prefer to see cleaned up versions of the films I once watched on third to fifth generation dubs because at the time there was nowhere else to get them. It’s great that VHS is being preserved by fans and collectors. With the internet and streaming video, it seems like culture is so ephemeral. When I get on Netflix there are so many choices, I don’t know where to begin. There’s something tangible about going to a video store or popping in a tape and having to sit through that one film from beginning to end. The idea that old formats are gaining momentum in their popularity is a testament to our need to become a part of the media we ingest - in the same way people appreciate print over digital. You can touch it, smell it, pore over the box artwork, while you’re watching, and know that it’ll be there the next time to want to revisit it. Geez, that almost sounds like a serial killer, doesn’t it? It’s the obsessive nature of the collector, I think, to want to be a part of the things we enjoy, the things that make us happy. It works the same way with vinyl and the album gatefolds.
A little VIDEODROME love in this poster parody advertising Joe's new comic CHICKEN OUTFIT. Dig it.What’s next for you, Joe? What other comic(s) you got cookin’ right now? What does the future hold?! I’m currently running my graphics business and working hard to finish issue #2 of Chicken Outfit so I can release it (in print and digital). I am hoping to have it ready for Horror-Rama in Toronto this November 1 & 2, where I’ll be appearing in “Creator’s Row”. I’ll also have issue #1 of Chicken Outfit and the Paranoid Comix Anthology available there, along with various trinkets and bobbles. On the digital front, as well as running issue #1 of Chicken Outfit in small segments, for free, on the website, Paranoid Tales will be out on Comixology shortly, if not already, by the time you read this. You can order the print version online as well (and get a free PDF version with purchase). I’ve been contributing to Weng’s Chop magazine and in issue #6 you can see my Italian horror collage of Argento and Fulci films. I am slated to do their Halloweén Issue cover that’s coming out in October at some point I imagine. And finally, I’ll be at the infamous VHS tape swap and madhouse, Shock-Stock next April, so stay tuned for more on that.
Another nod to an exploitation essential. Well done, my friends, well done.Anything else you wanna shout out to all the Videovores in Lunchmeat Land? Digital media has been getting progressively smaller and fragmented, fading into the background, a cacophony of white noise. Collecting old formats like VHS gives us a tether to the physical world, I think. I prefer print over digital comics as well. It carries a warm truth that digital works cannot. I suppose our perceptions may change when we’re all heads, floating in jars of amniotic fluid, cables running from the back of our neck into a borg-like network router. Keep the faith alive, VHS, vinyl and print collectors, you’re the historians of the digital age!
Ain’t it the analog truth, mang! As you can probably tell, Joe’s on the level. His analog-oriented upbringing implanted a wonder and appreciation for physical media that has perpetually influenced his creativity and overall output into the world. And that’s pretty groovy, mang. Speaking of, if you wanna take an extended look at the many video-driven adventures and other doses of brain-bending hilarity barbed with harsh reality (and, again, the incredible interview with Phil Cohen!), then I suggest you groove on over to pick up Joe’s most radical re-issue collection of Paranoid Tales of Neurosis. And while you’re at it, be sure to take a peek at Joe’s newest comic project Chicken Outfit for even more illustrated insanity. I’m talkin’ sex robots gone awry and malpracticed magic spells with dead fish. Yeah, you’re gonna dig this stuff.