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Studio Visit: Keith Mayerson

A couple of years ago, I found an old dog-eared copy of Horror Hospital Unplugged at a comic book store in Brooklyn. I saw Dennis Cooper’s name emblazoned on the cover as the author, which was enough to make me buy it. He's been a favorite writer of mine since high school, but I never realized he'd written a comic. I haggled with the store owner, got the price down to $20, wrapped it in an old T-shirt I had in my backpack so it wouldn't get further creased and ran home to read it.

What I found when I got home was everything I ever hope to find anytime I buy a new comic: an angsty mix of beautiful and grotesque illustration and references to Hüsker Dü. But it had one thing that comics almost never have: a gay protagonist. Written in the midst of the queer explosion of the 1990s, there's a gay sex scene and cameos from a slew of gay icons. For a comic fan like me, who has spent a lifetime reading about the personal lives of mostly heterosexuals, it seemed like a salvation. The book centers on Trevor Machine, a young queer punk in Los Angeles who is visited by the ghost of River Phoenix and warned of his untimely death. This all made Horror Hospital Unplugged the comic of my dreams, a single book that contained years of my pent up need for gay culture that appealed and applied to me. It made me emotional.

Dennis Cooper's words and story were great, of course; they always are. But the illustrations, done by Keith Mayerson, were some of the most incredible comic graphics I had ever seen. Mayerson slipped back and forth between styles—there were painterly evocations of death and Manga renderings of sex scenes. He drew River Phoenix as a distended head floating in a sea of grey haze, David Geffen as an extra-terrestrial and Courtney Love as a blood-sucking vampiress. Like any righteous fan, I did my research, found Mayerson's mailing address and sent him a note telling him how much I loved his work. He wrote me back to tell me Harper Collins was re-publishing Horror Hospital Unplugged the following spring, and before long, I found myself interviewing both Mayerson and Cooper about the book, the results of which you can read in FADER #74. Above is a video interview we did in Mayerson's New York studio. If I seem over-excited, it's just the rare joy of finally speaking to someone in person who previously spoke so earnestly and personally to me through the pages of a book.

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Studio Visit: Keith Mayerson