Tuesday, November 06

The 50 Greatest American Weirdos - Part 5

by Jason Toon


"When you're born, you get a ticket to the freak show. When you're born in America, you get a front row seat."
- George Carlin

Eyes thiswise, freaks, cretins, oddballs, and cranks! The long-awaited conclusion to our series celebrating the 50 Greatest American Weirdos is finally here! We've marveled at a parade of genuine bizarrity as we've counted down from #50 to #11. Now we get to the titanic weirdos whose overpowering freakiness shifted where America's collective head was at. Now we rescue these icons of iconoclasm from the Museum of Approved Culture and restore them to their true destiny of the truly weird. You probably think you're familiar with all ten of these weirdos, but I hope I can remind you just how strange they really are...

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4
 


#10. Jack T. Chick: If you've never encountered one of the millions of copies of Jack T. Chick's ridiculous fundamentalist mini-comics floating around the bus shelters and laundromats of America, I both pity and envy you. Dive in right now. Chick's Evangelical mind-meld of impeccable draftsmanship and insane theology celebrates a vindictive and pitiless God, eager to consign children to the pits of Hell for sins like playing D&D or listening to so-called "Christian rock". No interfaith prayer breakfasts for Jack. There's exactly one way to Heaven, and his fertile imagination maps out the myriad ways clueless sinners can wander from the path. Hilarity inevitably ensues. I'm partial to the comically dystopian The Last Generation myself, but there are hosts of laughs lurking in the Chick catalog.

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Friday, July 13

The 50 Greatest American Weirdos - Part 4

by Jason Toon


"When you're born, you get a ticket to the freak show. When you're born in America, you get a front row seat."
- George Carlin

Our countdown of the 50 Greatest American Weirdos was just too much weird even for Keep America Week. I've taken a few tentative steps back toward sanity, and my doctor says I'm stable enough to take a crack at weirdos #20-11. Come with me now and stare into the void...

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3


#20. Henry Darger: For 60 years, none of Henry Darger's Chicago neighbors had any idea that the eccentric, solitary janitor was quietly creating one of the most massive and original works of art in American history. The 15,145 pages of In the Realms of the Unreal chronicle an uprising of child slaves against their masters in the mythical kingdom of Abbieannia, led by seven princesses known as the Vivian Girls. Darger illustrated this elaborate epic with hundreds of indescribable scrolls, combining watercolor painting, figures traced from the newspapers and magazines Darger picked up off of the street, themes of martyrdom from Darger's deep Catholic faith, and the phantasmagoric visions of Darger's own imagination.

Darger's mythology isn't easy to absorb. But his genuine anguish at the vulnerability and mistreatment of children - rooted in his own troubled, institutionalized youth - is never in doubt. When the 80-year-old Darger finally moved out of his apartment into a rest home, this massive work could easily have been pulped with the rest of the garbage he obsessively collected. But his landlord was a renowned photographer who recognized the unsettling genius of Darger's work, preserved it, and publicized it. It's been inspiring artists, writers, bands, and filmmakers ever since.

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Thursday, July 05

The 50 Greatest American Weirdos - Part 3

by Jason Toon


"When you're born, you get a ticket to the freak show. When you're born in America, you get a front row seat."
- George Carlin

For the week of July 4th, we're watching the social and cultural fireworks sparked off by the 50 Greatest American Weirdos, our countdown of the bravest oddballs in the land of the free-thinkers. It's all part of Keep America Weird Week on the Woot blog!

Part 1 - Part 2


#30. Steve Ditko: As co-creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, among many others, Steve Ditko was one of the handful of people who basically made Marvel Comics. But he had bigger ambitions, spurred on by his unfortunate addiction to a powerful drug: the works of Ayn Rand. After he left Marvel in 1966, his heroes were increasingly bleached of all color and fun. First came the Question, a faceless, pitiless urban spectre Ditko created for second-tier publishers Charlton Comics. Then came the even grimmer Mr. A (shown above), whose super power was apparently the ability to spout an Objectivist soliloquy in the time it takes a single bad guy to fall to his unmourned death. Both wore tailored suits, the ultimate rejection of the hippie era unfolding around them.

Eventually, he abandoned superheroes entirely, then storytelling itself, issuing ham-fisted libertarian tracts like Avenging World to smaller and smaller audiences. Ditko, who could cash in on his iconic status anytime he wants to, has remained true to his austere individualist creed. Unfortunately, that includes refusing to produce work that anybody might actually want to read.

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Tuesday, July 03

The 50 Greatest American Weirdos, Part 2

by Jason Toon


"When you're born, you get a ticket to the freak show. When you're born in America, you get a front row seat."
- George Carlin

Every day during Keep America Weird Week, we're counting down the 50 Greatest American Weirdos, the cranks, screwballs, and freaks who make this country greatly strange. We started yesterday with Part 1. Today, we meet numbers 40 through 31…


#40. Crispin Glover: "Unsettling" was not a quality that found young actors a lot of work in the bland era of Ralph Macchio and Andrew McCarthy. But somehow this beatnik-punk performance-art creep has been able to sneak his skin-crawling vibe into a stack of Hollywood blockbusters from Back to the Future to Hot Tub Time Machine, when he wasn't publishing deranged cut-up chapbooks. Swinging a platform shoe at David Letterman was his most famous episode, but his hysterically sobbed cover of "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'" is even funnier.

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Monday, July 02

The 50 Greatest American Weirdos, Part 1

by Jason Toon


"When you're born, you get a ticket to the freak show. When you're born in America, you get a front row seat."
- George Carlin

Who says patriotism has to be dull? America's true greatness is a lot more interesting than red-white-and-blue bunting, tricorn hats, and golf on the moon. Our country was founded as a haven for the oddballs of the Earth - what is freedom if not the freedom to be bizarre? While the U.S.A. may not be the economic powerhouse it once was, we still lead the world in CDP (Crazy Domestic Product). Every day during Keep America Weird Week, we'll salute the nutjobs who've made this the freakiest nation on the globe as we count down the 50 Greatest American Weirdos. Today, meet numbers 50 through 41…


#50. Pete Parisi: My 13-year-old mind was blown by late-night encounters with a public-access headtrip called World Wide Magazine. A slouchy cab driver with a video camera, a mocking sense of humor, and dozens of bizarre friends, Parisi wallowed in the seedy, surreal side of St. Louis for 15 years. No corner of the city was too grimy for him to push his camcorder into, no local institution too august for him to make fun of (and be escorted off the premises by security goons who never got the joke). Too bad he missed the YouTube age...

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