As I've written before, I spent much of high school hunched over a drawing board or sketchpad. Here I am (above) elbow deep in another drawing. Nice shirt. Right off the Horrific Polyester Seventies rack at Montgomery Ward.
I was an honor student, but not exactly driven to excel academically. I put forth enough effort to get B's, or A's if it didn't require too much work. But I avoided advanced classes (outside of art, music or theater). I knew what I wanted to do since I was 8 years old, and that was to make comix. Everything else was a waste of time.
But in art classes, I wanted to make comix and little else. This didn't sit to well with my art teachers, who were fairly old school types that believed in "foundation" work: watercolors, pottery, life drawing and such. I gritted my teeth and ground out class assignments for the first three years of high school, but by the time I was a senior, I'd had it with this boring crap. I filled that school with images in the 1978 school year, but none of it was "approved." Posters, cartoons, goofball drawings... I would hang things in the hall just to provoke and confuse, purely for my own amusement. Cartoons that I drew for the school paper and yearbook were totally indecipherable. Many, of course, starred my cartoon Dahmer.
Here's (above) the class assignment that broke me. Our painting teacher sent us out into the neighboring woods, the very spot where Jeff would secretly drink between classes, to collect sticks to paint. We spent an entire semester painting sticks. Sticks! When I complained loudly about the value of this, my teacher banished me from the art room! I spent the rest of the year drawing in the library (with Jeff at the same table!) during that period.
Below is a character sheet for a comix story I wrote in 1978. The script, if there was one, is long gone. It was a spoof of a hard-boiled detective story, ala Chandler or Spillane, and all the characters were based on my friends.
The character here that really pops out, of course, is "Father Dahmer," the neighborhood priest! I discovered this long-forgotten piece in a box of high school drawings stashed under my mother's basement stairs, as I was engaged in the herculean task of cleaning out her basement of 50 years of accumulation. I thought I had uncovered all my Dahmer artifacts years earlier, but here was a trove of drawings and memorabilia. Like all these discoveries, chills ran up and down my spine as I looked through this stuff.
When I saw this drawing, I burst out laughing in disbelief. Father Dahmer???? Good gawd. It was just a goofball riff when I drew it, but now it was creepy and surreal. Keep in mind, this is likely drawn from life, too. I'm sure I was staring at him as I drew his face.
The other characters are mostly based on members of the Dahmer Fan Club. The lead character here, Boris Murgerski, Private Dick (can't recall where that name came from), was based on Kent. And these three, below, are myself, Neil and Mike (l-r). I prettied myself up a bit here. I was far more hideous and emaciated, trust me.
The art teachers, for their part, hammered me for my "bad attitude." I received a D my senior year. When small scholarships were handed out at the end of the year, I was passed over. It was the price I paid for being an obstinate butthead. I could have, after all, given them what they wanted and reaped the benefits of playing nice. I could have painted stick after stick during school hours, then done my own work at home. But if I had, I wouldn't have strange and wonderful pieces like this. In the end, it didn't matter. I've gone on to a long career doing exactly what my art teachers didn't think was "legitimate" art. I'd be lying, however, if I said it still doesn't bug me. And that makes me laugh. Funny how this high school shit sticks with you.
I never forgave those teachers. On one of the last days of school, I went into the art room to clean out my file drawer. The room was empty, save for a few underclassman and one of the teachers. As I was gathering up my drawings of sticks etc, she shook her head and said "You were our biggest disappointment." I glared at her and said nothing. As I left, I dramatically dumped the armload of artwork into the big dumpster by the door. I never saw her or spoke to her again.
She passed away years ago. Wonder what she would have made of My Friend Dahmer? Would it have changed her mind about me and my work? Ha. probably not!
Curiously, that painting of the stick was in the same box with the Dahmer drawing, squirreled away under the basement stairs.