Cerio interviews artist MIKE DIANA

Mike Diana

Seconds #38, 1996 – interviewed by Steven Cerio

 

Mike Diana is not only an artist, he is also an honorary enemy of the state. In 1994 Mike was indicted on three counts of obscenity for publishing, advertising, and distributing Boiled Angel, a comics compendium that disturbed the pious inhabitants of his small Floridian town Largo. Awakened from their splendorous slumber by word of a young, long haired trailer park child led astray by the wiley temptations of Satan, those inhabitants set out to protect themselves and future generations from Diana’s morally questionable narrative. So frightened were they of his sordid tales of child and drug use that Mike was convicted and ordered by the courts of Pinellas County not to approach within ten feet of any child under eighteen of age. He was sentenced to perform 3,000 hours of community service and was ordered to keep within the County confines for three years. In the frenzy to assign fault to Mr. Diana, he was even questioned for the Gainesville student murders while in custody. His home became open territory for the police to rummage through for anything they deemed obscene. Sheriff’s could’ve even run Mike in for cohabitating with stripper Suzi Morbid. The par met in the hall of the Pinellas County courthouse, each of them on their way to their own obscenity hearings.

 

“The judge gave the probation office and police permission to conduct warrantless searches of my apartment for any signs of me creating artwork that might be considered obscene.”

 

SECONDS: Did you set out to be the world’s most violent cartoonist?

DIANA: Yes.

SECONDS: Florida hasn’t been the best place for a blossoming artist like yourself. Would any of that’ve happened if you lived anywhere else?

DIANA: Probably not. They’ve been after me for awhile and I think they saw this as a way to get to me.

SECONDS: Couldn’t they come into your home at any time they wanted to look for anything they deemed obscene?

DIANA: Yeah. They judge gave the probation office and police permission to conduct warantless searches of my apartment for any signs of me creating artwork that might be considered obscene.

SECONDS: Would that include pornography if you had an issue of Penthouse lying around?

DIANA: I asked my lawyer and he said just to be safe I should get everything out of the house that might be questionable. I had those probation requirements hanging over me for about three months until the Comic Book Defense Fund paid the bond to get me off probation. They never did check the house but I was worried the police were gonna raid it.

SECONDS: In the news reports of your case, the funniest thing was that they had a logo for you, like they do for a tornado. What did it say, “Case Of The Boiled Angel”?

DIANA: Yeah

SECONDS: At the time it was stressful, but were you also laughing?

DIANA: Yeah, I was. I’d get up at eight o’clock in the morning to court and I’d be in court for four hours. They had protesters out there and religious people that’d show up and tell me I had to find the Lord. I usually didn’t get much sleep the night before. After I’d been in court all day, the news was the thing to top everything off for the night.

SECONDS: Did your parents follow the case?

DIANA: They watched it but they didn’t like the way the news reports brought up the fact that I was a suspect in the Gainesville student murders.

SECONDS: Is your case over now?

DIANA: The jury trial and all that is over. Since the appeal, it’s in the hands of the court and they lawyers. I don’t think I have to appear in court again except maybe on violation of my probation charges because I didn’t pay my fines. I was ordered to pay a $3000 fine at $100 a month and I owe them $200.

SECONDS: You had community service, right?

DIANA: Yeah, and the psychiatrist bill was $1200, so I owe that psychiatrist money.

SECONDS: What good has come from all this?

DIANA: Sometimes people don’t wanna print the stuff but all the publicity helped to get my stuff published, like my drawings about the case itself.

SECONDS: Have you had any trouble with publishers over content?

DIANA: Not really. Brutarian magazine didn’t wanna print the “Pisshole” comic. They’d been printing everything I sent and this one time they said they didn’t want it.

SECONDS: Did you have some trouble with Fantagraphics when some artists refused to be published with you?

DIANA: Yeah, that was Zero Zero magazine. I heard some of the artists and readers of the magazine thought my work didn’t deserve to be in the magazine with other artists.

SECONDS: When people talk about your work, they can’t decide whether or not you’re going for shock value. Do you have any intentions when you sit down to write?

DIANA: I want people to think about what is really going on in the story.  A rape in real life is violent and I draw that out that way if I have a rape scene. Some people are just scared because they’re not used to seeing that stuff in regular comic form. It’s shocking that these things happen but I wanna make people more aware these things were going on around them, like priests molesting children. With Boiled Angel, the jury didn’t like the anti-religious things. The whole idea behind those anti-religious things is to be political. That should have helped me in my trial because if something has political value, it’s not supposed to be ruled as being obscene. The jury didn’t understand that, though.

SECONDS: I always sensed a deep sadness in your comics.

DIANA: Yeah. In Florida, they assume I’m trying to turn people into deviants, like these are comics that child molesters and pedophiles are gonna read, but I think it’s just the opposite. Those type of people aren’t gonna get into what I’m drawing.

SECONDS: How was school for you? It seems you’re always writing about traumatized middle school children.

DIANA: I didn’t like my middle school days. I was born in New York and moved to Florida when I was in the fourth grade. I never made a good adjustment in school. I was doing real good in school when I was in New York but I cane to Florida and we had a new living situation and I didn’t do as well in school as I used to. I know how much work I had to do to barely get by and pass to the next grade and that’s what I’d do. I was glad to finally graduate and get out.

SECONDS: Didn’t your mother treat you when she was training to be a nurse?

DIANA: When I as little, every time I was a little sick, I’d take medicine and get an enema.

SECONDS: She’d practice on you?

DIANA: Yeah.

SECONDS: Another things that’s prevalent in what you do is drug abuse. Where do you stand on drugs?

DIANA: I don’t use drugs myself.

SECONDS: Not even the light stuff?

DIANA: Every now and then – I quit drinking because of my stomach. It’s slowly getting better but it takes a while to heal.

SECONDS: You’ve messed around with light psychedelics, right? I see that in your work.

DIANA: I was never high at any time when I did my art. I’m usually sober when I draw, but it was an influence on my older drawings. A lot of the characters I was drawing fit in with the drug abuse.

SECONDS: Where do you pull your imagery from?

DIANA: Some of them are from nightmares I’ve had. Especially when I was young, I’d have nightmares every night. I always had this nightmare I was falling out of an airplane. But a lot of ideas come from dreams, and others from news reports. Like the “Baby Fuck Dog Food” story – the thing that gave me that idea was a true case in New York City. This stepfather killed his infant son and to get rid of the baby’s body, he fed it to the family dog, so they had to dissect the dog to get the baby out. Another idea I got from the alligators that are in the ponds here. There’s so many of them around in Florida now. There was one of these old persons’ mobile home communities and a lot of them have their own retention ponds with fountains. This little girl was visiting her grandma and playing by the lake and an alligator came up and ate her. As soon as something like that happens, they get rid of all the gators in the area. They kill them or catch them and put them in gator farms – there’s a lot of gator farms in Florida.

SECONDS: I’ve seen them sell gator skulls, too.

DIANA: Yeah, souvenir heads and skulls. They used to make ashtrays out of baby alligators. I saw an alligator lamp once where the alligator was standing up and the cord was going through it with a bulb and lampshade on it. I got this stuffed baby alligator with a prison uniform on. They used to have alligators dressed up like cheerleaders.

SECONDS: How much did they go for?

DIANA: Oh, like thirty dollars. In the Seventies, they’d sell baby alligators as pets. It wasn’t a serious pet; it was a fad.

SECONDS: Is it true about them resurfacing in sewers?

DIANA: Yeah, it is. It’s probably exaggerated, but I’ve heard of real cases.

SECONDS: Aside from being jailed, what’s the most negative reaction anyone’s had to your stuff?

DIANA: I’ve heard Dennis Warden, the cartoonist, hates my stuff.

SECONDS: What’s the worst?

DIANA: Well, when I was in Screw in New York somebody wrote me a postcard that said something like, “You’re a little no-talented punk and you should get a real life.” A lot of religious people come up to me and tell me I’m serving Satan.

SECONDS: Are people scared of you?

DIANA: My art is a lot different from who I really am and the way I act.

SECONDS: Isn’t that usually the way?

DIANA: Yeah.

SECONDS: Are you still using Flair pens?

DIANA: No, I’m using these technical pens and brushes. I’ve been doing a lot of acrylic paintings lately.

SECONDS: What’s the bare necessity for you besides supplies?

DIANA: Just any kind of an idea.

SECONDS: Do you derive inspiration from living in Florida, working in your father’s pizza shop or when you worked in his liquor store?

DIANA: Yeah, I always got plenty of good ideas working in the liquor store and pizza shop here. I used to draw wherever I was. When I was working for the school board, I’d get done with my work on the night shift and sit at a desk and draw a comic.

SECONDS: So, you work full time for your father at his pizza shop?

DIANA: Yup, making pizzas and lots of dough, but not a lot of money. That’s a joke I tell drunks when they come in. Church groups come to buy giant pizzas and I put a giant pepperoni cross on the pizzas.

SECONDS: Isn’t your Dad a slumlord?

DIANA: He used to be when he owned some of the trashiest apartments in Largo. They’d always write articles in the paper about him, like when he wouldn’t mow the grass. He got in an argument one time because the city said, “You’ve got to mow that property. The grass is too high.” They’ll come out with special rulers to see how hight the grass is and they’ll fine you. He just ignored all the letters and calls. When I started to be on the news, I said, “Remember when you were in the paper, Dad?” He used to have his won real estate business and it was called Buy Me Real Estate. On the signs he had a picture of his face with a big curly mustache. That was his trademark, a big mustache with wax. When he started turning into a slumlord, he got out of his own real estate and just started getting properties. The worst White Trash in Largo stayed at his properties. I always lived in his places.

SECONDS: Your dad must like your comics.

DIANA: No, he says they make him depressed.

SECONDS: Tell me some of the animal stories.

DIANA: In one of our houses, we had little tree frogs living in the shower. Little possums would walk through the house. My dad had a pile of garbage next to his bed and mice and rats were living in the pile. Before he went to bed at night, he’d set a mouse trap and catch a mouse right next to his bed every other night. He made the trap out of a piece of an aluminum lounge chair, a big board, and copper wire built into a spring. He also built a life size guillotine once that you could stick your head in. It had this big piece of sheet metal as a blade.

SECONDS: Did he use that to catch rodents?

DIANA: No, it was just to have in the backyard. It was an interesting place we were living – that’s the place we ended up getting kicked out of by the police. It was right after I got charged and the police were harassing us really bad. They sent a fire chief to look at our house and he declared it a fire hazard. Most of the houses in that are could’ve been declared fire hazards if they wanted to fuck with people, but they wanted to get rid of me so they condemned the house and gave us a week to move. We moved out and they bulldozed the whole house over. So we moved out of Largo. I’m living in Seminole now; that’s where the pizza shop is.

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