by Jeff Milo
Learn to love the bomb.
An interview with Ryan Standfest
“Dr. Strangelove” (1964, dir. Stanley Kubrick)- was co written by Terry Southern, another key influence upon the multifaceted Ryan Standfest, local publisher / artist / writer / performance artist
and that startlingly satirical, horrifyingly hilarious film’s subtitle is telling of Standfest’s own tweaked take on life: to suggest how one could “stop worrying” and “learn to love the bomb.”
That humans would use their ingenuity for crafting metallic piñatas packed with lethal hellfire to thus drop upon themselves, upon their home, the planet, is such a highly wound intensity of pure absurdity that one has to laugh. Truly: dark humor.
Standfest, who curated / edited his 2nd anthology for his Rotland Press imprint (Black Eye 2, out this month, featuring comics and essays exploring “humor and despair”).
Standfest (currently an Advisor in the Wayne State University Department of Art and Art History, profiled in a previous blog post), is drawn to that zone of discomfort between the funny and the unfunny. He even went as far to curate a show themed thusly: “Funny/Not-Funny,” a few years prior, just the first of a series of shows he would subsequently curate or jury-for
“Perhaps that’s a kind of ‘anti-humor.’ Maybe it’s not really humor. It’s certainly not comedy. I’m not interested in laughs or the release that accompanies laughter. I don’t see life as a series of punch lines.”
André Breton, founder of the modern Surrealist movement, coined the term “Humour Noir,” and Standfest responded to that 20th century anti-artist's suggestion that it reflected the “paradoxical age we live in
I still believe this to be true, more than ever. I find most humor in popular culture to be irrelevant. Very little of what is called humor today addresses the absurd.”
Standfest’s Rotland was born a few years prior out of the inspirations wrought from “Funny/Not-Funny’s” curation. With his art, texts and performances (as well as the works he commissions from artists all around the world) he’s trying to “deal with the uneasy combination of humor and despair and reflect upon the absurd. We all grow up knowing the absurd. It seems appropriate, then, as a language of expression
” (Picture Slim Pickens straddling a Hydrogen Bomb like a bucking bronco as he yeehaws-his-happy-way down, down, down, towards his own and humanity’s annihilation).
The idea with Rotland Press and Black Eye (1 and 2) is that transgressive, biting material, avant-garde art that sneers slyly or winks wickedly, can be delivered in the straightest way, with cleanly aesthetics in page layout and design – madness framed magnificently.
For some, though, they react negatively to this kind of art. Often without understanding why: knee-jerkers.
Allies of Standfest were transporting Black Eye 1 over the border, to a comics convention in Toronto when the Border Patrol Officers started snooping through the car, paging through the works and images and falling upon a particularly racy, somewhat horrific image, sketched in a retro, merry little cartoonish style.
Confused mostly, but ostensibly offended? The Border Patrol Officer insisted that this “be sent to Ottawa for review” since it “might be pornographic,” thus putting it at risk of being banned. The panel convened, deciding it wasn’t pornographic, leading to that book selling quite well, actually, because of the press attention it had briefly drummed up.
“Panic,” says Standfest, like that of the Border Patrol Officer, “isn’t focused. I think we all experience panic. It’s a state of anxiety. What do I do? You have to develop a strategy to de-panic yourself. Humor is part of that. It’s always been a distancing-mechanism. You’re not in the white-hot heat of the situation and you’re able to stand back, identify the absurdity of the situation
” (consider “loving” the bomb) “
and therefore neutralize it.”
Rotand Press, his collaborations with other artists and his own work, is a way for Standfest to de-panic.
But now that Black Eye 2 is out, what does the future hold? Hopes
says Standfest, for the establishment, or edification of
a comic scene here in Detroit. Because after studying in the fresh-air and green-acre climes of Iowa (for grad school in the arts) and after living out in New York for a year and a half, he’s certain he does not want to leave his home town.
“I would love to see an independent comics scene in Detroit, just as there is in Chicago and New York. For some reason there isn’t. Instead there seems to be a clamoring for cape-wearing comics, where a reader can seek refuge in escapist fantasy rather than developing narratives and lines of inquiry and attack that creatively confront the reality of the environment we are living in
Think of it
The reality we are living in involves us dropping bombs on ourselves. How absurd is that? Rotland is about finding away to address that
More information on Rotland and Black Eye 2 -here.
Promotional Poster Art by Sarah Randles.