Shane Bugbee's dog, Roxanne, is a pit bull, but she doesn't seem particularly ferocious. She sleeps on the sofa for hours at a stretch and, when approached by a stranger, drags herself to the floor to allow more efficient ear-scratching. Her stump of a tail twitches like a beating heart.
"That dog will lick you to death," says Bugbee. "There's not a violent bone in her body. It just goes to show you: it's the owner, not the dog."
Nice doggy notwithstanding, Bugbee's cluttered, one-room Bridgeport apartment is pretty creepy. A sign on the front door shows the business end of a smoking revolver illustrating the warning: THIS NEIGHBORHOOD DOES MORE THAN JUST WATCH. Inside, purple walls dampen the afternoon light that struggles through two windows, one at each end of the room. It's hard to make out the dozen or so paintings on the walls, but if you step close you'll see original works by Wesley Willis and Florida cartoonist and illustrator Mike Diana. One painting, a small, framed image of a smiling clown on a black background, bears the signature "Gacy." A larger piece, a pastoral, is by Henry Lee Lucas. Shelves of books and CDs line the walls and a few tables and desks delineate an office area, with a computer and a fax machine, from which Bugbee operates his not so subtly named Michael Hunt Publications.
Bugbee recently moved into this space with his fiancee, Amy Stocky, and they're still bringing things in from storage. Also, any day now he's expecting his newest title, Diana's The Worst of Boiled Angel, to arrive from the printer. In September he'll release Extermination Zone, the collected issues of a zine called Fuck by the pseudonymous Dr. Randall Phillip. Over the last ten years Bugbee has written for and published zines and comics, sold T-shirts and art, released music, and even put out a series of greeting cards under the Mike and later Michael Hunt imprint. But these two releases represent his most audacious ventures to date--not only because he's printing 3,000 copies of both books, but because their content is so extremely disturbing.
"I put stuff out for examination," he says. "I don't edit. It's all artwork to me. It's all up to each person's interpretation. Some people could say those books are obscene. Some people could be horrified by them. Some people could find them entertaining and laugh at the whole thing."
Bugbee expects to sell the entire initial print run of the Diana book. He also expects his distributors to be so offended by Extermination Zone that they will return most of the copies.
"I publish stuff I'm interested in reading," he says. "I don't watch much TV. I sit around reading underground magazines. That's where I get my news. Either that or by listening to talk radio. I just don't like the media, period. They just distort things. That's why I'm into publishing Mike Diana and Randall Phillip. They're true American heroes. They tell the truth."
Bugbee was nine years old in 1978 when John Wayne Gacy became front-page news, and remembers reading the newspaper accounts avidly. "I was always into John Dillinger, Capone, and gangsters. My parents had books about that stuff laying around. But when Gacy was arrested it was all over the news. I was living in Streamwood, about half an hour from his house. It was really creepy--his house and his neighborhood looked just like mine. He became the new bogeyman. But as I got older I could see that there were a lot more questions to be asked. There's two sides to every story, and I wanted to hear the other side."
Bugbee had trouble getting along with his parents and left home at 16, living in his car or with friends. "I was a troublemaker," he says. "I was into heavy metal, smoking pot or doing drugs in the basement, and reading magazines by myself. Antisocial-type things." He began writing to people like Gacy, David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz, and Charles Manson. "I'd call up the prison board and get their cell numbers and then I could write to them. These people are a stamp away. They're sitting in jail with nothing to do but look at the walls. They want people to write to them." Bugbee has a scrapbook where he keeps correspondence from people like Richard Ramirez, Manson, and Lucas's sidekick Ottis Toole, along with autographs from other notables such as Ice-T, John Wayne Bobbitt, shit-obsessed punk rocker G.G. Allin, and John Sinclair, former manager of the MC5.
"Most of the killers deny what they've done [even though] they've been caught red-handed," he says. "I'd write to them and always say, "I read about you and some of the stuff I heard just doesn't seem right. I don't believe it. I sympathize with you. My dad locked me in the basement too.' Whatever. I'd lie to them. I'd ask them for their side of the story. Richard Ramirez was at least man enough to admit what he'd done, so I asked him what it was like to watch someone die. He said it was the most powerful feeling in the world."
At the same time Bugbee was cultivating these pen pals, he and a group of friends were discovering self-publishing. Angered and inspired in part by the efforts of Tipper Gore and her Parents' Music Resource Center, they felt the need to act against what they saw as a threat to the First Amendment.
"We thought we did the first fanzine ever. We would make flyers--propot, anticensorship, provegetarianism, whatever. We'd staple them together and make booklets. I just thought I was being politically active. I saw other kids acting like cattle, so I went to shows and handed out flyers and had people sign these petitions I made up. I didn't know who I was going to send them to. But I was going to send them to someone. Then we found Factsheet Five and that turned us on to this whole world of underground publishing."
Bugbee soon began writing for punk zines like Maximum Rock 'n' Roll and raising funds for activist groups like Rock Out Censorship and Jello Biafra's No More Censorship Defense Fund. In 1989 he and his friends published the first issue of Naked Aggression, a zine devoted more or less to whatever its contributors cared to write about--as long as it was provocative. "We did it to agitate people," he says. "But each person had an individual reason for doing what they did in Naked Aggression. Mine happened to be the censorship issue."
Naked Aggression included a lot of music reviews, poetry, and essays--standard zine fare--but Bugbee also published material of a more disturbing nature, including interviews with his serial-killer pen pals and a how-to article on hanging yourself. He had trouble finding a printer for the first issue because the cover bore the headline "Censor This, Asshole," in bold capital letters. "Looking back I probably wouldn't have published it either because it looked like it was done by someone who couldn't pay his bill," Bugbee says. He finally found someone with a printing press in his basement who would let him print the zine in exchange for time spent collating or stitching other jobs.
The five subsequent issues of Naked Aggression were printed by professionals. "I remember a couple of times I would use my rent money to publish it and I'd get kicked out two months later. I'd be back in my car or on someone's couch." Naked Aggression was distributed free in stores in the suburbs and city. With each issue it attracted more advertisers.
In 1991 police in Evergreen Park and Midlothian confiscated copies of Naked Aggression from a few stores after complaints by parents. One store owner told Bugbee that a suburban mayor threatened not to renew the store's business license if he continued to carry the zine. Bugbee says he received a visit from a Secret Service agent who wanted to question him about a Naked Aggression interview with G.G. Allin in which Allin had threatened to kill the president. After that, rumors started circulating that the FBI was hunting Bugbee. Store owners who had distributed Naked Aggression started telling him not to come around anymore. "We were at our peak with that issue," he says. "People were calling us and asking where they could pick it up, and then all of a sudden no one would advertise because they heard FBI was after us for threatening to kill the president. It got totally blown out of proportion. I couldn't get advertisers anymore, so we just dropped it. It was a mistake to distribute it in the suburbs."
Meanwhile Bugbee's relationships with a few notorious serial killers had started to turn profitable. He began to collect Gacy's paintings, which at that time he was churning out on a sort of death row assembly line. "I'm into heavy metal and I have a lot of weird friends. So I'd ask someone in a band if they wanted Gacy to do the artwork for their seven-inch. I became a broker. I'd get someone his artwork and they'd give me a hundred dollars. I'd send it to him and he'd give me the painting to keep. I sold some to a friend at cost, and he turned me on to a couple people who were interested, and we ended up making three or four hundred dollars apiece. I said, "This is great. I'll start buying this stuff like crazy,' and he goes, "Yeah, pretty soon we can start calling you an art dealer."'
Bugbee says that during the media frenzy surrounding Gacy's execution in May 1994, he sold about 20 Gacy paintings for "not less than $2,000 each." He also helped "an anonymous party" publish 500 copies of A Question of Doubt, Gacy's denial of the murders, and he started a 900 number at which callers could pay $1.99 a minute to hear Gacy tell "his side of the story." Bugbee had made a lot of contacts by then, and for six months he ran the Goat Gallery in one of the storefronts in the Metro, selling work by poster artists Frank Kozik and Lindsay Kuhn, Wesley Willis, and James O'Barr, creator of The Crow, as well as by Gacy and Diana. (He stopped, he says, because it was no longer fun.)
"I have a whole storage area full of projects that were paid for with that money," says Bugbee. "That's the only thing that got Mike Diana's books printed." That year Diana was convicted of publishing, advertising, and distributing obscene material in Florida. When he was arrested Bugbee offered to republish the two issues of his zine, Boiled Angel, that got Diana into trouble. "I published it out of anger," says Bugbee. "When Mike asked me what would happen when they came after me, I told him that someone else would publish it then. They can't stop this stuff. No matter how hard they try."
Before his troubles began, Diana had put together eight issues of Boiled Angel in relative obscurity, copying and stapling no more than 300 of each one and mailing them out to the few fans who'd read about it in Factsheet Five or some other zine. His artwork looks like it had been imagined by a sophisticated but troubled 12-year-old: full-page illustrations of mutilated, multilimbed monsters with engorged genitals and dripping orifices; comics about adolescents raping dogs, dogs raping little boys, men sodomizing infants and then processing them into dog food--all rendered in thick splashes of inky gore.
One Diana comic shows a nervous teen going to the door of his girlfriend's house for a date. He tells her he's worried about her because he has a history of murdering his girlfriends, which he relates to her in detail. She feels sorry for him and tells him that all he needs is love. The two proceed to have frenzied and varied sex until, at the moment of orgasm, the girlfriend's cries cause a highway overpass to come crashing down on their car.
Diana has said that he is inspired by what he sees in the news, that his comics reflect the state of society; and Bugbee agrees. "A lot of people think Mike's some killer, and when they meet him they're shocked by what a nice guy he is," he says. "You meet Mike Diana, he's the most sensitive guy in the world. That's why he draws these things. These things almost make him cry."
Had Diana never been arrested it is likely that he would have continued producing Boiled Angel just for his fans in the underground. But when he got into trouble the mainstream media started paying attention. As the first cartoonist ever to be convicted on obscenity charges, he became a sort of poster boy for the First Amendment debate, and his story appeared in the Comics Journal, the New York Times Magazine, Screw, and the Reader, plus dozens of underground publications. Others lost interest when they actually saw Diana's work. Bugbee says Metro encouraged his decision to close the Goat Gallery because the club had received "a bomb threat a day" over Diana's artwork. (Metro higher-ups say they "don't know of any" bomb threats.)
"A lot of people came out of the woodwork wanting to do stories about Mike," says Bugbee. "MTV wanted a press kit and the Boiled Angels FedExed to them. They looked at it and were like, "Maybe he should be censored.' Even the most liberal people said, "We're in your corner, but it's really hard for us to be in your corner.' I sent it to people. I talked to people. I ran up my phone bill. I really went into debt on the whole thing. Yeah, we got some free press, but it really didn't do us any good. Only his true fans--the ones who have seen his work and like it--buy it.
"A lot of really upset, jealous artists complain that his work is horrible and he doesn't deserve this kind of press. But I think those kinds of debates are good for everyone. People sit around and look and look at Mike Diana's work and it says what? Priests fuck little boys. Date rape happens. People talk about it, and they're not watching Jeopardy.
"When I first published it I saw it getting to all the art fools in Wicker Park--the real arty people that go to coffee shops and talk about how they're victims. They'd all be arguing about it and I thought, this is great. Finally they're not talking about the color of the wall or the gentrification of Wicker Park, even though they're the people who have made it the nice white neighborhood that it is. I lived there before those art fools came around in their $180 Doc Martens and their piercings. They're all from Wilmette. They're all on trust funds."
Diana's lawyers were paid by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which also paid for Bugbee to fly to Florida to attest to the validity of Diana's work. But he never made it to the stand.
"The lawyers said all the articles about Mike I brought were hearsay, so they weren't really admissible," says Bugbee. "Then they listed my name as a witness as Mike Hunt and read that off on the first day, and right away the jury all laughed. And then someone on the prosecution found out that I published the Gacy book, so it wasn't really looking good for me to testify."
Diana was convicted by a jury that Bugbee says "had never even seen a comic book before." His sentence required him to pay a $3,000 fine, submit to a psychological evaluation at his own expense, perform eight hours of community service per week for three years, take a course in journalism ethics, have no contact with anyone under 18, stop publishing Boiled Angel, and stop drawing anything police might deem obscene during random searches of his home. In early June he lost his first appeal, but his lawyers are planning to take the case to the Florida Supreme Court.
Bugbee has organized a few fund-raisers for Diana and the CBLDF, which has so far spent $56,000 on his case. In June Bugbee gave up one of his Henry Lee Lucas paintings and a drawing by Ottis Toole in a raffle that netted $300 to help Diana move to New York City.
Soon after Bugbee decided to publish Diana's comics he was approached by several of the cartoonist's own pen pals who wanted their work published. "Once you do one thing you become a magnet for all these weird people," he says.
One whose material Bugbee jumped at the chance to publish is 29-year-old Randall Phillip. "I think his book is worse than any of them," says Bugbee. "It's the most offensive. Really in-your-face, viscerally offensive. When he presented me with it I told him I'd publish it in a second."
Phillip published nine issues of his zine Fuck before stopping because his readers--who he claims were mostly serial killers--"weren't doing what I was telling them to." Instead he compiled Extermination Zone, a 148-page illustrated rant against humanity that excoriates, in the most violent terms, blacks, Jews, homosexuals, Christians, children, feminists, prostitutes, pro-life and pro-choice activists, and government. Phillip, who is Jewish, seems to loathe everyone equally and argues for the extermination of everyone he loathes. The text is littered with photographs of hideously malformed infants, mutilated corpses, and severely retarded people in such random order that the turning of each page inevitably reveals some new horror. A photograph of an emaciated man crawling on the ground is captioned: "A Lesson in Entomology. If a bug is crawling, step on it." His caption for the famous photograph of firemen carrying an infant away from the bombed-out federal building in Oklahoma City says: "Keep America Beautiful. Waste Disposal Services. Please: pick up your nation's pieces of garbage and throw in trash can. Keep litter in its place. Thankyou [sic]." Reading it is an act of masochism.
About the only consistent thread in the book is Phillip's description of a Martian conspiracy of inferior life forms against a superior human race that Phillip doesn't say much about except that he is of it and unless you agree with him you probably aren't. Phillip says that the Martians are "the assholes of society" and he wrote Extermination Zone to both exorcise his demons and encourage his readers to kill them off. The content of Extermination Zone doesn't matter to Bugbee. What matters is that it provokes a reaction.
"We'd like to see people burning it in the streets," he says. "As long as they buy it, it's good that people will be offended. Maybe they'll do something. You give Randall's book to a hundred people and there are gonna be some sickos who laugh. There are gonna be some Nazis that go "Yeah, this man is telling the truth.' People will cry. People will be up in arms, and all that's good because they're obviously not up in arms with what they read in the newspaper. They're obviously not doing a damn thing with what they see on the news."
Any kind of reaction will do for Bugbee. He embraces the unpleasant feelings that well up while attempting to digest Phillip, Diana, and Gacy, as much so as the politicizing outrage he says he wants the material to inspire. He admits to experiencing a variety of emotions himself when he reads something as intentionally disturbing as Extermination Zone.
"My stomach knots up when I read some of Randall's book. It's just like going up a roller coaster. Sometimes it makes me really depressed. Sometimes it makes me laugh really hard. I'm into stuff with bad vibes. I once owned a pair of slave shackles. I got rid of those because they were just too much for me. I hung up a Gacy painting for a while wondering why it was freaking me out so much. A couple of days later it dawned on me that this guy was in prison for killing kids, yet he has the right to paint these things. I think he should have been put to death two days after his sentence. I don't think his victims should be suffering through his paintings."
When it's suggested to Bugbee that by selling Gacy's paintings he might be perpetuating that suffering, he grows agitated. "I don't know why anyone would even talk to me about it. What the hell would anyone start with me for? You're wasting your goddamn time because I don't care what your interpretation of me selling the paintings is. If you sit down with me then you might know what it is that I do, but to say that I'm exploiting the victims' families? You don't know me at all. Randall Phillip, Mike Diana, and me--we're doers. A lot of those people that comment on the doers are do-nothings. They need to get out of their house and do something--do their own zine or book; change laws or stop calling someone a nigger. If something directly affects them in those books they should do something about it. If they don't like the books they should try to get them banned. Racism? They should report Randall for hate crimes. They should print T-shirts. People that want pictures painted of flowers should plant them first."
Bugbee's upcoming projects include a book of poems by Richard Ramirez and a biography of G.G. Allin, a new issue of Naked Aggression, and the second installment of "Cards of Carnage"--titled "The Gacy Tribute"--featuring four Gacy prints on greeting cards. (The first series featured gruesome surgical photographs taken by doctors who traded them to Bugbee for Gacy paintings.) He also plans to republish Might Is Right, a social Darwinist book from 1896 by a Chicago author who wrote it under the pseudonym Ragnar Redbeard. An advertisement for the book in the Chicago Tribune on November 12, 1905, states: "It will hypnotize your very soul, and send you forth into this world of pitiless and ferocious combat a Conqueror and a King of Men. (Remember Might Is Right is not for women--nor for the immature.)"
Even in Bugbee's more commercial pursuits, he still takes every opportunity to piss people off. Every year he puts together a program and accompanying CD for a heavy-metal music festival called Milwaukee Metal Music Mania. On last year's CD, along with songs like "Humancide" by Internal Bleeding and "Sign of Baphomet" by Funeral Nation, he included one by a white-power band from Detroit called Rahowa.
"All of a sudden all these people turned into Nazis because they wanted to censor it," says Bugbee. "Well, I thought that was what Nazis were all about--censoring things you didn't get along with. People were calling me a Nazi. Well, obviously those aren't my politics."
This year's program doubles as a kind of catalog for Michael Hunt. Along with band interviews and ads, Bugbee has included excerpts from the Diana and Phillip books, plus the afterword for Might Is Right--written by Rahowa leader George Hawthorne.
Because Bugbee is so intensely focused on First Amendment issues, his other politics can seem contradictory or even nonexistent. Gacy shouldn't have been allowed to paint. But no one has the right to stop Bugbee from showing, buying, and selling those paintings. Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.
He's considered the possibility that, like Diana, he may be prosecuted for what he publishes. "Good," he says. "We're waiting for someone to shoot us in the gut like they do to abortion doctors. I'll be shitting in a bag the rest of my life. I'm prepared for all of that. That's why I say these guys are the American heroes of today. They push the letter of the law. They push the envelope."
Despite his numerous future projects, Bugbee thinks he'll probably slow down because he and Stocky want to have children and realize they can't support a family with Michael Hunt Publications. Bugbee has worked as a plumber and is thinking of taking that up again. Stocky, who helps Bugbee with the day-to-day business of publishing, is studying for a real estate license. The couple is also thinking about leaving town and moving someplace more affordable, where a plumber can buy a house, and where there aren't so many people. "There's a little town up in Minnesota with about 160 people we might move to," he says. "I want to get away from people. I hate the typical person you meet on the street. They're brain-dead. They watch the news. They read the paper. They live their lives and complain and bitch about things they don't do a damn thing about. They're all TV watchers."
In the meantime, his aggressive pursuit of the offensive hasn't been dulled by a creeping desire for stability and domesticity; in fact, the opposite seems true. Bugbee and Stocky planned to be married in June but have pushed the date to September. They plan to hold the ceremony in South Carolina because it is legal to fly the Confederate flag there. "It's gotta be pretty creepy there," he says. "They have the Redneck Shop there, with all the KKK memorabilia. What can I say? I'm into bizarre things."
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photos of Shane Bugbee, Bugbee and Amy Stocky, and various Bugbee publications, by Lloyd DeGrane.