"This Is the Worst"
I think we can all agree there is nothing more boring to read than an internet posting about why the author has not posted in so long, so let us just skip it and you can imagine me living the busy and fabulous life of a essayist/cartoonist--reading The Oresteia, developing his new reality TV series Cat Fag! and dating actress Vinessa Shaw--instead of just taking more than the recommended daily dosage of cough syrup and watching a lot of Dr. Who.
I am currently on a writing retreat at my Undisclosed Location during a brief idyll before my summer book tour begins (see Pain news, below). I'm taking the opportunity to ransack the old Pain minicomics archive for forgotten treasures like this series. A precursor to my breakthrough "Famous Atrocity Photos with Humorous Word Balloons" series (see "The Cartoonist's Other Projects"), "This Is the Worst" is a mixed-media appropriation of preexisting art, in this case a series of ghastly engravings by one Jan Luyken (1649-1712) from a book called Drama of the Martyrs, whose introduction was written by my own uncle, a Mennonite pastor. I was first exposed to this book at age 12 when it was included among our bus's browsing material during a church tour of Europe that focused on various historical sites where our ancestors had been torn on the rack, drowned in barrels, and hung up to die of exposure in cages on the spires of cathedrals. Somewhere in there I demanded my parents take me to the Louvre, but mostly it was an unrelentingly morally instructive story of faith and superhuman decorum in the face of unspeakable tortures. I found this book queasily fascinating. I did not envision myself retaining the expression of pious placidity seen on most of these martyr's faces as I was flayed alive or devoured by lice.
I suppose you could now argue it was a low point in both my religious sensitivity and personal spiritual development when I used these engravings as fodder for witless humor with the "This Is the Worst" series. And yet over the years the thought of these cartoons has brought me solace. Whenever I've lain awake worrying over rewrites, loneliness, or the goddamn taxes, any time I've been laid low by heartbreak, hangover, or the flu, I always had available the consolation that it was not as if I were being roasted alive in a copper steer. Which all kidding aside truly has got to be The absolute fucking Worst.You put me inside a red-hot copper steer for like one second--in fact, all you really need to do is threaten to put me inside a copper steer, just mention that they're preheating the steer--and I will instantly and fervently convert to any batshit religion or ideology you want, even Christianity.
I was recently put in mind of this old series when my friend Jesse, whom I picture sitting awake 24/7 at the nerve center of some dark HQ ceaselessly scanning the breadth and depths of the internet for bizarre and amusing items to forward to his friends, sent me a blog post that featured a number of 19th-century illustrations (whose zoological accuracy and fairness is by no means up-to-date) of various allegedly ferocious animals attacking/devouring/sexually harassing hapless human victims. His subject heading was: "This Is the Worst." I have duly inserted the appropriate word balloons.
It appears I have matured not one whit since 1999 when I desecrated Luyken's engravings with my puerile scrawls because it was all I could do not to weep with laughter in the public library as I inserted the "This is the worst" balloon into drawings of the Carnivorous Plant, the lascivious Orang Outan, the Saw-Fish.
In the 21st-century spirit of open-source artistic collaboration I now turn this project over to you, readers. Below I have inserted the word balloon, "This Is the Worst," which I hereby invite you to paste over the images of your choice. This is not a contest; no prizes are on offer. But I will be posting my favorite examples here in the weeks to come. I look forward to your submissions.
My collection of essays, We Learn Nothing, will be released on June 11 by Free Press. I will be embarking on a whirlwind tour to promote it. My reading schedule is as follows:
Wednesday, June 13, 7 PM: The Strand (New York, NY), in conversation with Myla Goldberg
Friday, June 15, 7 PM: Book Court (Brooklyn, NY)
Monday, June 18, 7 PM: The Half King (New York, NY)
Wednesday, June 27, 7 PM: One More Page Books (Arlington, VA)
Thursday, June 28, 6:30 PM: Ivy Bookshop (Baltimore, MD)
Friday, June 29, 7 PM: Atomic Books (Baltimore, MD)
Saturday, June 30th (?): New Mercury Reading Series (Baltimore, MD)
July 9 or 10th (date, time TBA): Books, Inc. (Berekeley, CA)
(Still coordinating a reading at Powell's in Portland, OR)
Wednesday, July 18th, 6 PM: Town Hall Seattle (Seattle, WA), with Michael Ian Black and Meghan McCain
If there's a good bookstore in your area that you think might want to host a reading by me (and you have a guest bedroom/couch you'd like to put me up on) let me know and I'll ask my publicist to contact them.
"Tim Kreider's writing is heartbreaking, brutal and hilarious--usually at the same time. He can do in a few pages what I need several hours of screen time and tens of millions to accomplish. And he does it better. Come to think of it, I'd rather not do a blurb. I am beginning to feel bad about myself."
"Tim Kreider may be the most subversive soul in America and his subversions--by turns public and intimate, political and cultural--are just what our weary, mixed-up nation needs. The essays in We Learn Nothing are for anybody who believes it's high time for some answers, damn it."
author of Empire Falls and The Risk Pool
"Whether he is expressing himself in highly original cartoons that are hilarious visual poems, or in prose that exposes our self-delusions by the way he probes his own experience with candor, Tim Kreider is a writer-artist who brilliantly understands that every humorist at his best is a liberator. Because he is irreverent, makes us laugh, ruffles the feathers of the pretentious and the pompous, and keeps us honest, We Learn Nothing is a pleasure from its first page to the last.""
author of Middle Passage and Black Humor
"Earnest, well-turned personal essays about screw-ups without an ounce of sanctimony—a tough trick."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Kreider locates the right simile and the pith of situations as he carefully catalogues humanity's inventive and manifold ways of failing."
– Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Now available for preorder at:
Simon & Schuster