Clifford Meth interview

Clifford Meth is the author of such books as Crib Death & Other Bedtime Stories, Perverts, Pedophiles & Other Theologians, and Conflicts of Disinterest. This month, Aardwolf Publishing releases his latest novella, Wearing the Horns, which features a cover by Frank Brunner and interior illustrations by Dave Cockrum. Worlds of Westfield Content Editor Roger Ash recently spoke with Meth about his new book.

Westfield: What can you tell us about the story of Wearing the Horns?

Clifford Meth: I tend to write about real people in real situations. The entire oeuvre of divorce, or the "epoch of the divorce culture," as I've come to refer to it, crept up on us without warning. There's hardly a person I know who hasn't been affected by divorce. Either they've gone through it, or their parents went through it, or their kids did, or their brother. It's a traumatic happenstance that overtook this country, perhaps the entire Western culture, over the last half-century without anybody really noticing. But the divorce culture has a profound impact on how children are raised and on our psychological well-being. This was my premise in Wearing the Horns. I've always been interested in spirituality, too, or mock spirituality, so I combined those two themes to tell the story of a man's life.

Westfield: What is the significance of the title?

Meth: Wearing the horns is an Italian idiom for being cursed, but it really means being cuckolded - when one's wife has been unfaithful. In Italian opera, that's portrayed by a man wearing horns. What I like very much is the double entendre. In Europe, Jews were often thought of as wearing horns. That came from Michelangelo's famous statue of Moses, which had the Law Giver wearing horns. He did this because Moses is described in the Bible as having two beams of light coming out of his head. When he went up on Mount Sinai and received the Commandments, he was imbued with a divine light, which shone forth from his head. Michelangelo portrayed this quite literally. Now, from the middle ages well into the nineteenth century, Jewish communities in Europe were segregated. They didn't live with the vast population. So an uneducated person who had never seen a Jew before often believed that that's what a Jew looked like. I knew somebody who was in World War II who told me that when one of his fellow soldiers first discovered he was Jewish, he asked him, "May I see your horns?" So there's two reasons for the same image, really. To wear the horns literally means to have lost one's wife to infidelity, and then there's the cultural stereotype.

Westfield: Two of the major themes in the story are sex and religion. What made these themes, or this combination of themes, compelling for you to write about?

Meth: I think everybody is interested in sex. I certainly don't know anybody that's not. Maybe Richard Nixon wasn't. But these themes are constant in film, TV, and books because our culture is preoccupied with it. You can't find a movie these days without a sex scene. My story examines a man's self esteem and how his lack of sexual prowess affects him from an early point in his life. Little Herb, the main character, has a physical problem that he can't do anything about and so it becomes a psychological problem, as well. The only way to express that was through sexual imagery, as opposed to medically.

As for religion, there's a line in the book that says, "Little Herb was thinking about religion again. It's a theme that's on most people's minds - particularly those devout enough to call themselves Atheists." We're told that the things you shouldn't talk about in polite company are religion and politics. But everybody talks about religion and politics! Sex and spirituality are two of the driving forces in world history, and they particularly interest me. I've made a life study of comparative religion. Even as a teenager, I was reading more of the great religious tractates than your average man on the street - not just the Bible and its commentaries, but Buddhist koens [parables] and the Vedas, which are the foundation of the Hindu religion. Religion forms the mythos that our culture evolves around. In one way or another, most of our icons lean upon the mythology or legends that we get from world religion.

Westfield: Dave Cockrum is doing illustrations for the book. How did that come about?

Meth: I've worked with Dave for exactly 10 years now. We were two of the founders of Aardwolf Publishing along with the late Gray Morrow. Aardwolf was launched as a cooperative for projects that were having a hard time finding mainstream vehicles. So Dave was there from the beginning. We worked on the Futurians together, as well as a number of other projects, and we've become close friends. He's also the single greatest character and costume designer of the last three decades and, of course, he's responsible for creating 25% of the X-Men, including Storm, Nightcrawler, Colossus, Phoenix, and Mystique. As an illustrator, Dave only gets better and better over the years.

Westfield: How do you decide which scenes he's going to illustrate?

Meth: You could not have done this story as a straight comic. I've seen a number of stories comic book-ized, but it doesn't always work. So the next best thing is what do we illustrate? How do we not story-tell, but still bring out the most dramatic elements? These are things we sit down and talk about, but at the end of the day, I leave it to Dave. My only objection is when he's going to give away a plot piece. I don't want somebody leafing through the book and seeing a scene that gives away too much plot.

It's important to mention Dave's wife Paty. Paty was one of Marvel's main colorists during the "bullpen" days. She was trained by Marie Severin and also penciled odd issues of various Marvel books including Foom, Amazing Spider-Man and Claws of the Cat; she also had a run on the Pini's Elfquest for several years. Paty is a marvelous artist and colorist, and also a marvelous editor. She takes my stories and sees logical holes that I just don't see. So she's an important part of the whole process. She has several illustrations in this book, too. In addition to the main story, there are two "bonus scenes" because the book is presented like a film. We include two scenes that didn't make the novella - Paty illustrated one, and Mike Pascal, of Bruhead fame, does the other.

Westfield: Who are some of your influences?

Meth: The writers I grew up adoring were Charles Bukowski, Kurt Vonnegut, Anthony Burgess, and Harlan Ellison. But Harlan is the most important in the lot. His work is brilliant - pure emotion. I corresponded with several writers that helped me when I was starting out - most notably Kurt Vonnegut and the late Robert Bloch - but my correspondence with Harlan grew into a friendship. He taught me invaluable things about writing, the business, and about life.

Westfield: I balk at calling your stories horror stories. They don't fit the stereotypes. How would you classify your work?

Meth: The funny thing is, I want to write like Raymond Chandler and I end up being more flip and sarcastic than I intend to be. I want to write gumshoe, Philip Marlowe-type stories, and then "the real me" comes out. So, to answer your question, if I had to put any kind of classification on my stories, I'd call them dark fiction. They're psychologically dark.

Westfield: Any closing comments?

Meth: The state of the industry has changed very much since my last book five years ago. Everyone finally realizing that the only people who can afford comic books and related products are adults or very rich kids (or very smart kids). Books aren't marketed at children any more - they're marketed at more mature readers. That's good for me. I always wrote to a more mature reader anyway. I never wrote for kids. I believe Wearing the Horns will resonate well with my generation, with readers who have been affected by the divorce culture and have contemplated their own spirituality, and what that all means at the end of the day.