ANSWERS © P. Mavrides 1997
artist at: fantomas@ArtieStick.com
#1 What have you done that many people
consider ground-breaking? What is your special
talent, vision or claim to fame?
I spent five years (1991-1996) in a
struggle-to-beyond-death with the California
State Sales Tax Board, who chose me as a lab rat
for a novel scheme of sales taxing ideas and
Constitutionally protected First Amendment
speech. I won. Sort of.
While my case was about art, literature, ideas
and free speech, the struggle with the
bureaucrats was always over the form
of my work rather than its content.
Basically, the State Board of Equalization, the
branch of Californias government
responsible for the collection of sales tax,
arbitrarily decided that the creators of comics
and cartoons were not authors, but rather, merely
commercial contractors who produce
commodities not ideas, templates for
printing manufacturing not
manuscripts. Like true schoolyard bullies, they
picked me for their test case, figuring that a
cartoonist at my economic level would not be able
to muster the resources to fight their outrageous
Despite promises to the contrary, the BOE did not
wait for an established precedent with my
case it went ahead and sought back use tax
from The Creators Syndicate of Los Angeles (for
editorial cartoons that the syndicate distributed
to California newspapers) and a small Northern
California newspaper, the Siskiyou Daily News
(for cartoons published in its comics page and
editorial section). Use taxes (the
business equivalent of the cartoon sales tax)
were to be applied to every newspaper, magazine,
publisher, and syndicate who did trade either in
or with residents of the state of California. The
BOE was looking at a windfall of
hundreds of millions of dollars (at least) in
back taxes, an incentive that kept them playing
hardball with me for the entire five years.
How large was my BOE bill? Less than a thousand
dollars, but the damage the BOE ruling would have
produced was incalculable. Small independent
publishers, self-publishers and marginally
successful authors would have found themselves
unable to financially function under the
state-imposed burden of this tax ruling
exclusively directed at, and only at, their
chosen literary format unlike any other
type of author or publisher. A classic
illustration of how the power to tax is also the
power to destroy.
Even more onerous was that the BOE ruling had
created, for the first time in American history,
a system of government licensing of authors.
Because of the BOEs requirement that
citizens who collect sales taxes for the State
must do so with a mandatory state issued Sales
Permit, a revocation of this tax license for any
reason at all would have prevented an author from
receiving income from their California-published
work and also kept them from arranging
publication contracts. The de facto censorship
and governmental control of elemental speech
rights (by state tax bureaucrats, no less) was an
intolerable and shocking violation of basic
Constitutional liberties. Ignoring numerous legal
precedents, the accountants of the BOE placed
their duty to tax above the Bill or Rights.
Certainly California was (and still is) under
pressure to generate new sources of revenue
income, but eradicating the constitutional
guarantees of its citizens freedom to speak
was no solution.
Alarmed by the broad First Amendment implications
of the case, the American Civil Liberties Union
Foundation of Southern California filed a legal
brief with the Board challenging the tax bureau's
ruling. The ACLU, which does not normally become
involved in tax issues, pledged to litigate on my
behalf, if it came to that.
My situation was akin to being rubbed with a
piece of sandpaper in one spot for several years.
Or perhaps a slo-motion car crash where it takes
half a decade to go through the windshield. Even
today, Im still picking shards of glass out
of my brain. Theres nothing like spending
five years with lawyers and tax accountants to
reduce ones sense of humor to zero.
It took five years, three corporate law firms,
the American Civil Liberties Union., the Comic
Book Legal Defense Fund, the California Newspaper
Publishers Association, a national press
campaign, and a quarter million dollars in legal
fees, expenses and income loss to make these
bureaucratic goons back off an inch or two.
While cartoonists who both write and
draw are now clearly protected from
this form of taxation (through the narrowest
possible reading of the new regulations by the
BOE), the state of California continues to reduce
authors and artists alike to poverty with
oppressive sales tax laws directed at individual
creators. Currently, the National Cartoonists
Society and the Graphic Artists Guild are
attempting to correct these injustices through
legislative means. With the aid of State Senator
Cathy Wright, they have proposed the Commercial
Art Exemption Bill (SB #664), which is currently
being debated in committee. SUPPORT SENATE BILL
I could not have possibly even begun to fight the
government on this issue without the generous
help of several heroic organizations and
countless concerned individuals. If you want to
find out more about defending free speech and
what you can do to help, here are some sites to
National Cartoonist Society Sales Tax Page
Graphic Artists Guild Sales Tax Page
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund Home Page
American Civil Liberties Union Home Page
In the end, when the dust settled, the comic book
industry committed economic and cultural suicide
due to its own shortsightedness, creative
paucity, colossal egos and sheer greed while I
was busy dancing on their behalf (among others)
with the tax trolls. Currently (due to reasons
too numerous and complex to go into here) comic
book sales and distribution are now at an
all-time historic low and still falling. At least
this drawn out (no pun intended) death scene has
been brought about mostly by our own hands rather
than the governments. A victory for the
Right To Die, I suppose.
#2 How would you describe your contributions to
the creation of art and cyberspace?
Inconsequential. So far. Pissing in the ocean to
make the shoreline rise.
Except, perhaps, on an individual, case by case
basis. I have been told by various people that
exposure to my work psychically damaged them so
severely that they were unable to pursue careers
in law, politics, religion and the military and
were forced to seek permanent part-time
employment in the food service industry, due to
an ever-present bad attitude that left them fit
for nothing else. Of course, the best effect of
all would be to get lawyers, soldiers,
stockbrokers, politicians, corporate executives
and religious fanatics to kill themselves after a
single viewing of my art, something which, as far
as I know, has yet to occur.
Still, if I have kept even one small child from
growing up to become a Republican or Democrat my
entire career will be justified. And, in the
end when alls said and done
isnt that what ARTs all about?
#3 What has been the result of your original
vision? Describe the years when you were
developing your ideas?
I like to think that Ive had more than one
idea over the span of my creative life. This is
most likely hubris on my part. I probably have
never had a single truly original idea in my
life although Im constantly plagued
by useless and distracting visions. I
suppose Ive stolen all my really good ideas
(much like everyone else throughout most of human
history, except for the three or four
proto-humans who originally invented EVERYTHING
by the shore of some forgotten mudhole, long,
I am currently developing plans for a
planetary-sized performance/installation piece
involving the creation of continent-spanning
drawings composed from repeated and
controlled asteroid bombardment. Look out below!
#4 What is your favorite story from your highest
times? (You can drop names if you'd like).
In Spring 1978 I went on a wild night of L.A.
bar-hopping with John Lennon, William Burroughs,
Rudy Rucker, Reverend Ivan Stang, J.R.
Bob and Connie Dobbs, Dave Sheridan,
Artie Romero, the REAL Jimi Hendrix, Gerhard
Seyfried, Alex Cox and Andy Warhol. Guns and
dangerous drugs were involved, though I was so
inebriated that I cant remember if anyone
got shot. In fact, I cant remember anything
whatsoever about that evening, all my
recollections are based on the video tapes (now
missing). I woke up the next morning, alone,
pantless, face-down in a drainage ditch just
outside of Modesto, CA. To this day, none of the
people I was with (who are still alive) will
publicly admit to participation in that evening
or, for that matter, to even knowing me. As near
as I can tell, all witnesses have been paid off
to maintain their silence. The bodies are still
#5 What role do you hope, and expect, to play in
Staying alive as long as possible so that I can
continue to torment the people that dont
like me, hopefully outliving them so that I can
trash them in MY memoirs.
#6 What do you hope to accomplish next?
Staying alive as long as possible so that I can
continue to torment the people that dont
like me, hopefully outliving them so that I can
trash them in MY memoirs.
Life, Art and Cyberspace
#1a Where and when were you born and how did your
upbringing...and the times during which you grew
towards adulthood... influence your artistic
Ive already covered those subjects
extensively in an interview in The Comics Journal
(No. 167), although I have to admit I made all
that stuff up.
After Im dead there will be plenty of time
for biographers and graduate students looking for
an easy grade to construct completely erroneous
(and, most likely, idiotically Freudian)
histories of my life (if anyone is still around
to care). I wish them all the luck in the world
since I take great pains to spread as much public
disinformation about myself as possible. By now,
even I cant remember how old I am or where
I was decanted. If anybody does come up with
accurate information on my past, I simply disavow
or deny it. Works for me.
#2a Did you find a calling to your art early on?
What called you to your art and vision?
My earliest art memory dates from
when I was two, when I discovered that the
contents of my diaper were suitable for the
creation of a large-scale (to my child-sized
point of view, anyway) mural on my
Grandmothers hallway wall.
#2b Was this calling actively encouraged (or
actively discouraged) by your family and friends?
I am told that my Father had to spend several
hours deconstructing this seminal work and was
none too happy about the task (for reasons I
didnt fully comprehend at the time). I was
strongly and physically encouraged by my family
to switch to more traditional painting media.
#3c What are the place(s) your adult life has
Poverty, powerlessness, alienation and
disenfranchisement, punctuated by all-too-brief
periods of unrealistic happiness and modest
public attention. I still have all my major body
parts, which remain unpierced to this day.
#4a How would you describe yourself insofar as
your relationship to the arts goes?
#5a Do you feel that the future of the arts is
We are probably in the last window of
appreciation for art in general. Within the next
one to two hundred years, our present
civilization will suffer an apocalyptic collapse
due to over-population, the melting of the polar
ice caps, the spread of treatment-resistant
diseases, catastrophic climactic shifting, the
relentless poisoning of our planetary
environment, the almost total extinction of all
life-forms besides human beings (and their
dominion of expensively protected and heavily
copyrighted animal and plant commodities), not to
mention the withering away of
Enlightenment viewpoints as
philosophy and science de-evolve into hideous
religious tyrannies and willfully ignorant
New Age pro- and anti-technology
survival cults (with the singular exception of
The Church of The SubGenius, Humanitys Only
Hope for a Future.).
Find Eternal Salvation for only $1.00 at:
The last thing on the minds of blind and
birth-defect ridden late 21st century humans will
be art appreciation as they
desperately fight to the death over rusting
canned food in a blighted, radioactive landscape
of industrial toxins, dying oceans and fried
dirt. It seems we started out as cannibals and
well end as cannibals.
In the meantime, I hope to be able to make enough
money from my artwork to finish building my
two-seater Escape Vehicle. Who will be my lucky
passenger? Lottery tickets are still available
for $2,185,000.64 (US) apiece (care of this
site), date of drawing to be announced. Hurry,
theyre going fast!
#5b Do you think that the present state of the
arts is as good as it should be as good as
it was in whatever you might consider to be the
"golden age"? (Is the future so bright
we gotta wear shades? :-)
There has NEVER been a golden age of
ART. Until now. Read history (accurate
history not the garbage thats
shoveled out through corporate media) and you
soon realize that the current period is as
golden as it gets. Historically,
artists always got the short end of the stick
(often inserted N.Y.P.D. style in unmentionable
places). When they were allowed to express
themselves, it was generally only permitted
in the service of religion, commercial
exploitation or political repression.
What good is ART, anyway? You cant eat it,
smoke it, have sex with it, sit on it, etc. I
suppose some of it could be burned to keep warm
(as long as the materials in its composition
arent toxic or flame-proof). Its
monetary value is an illusion a collective
fantasy shored up by vampiric collectors and
ART is a container for IDEAS. IDEAS are what is
important. (For more expansion on this shrill and
crackpot reasoning, read The SubGenius Art
Manifesto by Palmer Vreedeez and Rev. Ivan
Stang, included in REVELATION X, Simon &
Keep in mind that if the futures so
bright we gotta wear shades, this would
indicate to me that one is either directly facing
a thermonuclear detonation or a steady,
relentless and cancerous bombardment of UV rays
due to the lack of an ozone layer in our
atmosphere. MASS DEATH will be the medium of
choice for the astute artist-to-come. Skull
sculptures and Skin-Block 9000, anyone?
#5c Do you see any dark clouds on the horizon for
As I said above, if things continue along their
present course, it is highly probable that there
will be NO arts or human beings to
appreciate it, for that matter. You might think
Im being snide here, displaying a
artificially downbeat stance to shore up a
hip and trendy cynical image for
commercially exploiting the post-irony crowd. Au
contraire, simply listen to any
ecologist, sociologist, biologist, oceanographer,
meteorologist, atmospheric researcher, etc. for
an all too accurate and chilling prediction of
humanitys glorious future. Its not
pretty and art has nothing to do with
it at all.
Some of my work will survive for at least 50,000
years even though there will be no one left to
regard it on an aesthetic level. I have been
producing original drawings laminated onto
non-biodegradable plastic dishes for the last
decade my feeble attempt at artistic
immortality. Perhaps these dishes
will be useful in sheltering some future
organisms from deadly solar radiation. I can only
#6a What inspires you personally?
#6b Whom do you admire or strive to emulate (in
terms of accomplishment and artistic vision?)
Pol Pot and Pee-Wee Herman.
#6c Which works (in whatever media or medium)
touches and inspires either your art or your own
being? If pressed, what would you claim as your
favorite works/artists/ performers?
Marcel Duchamp. He killed art in 1918
and thats that. The funeral is still
#7 How would you describe your outlook on life in
general? (Is the glass half full or half empty?)
The water is spilled, the glass broken and the
monstrous planetary oligarchy
(multinational-corporate owners and their lap-dog
governments) are using the shards to cut all our
soaking-wet collective throats for their own
short-sighted profit. On top of that,
theyre overcharging us for the service.
#8 Do you have "guilty pleasures"?
I cant speak publicly of such things until
the statutes of limitations run out.
#9a Considering the medium we are dealing with
here, what type of role do you envision for
computer technology and cyberspace in the arts?
More lame images than ever before, with a much
higher degree of instantaneous miscommunication
and misinformation than was ever deemed possible.
People on the Internet seem to be unable to even
trade cooking recipes without having to resort to
flaming each other.
What good is a library without a index-catalogue?
If you want a picture of the future of Cyberspace
content, imagine all communication being filtered
either through virtual corporate shopping mall
menus or a Beavis and Butthead level
kibitzing forever. An infinite public
urinal wall filled with nothing but trivial
graffiti or disconnected truths which are
essentially useless due to their sheer volume and
the lack of factual verification. The people that
will have true power are the ones that can
arrange all this hyper-fragmented information
into databases and analysis matrixes.
#9b Do you think that cyberspace is a viable
medium for the arts? Is it, in your opinion, an
appropriate medium for the arts? Which of the
arts are approprate, if not all?
Why not? How could it not be? For a short period
of time, anyway. Until the electricity goes off.
Then all these wonderful (and expensive)
communication and creative tools will be so much
useless plastic, metal and glass junk.
#9c Where do you hope and expect the relationship
between cyberspace and the arts to go in the near
future? In the far future?
What future? Were blindly spending our
future as fast as we can, consuming all the seed
corn NOW. Malthus was an OPTIMIST. On a planet
whose population has been reduced to Human Beings
and Human Beings ONLY, the ARTS will become
little more than mental masturbation, something
to while away the lonely hours until the
inevitable fall of the executioners blade.
#10a Is the concept of a virtual community for
creative people something you think has merit?
There already IS a virtual community
of creative people. Prior to the Web and the
Internet, this community created
itself through telephone lines and the
written word. Digital communications offer a
wider, faster and more complex network
The more things change, they more they stay the