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Friday, March 19, 2004

Putting the ME in METH -- It occurs to me that my insightful satire of Clifford Meth's paranoid, narcissistic column on Barry Windsor-Smith may have, at the last, been entirely too subtle for the novice to appreciate. Therefore, let's examine the actual Meth column and see what lies at the heart of his particular (and peculiar) psychopathology.

A Rare (and Unappreciated) Barry Windsor-Smith Citing

First, I find it fascinating that a man who is about to claim to be an experienced and much-in-demand journalist would spell "sighting" that way.

By Clifford Meth

I've told this story before, but recent events invite its retelling: It was in the early days of Wizard's existence that I was invited to write for the fledgling magazine. The invitation came from Pat O'Neil, a former editor at ComicScene who had bought my articles before. He offered me twice what I’d been getting from ComicScene. It’s important to note that these were not halcyon days for me, friends. I was struggling financially. And at home, I had two in diapers.

For the sake of argument, we'll assume he means "two children."

One day, I received a call from O'Neil asking if I'd be interested in doing a feature on Barry Smith.

“Sure,” I said. “I loved his work on Conan.” So the very next day, I attempted to contact Barry. One of his assistants, a woman, answered the phone. I explained that I was calling on behalf of Wizard and asked for an interview.

“Barry doesn't give phone interviews,” she said. “You'll have to fax your questions and he'll review them. If he's interested, he'll get back to you.”

It might strike even the most generous of readers to think that this was a bit demanding and off-putting of Windsor-Smith. That is, until one reflects on the fact that at the time, BWS was full engaged in producing BWS: Storyteller, an oversized, 32-page, ad-free comic book for Dark Horse comics. Barry was writing, pencilling, inking and colouring the series. Upon reflection, one might concede that, well, the guy had more important things to do than personally address each media inquiry in an immediate and accomodating manner. Unless one is Clifford Meth, that is:

It wasn’t what she said so much as the way she said it. Really snotty.

That's some journalism, there.

So I'll admit I was a little put off. In my career as a freelance journalist with the L.A. Times Entertainment Newswire and about four-dozen magazines, I'd interviewed lots of people from John Scully (C.E.O. of Apple Computers) to Frank Zappa; from Howard Stern to Mickey Mantle; poets, playwrights, actors and actresses; scientists, athletes and religious leaders.

Translation: "Clifford Meth is a very, very, VERY important Journalist. Good thing he points this out, because before this past Wednesday, I'd never heard of him. Astonishing, really, considering the bio he presents on his column page at Silver Bullet Comics:

"'Clifford Meth is one of dark fiction’s best kept secrets,' says Barnesandnoble.com. But it’s more than fiction. It’s the whole Meth persona. He has Blackbelts in Shotokan and TaeKwonDo. He’s been drunk with Evel Knievel and is one of the few guys Howard Stern trusted with an interview. Frank Zappa trusted him, too. So did Timothy Leary. His articles have been syndicated by The L.A. Times Entertainment Newswire. You've seen him in Billboard and dozens of other magazines. His writings have been praised by Kurt Vonnegut, Harlan Ellison, Jim Steranko, Pete Townsend of The Who, and the international Literary Review. Until you’ve read one of Meth’s books, you’ve missed something unique. And you have nothing to lose. His publisher is so confident that all of Meth’s books are offered with a unique money-back guarantee: Buy it, read it, and if you’re not delighted, send it back for a full refund. His current book is 'god’s 15 minutes' from Aardwolf Publishing"

Me, I interviewed M*A*S*H's Mike Farrell once. Boy, when it comes to capital-J Journalism, I suck! On the other hand, when it comes to pretension, Meth's resume and insistence on posting it at length on his column page makes Barry's name-change look humble, indeed.

And if I'd only learned one thing at that point in my career it was this: A fish rots from the head. When someone's -people- act that way, it's coming from the top.

So, Meth has now spent a grand total of perhaps five minutes on the phone with one of Barry's assistants, and already this Journalist has decided "A fish rots from the head." I submit to you that it's already apparent Meth is seriously fucked in the head, but, let's continue:

But there are exceptions. So I persisted.

I typed up a list of questions and proceeded to fax them the next morning. Later that afternoon, I received a call. It was Pat O'Neil. He informed me that I was off the story.

“What happened?” I asked.
“They said you were rude to them,” Pat reported.
“They said I was rude?”
“And they said you called him ‘Mister Smith’ in your fax.”
“Isn't that his name?” I asked.
“It's Windsor-Smith,” said O'Neil.

Now, interestingly, Cliffy doesn't provide us with such a word-by-word transcription of his conversation with the unidentified female BWS Studio assistant. I would be very interested to know if he referred to Barry as "Barry Smith" during that call, and whether this woman would have corrected him, and what Meth's reaction to someone daring to correct him might be. Because I suspect the true origin of the BWS Studio claim that Meth was rude involved more than simply not knowing the man's name. So, again, too bad for us and for posterity that Meth conveniently remembers every single word of a decade-old conversation with his editor, but not the conversation that preceeded it by only a single day.

I squinted, ran my hand through my beard, then said, “Hang on a minute.” I ran downstairs and pulled out my autograph book. Then I grabbed my copy of Conan #1. Then I ran back to the phone. “I have Conan #1 in my hand,” I said to O’Neil, still out of breath. “The credits say Roy Thomas and Barry Smith. I also have my autograph book. Barry signed it at the first MarvelCon... Here it is. ‘Best wishes--Barry Smith.’”

Now, most people at all interested in Barry know that he added "Windsor" to his name in the 1970s. Most sane people will also understand that he had every right to do so, and that the reasons are nobody's business but his own. But in the next section, we see how irritated Meth seems to be by this fact:

“He changed it,” said O'Neil.
“Gosh,” I said. “I feel like such a fool! How could I have missed such an important news item?”
“You're off the story,” said O'Neil.
“At least let me call and apologize,” I offered. “I don't want to leave it like this.”
Ok, said, O'Neil. Call and apologize.

Now, one would have to be disingenuous to the extreme not to see the sarcasm inherent in Meth's claim that he told his editor "Gosh, I feel like such a fool! How could I have missed such an important news item?" The contempt he feels for Windsor-Smith and his temerity at changing his name is extremely obvious.

So I called again the next morning again. “This is Clifford Meth,” I said to the person who answered the phone at the Windsor-Smith Studios. At least I assumed it was a person.

What the fucking fuck does that mean, the sane reader asks?

“I'm calling from Wizard magazine and—”
“I thought we made it clear that you shouldn't call here.”
“Who am I speaking with?” I asked.
“This is Alex Bialy. I'm the office manager.”
“What did I do wrong?” I asked.
“You don't even know Mr. Windsor-Smith's last name,” said Bialy. “Now you're not to call here again. Do you understand?” And with that, he hung up.

Now, this is where Meth's alleged capital-J Journalism meets actual journalism in a very interesting and telling manner. Up until now, I am willing to accept Meth's story pretty much at face value. As someone who has been a journalist for nearly 20 years (although I have never interviewed Howard Stern or the Pope, I'll admit -- but I do know how to spell "sighting," so at least there's that), I know that not every single interview attempt is going to succeed. Sometimes they fail spectacularly. Sometimes it's the journalist's fault, sometimes it's the potential interviewee's fault, sometimes a combination of both -- and most likely, every once in a while, it's nobody's fault in particular; things sometimes just don't click, and you don't get the interview. A sane, normal journalist will regret the circumstance, and get on with their life. Not Meth, though. That's not nearly dramatic or self-affirming

I sat there for a moment waiting for the feeling to come back into my head. Then I felt it. I was hurt.

And here it all begins. A decade of drama and insult and hurt feelings, every single drop of it residing solely in the head of this little, little man who believes he is a capital-J Journalist who Will Not Be Denied, Insulted or Fucked With.

like an idiot, I called back again.
“Bialy?” I asked.
“This is Clifford Meth. Just answer one question: What the hell is your problem?”
But I never did get the answer because he hung up. And that afternoon, Pat O'Neil called me to tell me I was fired.

Now, I know what you're thinking. O'Neil should have backed me up. Yessir. I agree.

It almost seems like satire, doesn't it? This guy is taken off a story but refuses to leave the by-now harrassed-feeling BWS Studio people alone. And he thinks he doesn't deserve to get fired?

You're also thinking there's an odd chance that this was all put in motion by Bialy, not Windsor-Smith; that the big boss knew nothing of these events. Well, I thought that, too. So I called Windsor-Smith’s home and left a message on his answering machine. The message was brief, explanatory, and apologetic. I left my phone number. Repeated it twice. Slowly.

But I never did get a return call.

Why in hell would any sane person expect a return call? Already Meth is admitting that he engaged in stalker-like behaviour, refusing to listen when told that BWS and his people didn't want him to call. Now he's been fired for his disturbing behaviour, and still he continues to stalk Windsor-Smith, tracking down his home phone number and making what any reasonable person would know is an extremely unwelcome call.

That, my friends, was a decade ago. Why recall it now?

Yes, why? Did Barry Windsor-Smith shoot his dog? Run over his grandmother? Surely, Meth must have suffered some massive injustice to justify the dredging up of a decade-old incident about which virtually no human being on Earth could possibly give a flying fuck. Well, here it is:

Well, recently, I received an email from one of Barry Windsor-Smith's associates—an artist of acclaim whose work I admire very much. Like so many of his peers—most, in fact—he was contributing to The Uncanny Dave Cockrum Tribute book that I'm editing for Aardwolf Publishing. And he wanted to know why Windsor-Smith had not been invited.

So I phoned this artist and told him the story. He wasn't the least bit surprised.

“Look,” I said. “I’m a forgiving guy. Just tell Barry to call me. I've always admired his work on Conan.”

"Just tell Barry to call me." He's like the Terminator, isn't he? He Just Will Not Stop, until he gets the attention of the object of his stalking.

But Windsor-Smith didn't call. Instead, another artist phoned on his behalf. He said that Windsor-Smith was worried. He feared that if he contributed a piece to the book (a project I've been working on for months) I might reject it.

“Tell him to call me,” I said. “Here's my phone number.”

Nothing less than the full and complete attention of Windsor-Smith will satisfy this man.

But Windsor-Smith didn't call. Then, a day before the deadline, Aardwolf Publishing’s secretary received an email from none other than Alex Bialy. The note said that Windsor-Smith’s art would be arriving a little late and that Aardwolf should hold open a place for it. It also insisted on knowing full details of the benefit auction, distribution of the book’s proceeds, and so forth.

Entirely reasonable, since Windsor-Smith drawings are extremely rare in the marketplace and highly valued. It's also understandable that Barry would want to be certain that the auction is on the up-and-up. I have known Barry for five years now, and if there's one thing I've learned in that time, from seeing him interact with his peers at conventions and from talking extensively about his time in comics and the people he's known, it's that he has an enormous, almost awed respect for his fellow creators, and a strong sense of wanting them to be treated decently and ethically.

Aardwolf's secretary sent Bialy the following reply: “Clifford Meth is the editor of The Uncanny Dave Cockrum Tribute. Ask Barry to call him.” Then she gave him my phone number.

But Windsor-Smith didn't call. Instead, I received an email from Bialy. It said that Windsor-Smith would be contributing to the book and asked for my Fed Ex number so they could charge me for the shipping.

I replied very clearly: “Ask Barry to call me.”

Note carefully that even though Barry has had dealings with Meth a decade earlier that did not end well, even though this character, in my opinion, engaged in disturbing, stalker-like behaviour that got him fired from Wizard and continued to engage in that behaviour even after that, Even then Barry was willing to create a piece of artwork in order to help out a fellow creator at a time of need. Even if you think he's a pompous ass for daring to change his name thirty years ago -- even if you think he treated poor Journalist Clifford Meth with an appalling degree of disrespect and disregard, it's vitally important to remember that BWS was still willing to produce a valuable piece of art in an effort to relieve some of the suffering of Dave Cockrum. Is Meth at all willing to meet BWS halfway, then? To put aside his decade-long grudge and let bygones be bygones and put Dave and his health and well-being ahead of all other considerations?

Fuck, no:

As of this writing, I have not received a call. But I have thought about this situation long and hard, friends. I've meditated on it and fasted for days in an effort to humble my soul.

Perhaps he should have been stalking Dave Sim all these years?

I've looked into the deepest depths of my being and decided that I should forgive Barry Windsor-Smith for what he did to me (and what I can only imagine he's done to others). Even if I am beneath personally calling.

It's unfair to hold royalty to the standards of common courtesy when, after all, those standards are so common. And Windsor-Smith is a most uncommon man. His work is so brilliant, in fact, that I think it unfair to subject it to indifferent eyes. A collection of sketches by mere “comic” artists has no place in the same publication as a Windsor-Smith rendering.

Further, I think it unfair to subject someone as important as Barry Windsor-Smith to my unworthy company; unfair to ask him to descend from Olympus and grace this editor—whose career he offhandedly stepped on as if it were a bug—with his divine etchings of unparalleled perfection.

So, no, my friends—Barry Windsor-Smith will not be appearing this evening.

Clifford Meth

So Meth is excluding one of the most popular and talented artists ever to work in comics from this project. Why? Read it, it's all right there: Because Barry won't call him on the phone. Barry Windsor-Smith has violated Clifford Meth's Constitutional RIGHT to get a phone call from the object of his enduring love/hate obsession.

The most important thing to realize, here, my friends, is that Meth used Dave Cockrum's dire, life-threatening illness as an excuse to dredge up his decade-old grudge against Barry Windsor-Smith. Even if every single slight Meth alleges BWS committed against him is true, it is still loathsome and extremely troubling that he would use Cockrum and his illness as a launching pad for his outraged screed. The more I study this column, the more disgusted and disturbed I am. It is astonishing to me that anyone could read Meth's own words and not be able to see just how twisted his motives are in this, and just how tainted the Dave Cockrum charity book has become.

I strongly urge all of you to eschew purchase of this book, and send your money directly to Dave Cockrum. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the only Paypal address I can find online is one to buy Meth's ego-driven and ego-tainted book. What a shocking non-surprise.


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