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Interview


© 2016 Paul Mavrides. Photo: J. A. Mogalian

ALL ANSWERS © P. Mavrides 1997

Contact the artist at: fantomas@artie.com

Visionary Thinkers

#1 What have you done that many people consider ground-breaking? What is your special talent, vision or claim to fame?

I spent five years (1991-1996) in a struggle-to-beyond-death with the California State Sales Tax Board, who chose me as a lab rat for a novel scheme of sales taxing ideas and Constitutionally protected First Amendment speech. I won. Sort of.

While my case was about art, literature, ideas and free speech, the struggle with the government’s semiotics-impervious bureaucrats was always over the “form” of my work rather than its “content”.

Basically, the State Board of Equalization, the branch of California’s government responsible for the collection of sales tax, arbitrarily decided that the creators of comics and cartoons were not authors, but rather, merely commercial contractors who produce commodities— not ideas, “templates for printing manufacturing”— not manuscripts. Like true schoolyard bullies, they picked me for their test case, figuring that a cartoonist at my economic level would not be able to muster the resources to fight their outrageous scam.

Despite promises to the contrary, the BOE did not wait for an established precedent with my case— it went ahead and sought back use tax from The Creators Syndicate of Los Angeles (for editorial cartoons that the syndicate distributed to California newspapers) and a small Northern California newspaper, the Siskiyou Daily News (for cartoons published in its comics page and editorial section). “Use” taxes (the business equivalent of the cartoon sales tax) were to be applied to every newspaper, magazine, publisher, and syndicate who did trade either in or with residents of the state of California. The BOE was looking at a “windfall” of hundreds of millions of dollars (at least) in back taxes, an incentive that kept them playing hardball with me for the entire five years.

How large was my BOE bill? Less than a thousand dollars, but the damage the BOE ruling would have produced was incalculable. Small independent publishers, self-publishers and marginally successful authors would have found themselves unable to financially function under the state-imposed burden of this tax ruling exclusively directed at, and only at, their chosen literary format— unlike any other type of author or publisher. A classic illustration of how the power to tax is also the power to destroy.

Even more onerous was that the BOE ruling had created, for the first time in American history, a system of government licensing of authors. Because of the BOE’s requirement that citizens who collect sales taxes for the State must do so with a mandatory state issued Sales Permit, a revocation of this tax license for any reason at all would have prevented an author from receiving income from their California-published work and also kept them from arranging publication contracts. The de facto censorship and governmental control of elemental speech rights (by state tax bureaucrats, no less) was an intolerable and shocking violation of basic Constitutional liberties. Ignoring numerous legal precedents, the accountants of the BOE placed their duty to tax above the Bill or Rights.

Certainly California was (and still is) under pressure to generate new sources of revenue income, but eradicating the constitutional guarantees of its citizens’ freedom to speak was no solution.

Alarmed by the broad First Amendment implications of the case, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California filed a legal brief with the Board challenging the tax bureau's ruling. The ACLU, which does not normally become involved in tax issues, pledged to litigate on my behalf, if it came to that.

My situation was akin to being rubbed with a piece of sandpaper in one spot for several years. Or perhaps a slo-motion car crash where it takes half a decade to go through the windshield. Even today, I’m still picking shards of glass out of my brain. There’s nothing like spending five years with lawyers and tax accountants to reduce one’s sense of humor to zero.

It took five years, three corporate law firms, the American Civil Liberties Union., the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, a national press campaign, and a quarter million dollars in legal fees, expenses and income loss to make these bureaucratic goons back off an inch or two.

While cartoonists who both “write” and “draw” are now clearly protected from this form of taxation (through the narrowest possible reading of the new regulations by the BOE), the state of California continues to reduce authors and artists alike to poverty with oppressive sales tax laws directed at individual creators. Currently, the National Cartoonists Society and the Graphic Artists Guild are attempting to correct these injustices through legislative means. With the aid of State Senator Cathy Wright, they have proposed the Commercial Art Exemption Bill (SB #664), which is currently being debated in committee. SUPPORT SENATE BILL #664!!!

I could not have possibly even begun to fight the government on this issue without the generous help of several heroic organizations and countless concerned individuals. If you want to find out more about defending free speech and what you can do to help, here are some sites to check out:

National Cartoonist Society Sales Tax Page
http://
www.inet1.com/Toons/true/tax/taxinfo.html

Graphic Artists Guild Sales Tax Page
http://
www.gag.org/sanfran/sales.html

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Home Page
http://
www.edgeglobal.com/cbldf/

American Civil Liberties Union Home Page
http://
www.aclu.org/

In the end, when the dust settled, the comic book industry committed economic and cultural suicide due to it’s own shortsightedness, creative paucity, colossal egos and sheer greed while I was busy dancing on their behalf (among others) with the tax trolls. Currently (due to reasons too numerous and complex to go into here) comic book sales and distribution are now at an all-time historic low and still falling. At least this drawn out (no pun intended) death scene has been brought about mostly by our own hands rather than the government’s. A victory for the Right To Die, I suppose.

#2 How would you describe your contributions to the creation of art and cyberspace?


Inconsequential. So far. Pissing in the ocean to make the shoreline rise.

Except, perhaps, on an individual, case by case basis. I have been told by various people that exposure to my work psychically damaged them so severely that they were unable to pursue careers in law, politics, religion and the military and were forced to seek permanent part-time employment in the food service industry, due to an ever-present bad attitude that left them fit for nothing else. Of course, the best effect of all would be to get lawyers, soldiers, stockbrokers, politicians, corporate executives and religious fanatics to kill themselves after a single viewing of my art, something which, as far as I know, has yet to occur.

Still, if I have kept even one small child from growing up to become a Republican or Democrat my entire career will be justified. And, in the end— when all’s said and done— isn’t that what ART’s all about?

#3 What has been the result of your original vision? Describe the years when you were developing your ideas?


I like to think that I’ve had more than one idea over the span of my creative life. This is most likely hubris on my part. I probably have never had a single truly original idea in my life— although I’m constantly plagued by useless and distracting “visions.” I suppose I’ve stolen all my really good ideas (much like everyone else throughout most of human history, except for the three or four proto-humans who originally invented EVERYTHING by the shore of some forgotten mudhole, long, long ago).

I am currently developing plans for a planetary-sized performance/installation piece involving the creation of continent-spanning “drawings” composed from repeated and controlled asteroid bombardment. Look out below!

#4 What is your favorite story from your highest times? (You can drop names if you'd like).


In Spring 1978 I went on a wild night of L.A. bar-hopping with John Lennon, William Burroughs, Rudy Rucker, Reverend Ivan Stang, J.R. “Bob” and Connie Dobbs, Dave Sheridan, Artie Romero, the REAL Jimi Hendrix, Gerhard Seyfried, Alex Cox and Andy Warhol. Guns and dangerous drugs were involved, though I was so inebriated that I can’t remember if anyone got shot. In fact, I can’t remember anything whatsoever about that evening, all my recollections are based on the video tapes (now missing). I woke up the next morning, alone, pantless, face-down in a drainage ditch just outside of Modesto, CA. To this day, none of the people I was with (who are still alive) will publicly admit to participation in that evening or, for that matter, to even knowing me. As near as I can tell, all witnesses have been paid off to maintain their silence. The bodies are still buried.

#5 What role do you hope, and expect, to play in the future?

Staying alive as long as possible so that I can continue to torment the people that don’t like me, hopefully outliving them so that I can trash them in MY memoirs.

#6 What do you hope to accomplish next?

Staying alive as long as possible so that I can continue to torment the people that don’t like me, hopefully outliving them so that I can trash them in MY memoirs.

Life, Art and Cyberspace


#1a Where and when were you born and how did your upbringing...and the times during which you grew towards adulthood... influence your artistic self?

I’ve already covered those subjects extensively in an interview in The Comics Journal (No. 167), although I have to admit I made all that stuff up.

After I’m dead there will be plenty of time for biographers and graduate students looking for an easy grade to construct completely erroneous (and, most likely, idiotically Freudian) histories of my life (if anyone is still around to care). I wish them all the luck in the world since I take great pains to spread as much public disinformation about myself as possible. By now, even I can’t remember how old I am or where I was decanted. If anybody does come up with accurate information on my past, I simply disavow or deny it. Works for me.

#2a Did you find a calling to your art early on? What called you to your art and vision?


My earliest “art” memory dates from when I was two, when I discovered that the contents of my diaper were suitable for the creation of a large-scale (to my child-sized point of view, anyway) mural on my Grandmother’s hallway wall.

#2b Was this calling actively encouraged (or actively discouraged) by your family and friends?


I am told that my Father had to spend several hours deconstructing this seminal work and was none too happy about the task (for reasons I didn’t fully comprehend at the time). I was strongly and physically encouraged by my family to switch to more traditional painting media.

#3c What are the place(s) your adult life has taken you?


Poverty, powerlessness, alienation and disenfranchisement, punctuated by all-too-brief periods of unrealistic happiness and modest public attention. I still have all my major body parts, which remain unpierced to this day.

#4a How would you describe yourself insofar as your relationship to the arts goes?


Adversarial.

#5a Do you feel that the future of the arts is encouraging?

We are probably in the last window of appreciation for art in general. Within the next one to two hundred years, our present civilization will suffer an apocalyptic collapse due to over-population, the melting of the polar ice caps, the spread of treatment-resistant diseases, catastrophic climactic shifting, the relentless poisoning of our planetary environment, the almost total extinction of all life-forms besides human beings (and their dominion of expensively protected and heavily copyrighted animal and plant commodities), not to mention the withering away of “Enlightenment” viewpoints as philosophy and science de-evolve into hideous religious tyrannies and willfully ignorant “New Age” pro- and anti-technology survival cults (with the singular exception of The Church of The SubGenius, Humanity’s Only Hope for a Future.).

Find Eternal Salvation for only $1.00 at:
http://
sunsite.unc.edu/subgenius/

The last thing on the minds of blind and birth-defect ridden late 21st century humans will be “art appreciation” as they desperately fight to the death over rusting canned food in a blighted, radioactive landscape of industrial toxins, dying oceans and fried dirt. It seems we started out as cannibals and we’ll end as cannibals.

In the meantime, I hope to be able to make enough money from my artwork to finish building my two-seater Escape Vehicle. Who will be my lucky passenger? Lottery tickets are still available for $2,185,000.64 (US) apiece (care of this site), date of drawing to be announced. Hurry, they’re going fast!

#5b Do you think that the present state of the arts is as good as it should be– as good as it was in whatever you might consider to be the "golden age"? (Is the future so bright we gotta wear shades? :-)

There has NEVER been a “golden age” of ART. Until now. Read history (accurate history— not the garbage that’s shoveled out through corporate media) and you soon realize that the current period is as “golden” as it gets. Historically, artists always got the short end of the stick (often inserted N.Y.P.D. style in unmentionable places). When they were allowed to “express themselves”, it was generally only permitted in the service of religion, commercial exploitation or political repression.

What good is ART, anyway? You can’t eat it, smoke it, have sex with it, sit on it, etc. I suppose some of it could be burned to keep warm (as long as the materials in its composition aren’t toxic or flame-proof). It’s monetary value is an illusion— a collective fantasy shored up by vampiric collectors and art-industry shills.

ART is a container for IDEAS. IDEAS are what is important. (For more expansion on this shrill and crackpot reasoning, read “The SubGenius Art Manifesto” by Palmer Vreedeez and Rev. Ivan Stang, included in REVELATION X, Simon & Schuster, 1994.)

Keep in mind that if “the future’s so bright we gotta wear shades,” this would indicate to me that one is either directly facing a thermonuclear detonation or a steady, relentless and cancerous bombardment of UV rays due to the lack of an ozone layer in our atmosphere. MASS DEATH will be the medium of choice for the astute artist-to-come. Skull sculptures and Skin-Block 9000, anyone?

#5c Do you see any dark clouds on the horizon for the arts?


As I said above, if things continue along their present course, it is highly probable that there will be NO arts— or human beings to appreciate it, for that matter. You might think I’m being snide here, displaying a artificially downbeat stance to shore up a “hip” and trendy cynical image for commercially exploiting the post-irony crowd. Au contraire, simply listen to any non-politically/industrially affiliated ecologist, sociologist, biologist, oceanographer, meteorologist, atmospheric researcher, etc. for an all too accurate and chilling prediction of humanity’s glorious future. It’s not pretty and “art” has nothing to do with it at all.

Some of my work will survive for at least 50,000 years even though there will be no one left to regard it on an aesthetic level. I have been producing original drawings laminated onto non-biodegradable plastic dishes for the last decade— my feeble attempt at artistic “immortality”. Perhaps these dishes will be useful in sheltering some future organisms from deadly solar radiation. I can only hope.

#6a What inspires you personally?

Personal survival.

#6b Whom do you admire or strive to emulate (in terms of accomplishment and artistic vision?)


Pol Pot and Pee-Wee Herman.

#6c Which works (in whatever media or medium) touches and inspires either your art or your own being? If pressed, what would you claim as your favorite works/artists/ performers?


Marcel Duchamp. He killed “art” in 1918 and that’s that. The funeral is still ongoing.

#7 How would you describe your outlook on life in general? (Is the glass half full or half empty?)


The water is spilled, the glass broken and the monstrous planetary oligarchy (multinational-corporate owners and their lap-dog governments) are using the shards to cut all our soaking-wet collective throats for their own short-sighted profit. On top of that, they’re overcharging us for the service.

#8 Do you have "guilty pleasures"?

I can’t speak publicly of such things until the statutes of limitations run out.

#9a Considering the medium we are dealing with here, what type of role do you envision for computer technology and cyberspace in the arts?


More lame images than ever before, with a much higher degree of instantaneous miscommunication and misinformation than was ever deemed possible. People on the Internet seem to be unable to even trade cooking recipes without having to resort to flaming each other.

What good is a library without a index-catalogue? If you want a picture of the future of Cyberspace content, imagine all communication being filtered either through virtual corporate shopping mall menus or a Beavis and Butthead level kibitzing— forever. An infinite public urinal wall filled with nothing but trivial graffiti or disconnected truths which are essentially useless due to their sheer volume and the lack of factual verification. The people that will have true power are the ones that can arrange all this hyper-fragmented information into databases and analysis matrixes.

#9b Do you think that cyberspace is a viable medium for the arts? Is it, in your opinion, an appropriate medium for the arts? Which of the arts are approprate, if not all?


Why not? How could it not be? For a short period of time, anyway. Until the electricity goes off. Then all these wonderful (and expensive) communication and creative tools will be so much useless plastic, metal and glass junk.

#9c Where do you hope and expect the relationship between cyberspace and the arts to go in the near future? In the far future?


What future? We’re blindly spending our future as fast as we can, consuming all the seed corn NOW. Malthus was an OPTIMIST. On a planet whose population has been reduced to Human Beings and Human Beings ONLY, the ARTS will become little more than mental masturbation, something to while away the lonely hours until the inevitable fall of the executioner’s blade.

#10a Is the concept of a virtual community for creative people something you think has merit?


There already IS a virtual “community” of creative people. Prior to the Web and the Internet, this community “created” itself through telephone lines— and the written word. Digital communications offer a wider, faster and more complex network— that’s all.

The more things change, they more they stay the same.


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