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MAY 2001


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May 31, 2001

"THE NUNS NEVER TAUGHT ME HOW TO DANCE ON A STOOL!" -Interview with Montreal cartoonist Jacques Boivin & cartoonist/sex worker/creator of Melody comix, Sylvie Rancourt by Mia Dee. (Pictured below: "THE BABY BOOMERS' CLUB "Before, I used to say look but don't touch I say touch but don't look!" excerpt, © 2000, Sylvie Rancourt)

Thanks to Mia Dee for the following interview originally conducted for the latest issue of Constellation (vol. 5, no. 3/vol. 6, no. 1). Put together largely by "the girls of STELLA," a prostitutes' rights lobby group & support organization for Montreal sex trade workers, Constellation is available around town (or for more information, write c.p. 989 succ. Desjardins, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, H5B-1C1).

In 1985 Sylvie Rancourt created an alter-ego for herself in the form of comic heroine Melody. Actually, this alter-ego may have been conceived years earlier, as Rancourt had already been working as an exotic dancer for 4 years before she put together the first edition & introduction to her character "Melody à Ses Debuts." It was during a temporary break from the business, due to sentimental reasons, that she decided to create her own autobiographical comic about life as a nude dancer.

"The comic encouraged me to return to work, I needed to work towards publishing & distributing my comic & I was determined to do this one way or another. It was this goal that lifted my morale & enabled me to return to stripping."

The comic was initially a way for Rancourt to "vent" about work as a stripper, to voice experiences that most strippers tend to keep to themselves out of fear of being judged by the common negative assumptions that stigmatize sex workers -assumptions that brand sex workers as criminal, sexually deviant, drug-addicted & so on... In fact, what I find particularly charming about Melody is her failure to overtly comment on or even acknowledge these negative assumptions & myths even though her characters are by no means void of these preconceived notions. For Melody is not a victim, nor is she a dogmatic symbol for the empowerment of the sex worker. She is who she is without apology -a young woman who likes to host sex orgies with her criminally-minded boyfriend & who happened upon a job as a stripper out of lack of any better opportunities. And Rancourt couldn't have chosen a better audience to first "vent" these stories to than the very patrons whom she performed for at the strip clubs. The first few photocopied editions of Rancourt's self-published zines were launched & distributed in the stripclubs where she worked.

"There was not one client who didn't buy a copy & find it interesting. Not one client left it behind. They would even read it from cover to cover in the bar instead of watching the stage shows. And that's when I thought, Damn! It must be good! The clients were the ones who proved to me that the book was good, even before I believed it myself & that's why I published it."

By 1988, with the support & collaboration of Jacques Boivin, a new Melody series was being published by Kitchen Sink Press, a leading American comic book publishing house who've published such underground comic stars as Robert Crumb. As well as translating Rancourt's text from French to English, Boivin also took over the illustration of the series at the recommendation of Kitchen Sink. It was decided that Boivin's realistic drawing style would more appeal to a wider American audience than Rancourt's "dessin naïf" style, although she would continue to direct the scenario. Together, they completed 10 issues of Melody as well as a book collection called "The Orgies of Abitibi." As Boivin recalls,"total book sales from Kitchen Sink Press was 120,000 copies!"

Melody's success is not simply due to the fact that it deals with an exploitable topic, it's Rancourt's shameless honesty & her ambivalence towards any specific audience that makes Melody such a respected & unique autobiographical work. Melody's character embodies an untouchable innocence. In one scene she's partaking in an orgy & in another she's gardening in total serenity. And at other times she seems to be hiding behind a mask of naiveté, which paradoxically, is one of Melody's strongest character traits, for her statements are usually open to more than one interpretation. In the first part of "Melodie Burlesque" (version francais), Melody takes the reader along for her first night at work as a stripper, in effect, answering what may be the most commonly asked question any stripper endures, "What was it like the first time?"

In this episode, Melody clumsily performs her first stage-show & private table-dance. Speaking from personal experience, the first time you take your cloths off for a customer is probably one of the least sexually expressive things you'll ever attempt in your life -all your attention is focused on not falling off the tiny stool you're restricted to dance on, while wearing six inch stilettos, not to mention all the while trying to gracefully choreograph the removal of your clothing.

After Melody's first ever table-dance, the customer requests yet a second dance to her amazement: "WHAT? You want ANOTHER dance? But you've already seen all of me!" Her reaction subtlety sums up how ludicrous it is that such an act as taking off your clothes for money can carry so much social & legal controversy. Seconds later Melody falls off the stool, landing ass-first on the floor, & without a hint of sarcasm, humorlessly replies, "I'm so sorry! The nuns never taught me how to dance on a stool."

Although Melody has always been restricted to an "adults-only readership," the comic is not without it's own history of controversy. In the early nineties, Melody caused enough sensation that the comic book was denounced by Family Circle magazine as "pornography in the guise of cartoons." Shortly after this statement was published, explains Boivin, 4 employees of a small comic book shop in Toronto were charged with "possession & sales of obscene materials," following a complaint made by a customer's mother who recognized Melody on the wall of the shop. And unfortunately, the owner of this comic store, Planet Earth, was unable to appeal the charges & soon closed up for good.

"A month later, another comic store was raided by Toronto's Morality Squad," says Boivin, "this time they seized 400 magazines, one of which was Melody, even though they were kept in a restricted area & only available to those 18 years & over. Again, the staff was charged & soon after the store decided to no longer carry "adult" publications. Not long after this, the police raided Andromeda Distribution's warehouse & because of charges brought against them, they decided to stop distribution of 66 comics that "may be considered obscene," one of which was Melody."

What is considered obscene or not by Canadian law is not such a "clean-cut affaire." As Boivin explains, "it's more about intimidation. Just the idea that a shop-owner might get busted will cause the shop-owner not to carry the book -even though he probably wouldn't get busted."

"As a result of this "comic scandal" of the early nineties, Andromeda, the largest Canadian distributor at that time, went bankrupt a few years later. Now there's only ONE distributor worldwide -American distributor Diamond & because they know that Canada is problematic in terms of "adult" publications, no "adult" comics are now being distributed in Canada. But this now has more to do directly with Canada Customs." Boivin continues, "Now no adult comic books, & we're talking about THOUSANDS OF BOOKS, are being imported into Canada."

"What's most ironic is that the first issue of a new Melody series, Melody on Stage, will soon be made available almost everywhere but in its own country of origin." Melody has a new American publisher, Eros Comix, an affiliate of Fantagraphics, but because of dreaded Canada Customs problems we'll have to cross the border ourselves just to get a copy.

For possible previous Montreal copies of Melody that might have passed under the radar of our self-appointed moral guardians try FICHTRE, rue 436 de Bienville or MILLENNIUM, 451 Marie-Anne East.

© 2001, Mia Dee

May 24, 2001


It is safe as well as depressing to assume that the young (I.E. new) "music scene" in Montreal is functionally dead end & it is time to acknowledge that this has to do in no small part with the state of fanhood. Extant punk-cum-new wave bands have virtually no hope of drawing new faces to their shows. Those who will show up in the future bear a nearly one-to-one correspondence with those who have shown up in the past. Thus the bands cannot aspire to ascend the ladder of quality measured by where they play, the kind of sound equipment they use & the standard of performance in general. A new band can be drastically misled because while it can accumulate a following that appears to grow & become more fervent, this following has a fixed outer limit -it won't extend beyond a certain number, or even a certain type of an audience. Ironically, as the new band gets better (as it is bound to do with experience), it will have to diminish its expectations.

This inverted, even perverted situation can only engender a compromised sound: the band resorts to equating mass appeal with success & blurs the distinction between accessibility & integrity.

It is pretty obvious that an inherent interdependence exists between performers & fans & that this relationship is grossly misunderstood in Montreal. For one, a performance of any kind can only remain one, by definition, in the presence of an audience; as such, it is the nature of a performance to build in & even characterize its audience. This is why such a premium is placed on taste in records, books, etc… For we all know that our aesthetic choices indicate a lot about us as people.

Given that an audience is postulated by a performance, what is the role of this audience? A fine line gives the tension that anyone who has ever been a member of an audience recognizes as delineating his/her role: somewhere between participant (by making the performance a performance) & judge. Now, these two are nearly mutually exclusive, & in their near cancellation of one another, they provide a good measure for the aesthetic success of a performance. The better the performance, the more reconciled these two roles become, so that for example, with a band, thinking that it is putting on a good show & getting up to dance, (clap, or whatever) become one & the same.

What happens in Montreal, where sophistication is generally confused for logic, particularly on the precarious border between music & fashion, is that the participation aspect of fanhood is obscured & ignored, while the judging aspect of fanhood is elevated as a mark of connoisseurship. In the downgrading of the participation aspect of fanhood, what Montreal "audiences" indicate is not only a complete lack of confidence in the performers, which can do nothing but undermine the quality of the very performance that they go see, but they also reveal their own pretensions in taking on standards of judgment that have nothing to do with their own environments & contexts. If their standards of judgment had more to do with themselves instead of being borrowed mutilations from outside fanzines, Montreal audiences would not be able to help participating in the creation of a viable & vibrant music community. It is the very act of borrowing that separates participation from judging, creating schizoid fans who can fancy themselves sophisticated observers who have the objectivity to judge.

A good hard look at the nature of fanhood would reveal the inextricability of participation from judgment, would highlight the fallacy of objectivity, & would allow for more fun to be had at performances altogether. Clearly, one of the first steps in transforming Montreal audiences (& hence, the performers too) from nihilistic "objective" perpetrators of mediocrity, to discriminating participants in the creation of an exciting music scene is the establishment of a forum in which these ideas can be expressed & communicated such as Sugar Diet Magazine

Marcie Frank, 1984

Originally written for a zine me & my band put out (pictured above) back when the term "alternative music" hadn't even begun to be put to use yet (for lack of anything better, "punk-cum-new wave" sufficed. I've since settled on the posthumous "post-punk" or "pan-everything"), it's funny how the article still more or less applies 17 years later (to all my creative endeavors anyhow). Marcie's now an English prof at Concordia University whose teaching and research interests include "the historical, theoretical and institutional aspects of literary criticism, gender theory, queer theory and theories of identity in both eighteenth century contexts and our own."

May 17, 2001

IN THE COMPANY OF WORMS! (Pictured right: Audience members threw tampons & birth control pills at Rick Trembles playing in drag with The American Devices circa mid-eighties)

Seeing as how this week's Motion Picture Purgatory is on the Warhol Factory's drag-queen classic, TRASH, I thought I'd yammer a bit about "Drella's" would be assassinator Valerie Solanas' thoughts on gender blur from a notorious text of hers.

Disgruntled over her 15 minutes of fame being up as a fleeting Warhol "Superstar," Valerie Solanas tried to shoot the pop art icon dead in '68, but he made it through. She was locked up & eventually perished after her release living on the streets destitute. She's survived by her incredibly hostile & articulate self-published S.C.U.M. (Society for Cutting Up Men) Manifesto. See the biopic I Shot Andy Warhol by Mary (American Psycho) Harron for an interesting take on her.


"Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex." -Valerie Solanas

Ironically, all the promise held by the very technology Solanas subsequently deems ripe for dismantling begins her virulent SCUM manifesto, along with an air of dubious scientific authoritarianism thrown in for good measure to help further her cause against the "biological accident" that is the male via his "incomplete" Y-gene. You see; as opposed to the (presumably) complete female X-gene, Solanas' male is an "incomplete female, a walking abortion, aborted at the gene stage" with the consequent proclivity for dangerous expressions of overcompensation. Therefore, maleness is unworthy of anything other than its eradication such as one would treat a curable disease. Solanas proposes that her utopian ideal of a male-free planet is immanent, pointing out how it's now technically possible to reproduce without males and to produce only females.

According to Solanas' manifesto, because of their unfortunate biological status all males are inadequate beings with an unconscious desire to be "complete"/females. Only through their persistent utilization of "public relations" (their one "glaring area of superiority over the female") have they historically succeeded in projecting the intrinsic traits they'd rather disavow onto the female species, contributing to the stunting of females' natural disposition for "grooving" with other females. In vain attempts to repress their inherent passivity & sexual singularity, she explains, men have consistently projected these same retrogressive traits onto women (who epitomize anything but). And any male efforts towards betterment are simply failed attempts at emulating females.

Solanas turns the tables by not only deeming disruptive and intrusive male characteristics such as war a result of overcompensation against female completeness and superiority, but art as well, disarming the male of any opportunity for relevant expression. Any attempts at communicating are calculated efforts on the part of envious males to silence, overshadow, or co-opt what rightfully belongs to women: the true capacity to connect with others in modes that men will forever be denied and never understand. In Solanas' utopia, the male's uselessness and dangerousness is an obvious, moot & cumbersome point. The quicker the cure the better.

Being slave to a compulsive, puerile drive renders the male an automaton with the inability to empathize, incapable of the kind of "absorption" with others that only women are privy to. Mysteriously endowed with the capacity to appropriate the male orgasm, she dismisses any sexual sensations a man might experience as merely "next to nothing." So insignificant is the male orgasm to the male, Solanas broadcasts, that it becomes eclipsed by an inevitable desire to be rated on performance.

And the cross-pollinating of cultural conventions is no way for males to surrender. To Solanas, the drag queen, "like the functionalist… has an identity; he is a female," but succumbs to the trappings of man-made stereotypes. To Solanas, effeminate mannerisms are a time-honoured manifestation of masculine denial. Allowed to emerge, these characteristics would be manhood's true colors, but they've been transposed onto women out of cowardice ("the female must act like a faggot") and a desire to anthropomorphize their vulnerabilities in order to create a scapegoat. Masculinity is defined by the cosmetic erasure and withholding of any admission of inferiority. This inferiority is also embodied in oppressed women's unwitting subscriptions to maleness. Effeminate women espouse male traits and "crave the company of worms."

Solanas deems homosexual men at least conscious of their passivity and "total sexuality," but as such, are merely less of a threat to the Society for Cutting Up Men and are to be encouraged so they can recruit like-minded males and eliminate themselves. Contrarily, the female has the capacity to transcend her body and "rise above (the) animalism" of the solitary experience of sex. Self-absorption is a male trait; unselfish "self-forgetfulness" is SCUM's agenda. The sex drive can and must be "conditioned away" to make room for the cerebral, something only women have the capacity to successfully conjure, by way of Solanas' undisclosed formula for rescinding such distractions as sex.

Gender differentiation, for Solanas, is a male construct brought upon by physiological inadequacies projected onto women. And to do away with differentiation would render womankind neutralist. The cessation of the production of females as well as males is also explored as a "natural course of events" following the inevitable, eventual, and technical elimination of aging, death, and future generations, thus disclosing Solanas' somewhat fatalistic longing for immortality, and an androgynous, utopian world devoid of any issues of repression, oppression and reproductive sex. With all males long gone, this world would presumably embrace unhampered cerebrality.

Would this world have to subscribe to the cessation of desire as well? Did Solanas envision the burgeoning of an all-encompassing, intrinsic "love" particular to womankind that can only be accessed by an unrestricted collective female psyche? She writes that "a woman not only takes her identity and individuality for granted, but knows instinctively that the only wrong is to hurt others, and that the meaning of life is love" (way to back your argument up by pumping three bullets into Warhol by the way). Can the potential for such a common bond exist between genders, or it hopelessly lost on the "incomplete Y-gene"? According to Solanas, I'm not qualified to ever know because I'm a "man." Just like she'll never know anything but "next to nothing" how it feels like when my cock spurts gobs of cum. Tit for tat.

Rick Trembles

May 10, 2001

Free online Rick Trembles color cartoon slideshow; THE ASTRAL PROJECTING ZOMBIES OF COMMUNAL CAN-LAND! (Pictured below: click on sample slide to start the show)

A couple of weeks ago I raved about Rupert Bottenberg & Mark Bell's mini-comic reprint, Arbeitees: Einer Industrium Dokument, put out by Montreal's Crunchy Comics (see April 26 Weekly Blather). When Arbeitees had originally come out (circa '96), the same assemblage also commissioned me to do a mini, resulting in Slideshow Blueprints, a collection of peculiar dreams I'd had that I wanted to eventually turn into slideshows I would narrate to an audience as an onstage lecturer. I thought I could use more slideshows in my "repertoire" since I'd already been performing one regularly around town with a version of a comic I'd published on the sexual history of a repressed wretch, "How Did I Get So Anal," (presently being completed as an animated film). The first story in Slide Show Blueprints was originally called "Hot Puddle" & detailed a conversation about dreams that occurred in a carload full of Montreal cartoonists (Simon Bosse, Rupert Bottenberg, Eric Braun & myself) coming back from a Toronto "comix jam" where I'd performed "Anal."

The "Hot Puddle" in question materialized after settling into a rooming house infested with a garden variety of cockroaches, following a midnight-move fleeing a dilapidated apartment that was starting to literally cave in on me (my slumlord refused to do repairs). I was also escaping an increasingly violent relationship dealt its death blow once the mounting drug-addled dementia of my "better half" reached a crescendo that put me inches away from the thrust of a knife. As broke as I was, the 60 bucks a week no-questions-asked dump did save my ass, providing me with a place to lay low for a while. Sitting in a "hot puddle" minus a phone was a relatively welcome relief from my previous arrangement, but sharing a communal toilet with transient alcoholics wasn't. (Legend has it that years ago, the TV show America's Most Wanted, was responsible for fingering a fugitive hiding out in the same chain of rooming houses).

Maybe someone can help me out here: the most baffling critters I encountered in that communal can were translucent, snakey, centipede-like bugs that would slither around in the tub as the last of the bath water would drain away. Being barely perceptible made them even creepier. They must've lived in the drainpipes. Needless to say, I only took quick showers. Any idea what those were? Nobody's ever been able to identify them.

Lending my zombie ass a hand towards the end of "Hot Puddle" lurks a rendition of drinking buddy Michael Will (a walking, talking horror film encyclopedia) with whom I've gotten together with every couple of weeks for the last decade or so to watch monster movies. He was originally offended at how slovenly & portly I seemed to have depicted him, so I should say that he's since shape-shifted into the picture of health & hygiene.

From the intro in the original B&W comic: "When dreams get vivid & wake me up, I just gotta write them down. I thought these would make good slideshows. With dreams you can get away with much fancy while retaining a degree of autobiography for realism…" Each color panel was painted in acrylic on 5X5 inch illustration board to be photographed & turned into slideshow transparencies (scanned from originals for Snubdom). Click here to start the show, or on the cop & zombie picture above. (Originals for sale: inquire via my contact address)

By the way, don't miss Da Bloody Gashes' official record launch tonight: free admission! (see last week's Blather)...

May 3, 2001

Record review: Wet paper bag a thing of beauty & balls! Da Bloody Gashes' debut LP rears its ugly, primordial head, PEDAL TO THE METAL! (Pictured right: click on LP cover to get to The Gashes' web site)

A dinosaur, let's say a Deinonychosaurs from the Cretaceous period (translation: "terrible claw lizard," human height, agile, ferocious & predatory) resurrects & lumbers out of a tar pit in the middle of town, limbs dripping gooey & constrained. As if hatching from a sinewy rotten egg inside the hot, fetid, volcanic bowels of earth, it lashes out, defying any notions of cuteness associated w/the newborn. Confused by its 21st century surroundings, it'd sink its slashing claws into the first bystander unlucky enough to be in the way if it weren't for the sticky molasses-like tar binding its extremities. It flops to the ground, trying to punch its way out of a wet paper bag. Anguished, guttural screams emit with more gurgling than intended, unaccustomed to expressing itself since millions of years & it's only a matter of time before it cleans itself off & strikes indiscriminately. Destructive force of nature mercifully shackled by plodding, stomping rhythm section for its own sake & ours. Strutting music for the manacled. Guitarist Suhrid Manchada's infectious noodling & intentionally deteriorating, garage-fuzz feeding back & blurting, recurring, staccato, anticlimactic, atonal punches on cue evokes the sounds of screeching, crashing cars dodging Deinonychosaurs' swipes. Drummer Katie Fairmond seems to prefer riding on earsplitting "crash" symbols (as opposed to "ride" symbols), providing a tinitus inducing white noise backdrop of constant shattering glass depicting a bloodbath of Deinonychosaurs inadvertently bodychecking scores of city-dwellers through storefront windows. Her primal, tribal thumping might've been what woke the critter up in the first place. Bassist/guitarist Yannick Desranleau provides thundering dinosaur footsteps that can be felt miles away, down to the bone, dog whistle-like, triggering a natural-born sixth sense all critters possess that something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong. "Wish I had a wishing well; wish my problems all away," rages singer Chloë Lum. Stuttering & stammering to the prolonged, amplified, buzzing static of a bad guitar jack as if to collect her thoughts & bide her time in the middle of having her own sensibilities assaulted, she rips into (dead serious) fury the kind of which might send Deinonychosaurs scampering back to the netherworld (out of humiliation).

Celebrate Montreal's current heat-wave with DA Bloody Gashes' steaming, sweltering monstrous debut 11 song LP Pedal To The Metal (they cover Leslie Gore's "U Don't Own Me"!) at their record launch party at Jailhouse Rock with Crackpot & Les Georges Leningrad next Thursday night, May 10th. Out-of-towners, order it through The Gashes' web site here

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