Johnny Monomyth was mentioned in passing in comments this week. Johnny who? you might say. Well, yeah, that’s the name of the comic book I wrote in 1999 with art by Bert Stabler. Bert designed the comic as a giant mural, though it also came in a handy comic form which you could cut apart and stich back together. You can see some images from it at the link above…and here’s a photo of the original art from the finished piece. As you can see, it covered a whole wall.
Anyway, the way we did the piece is I wrote a draft using words and phrases from four books: Greil Marcus’ “Lipstick Traces”, Joseph Campbell’s “Hero With a Thousand Faces,” an issue of Fortune magazine, and Ian Fleming’s “Diamonds Are Forever.” Then Bert came up with his mural concept, and with that more or less in mind, I wrote out a complete script. Maybe someday I’ll post the art on here, but for the moment I thought I’d put up my original draft. So here it is, for both of my truly, truly diehard blog readers: Johnny Monomyth, Year One.
Through the grafitti-covered halls of his secret corporate headquarters wanders our hero, Johnny Monomyth (“The Man with the Abstract Guitar,”) ruminating on the necessity of killing for one’s country and on the importance of being well-dressed. (He is dressed in suit, tie, and a leather jacket emblazoned with the words “Anarchist with Clout.”) When he gets to his office, he is contacted by Shadows from the Unfathomable Reaches Beyond, Inc. (a subdivision of the Gratuitous Dissipation Group,) through their emissary, Syd Lingam (a giant phallus covered with power-of-positive-thinking, anti-establishment grafitti and attended by several nude, nubile assistants of mixed gender who continually inject him with heroin.) Syd tells Johnny that the Womb Mob is attempting to wrap meaning and purpose around even prosaic postwar popular culture by smuggling dadaists into Las Vegas. If they succeed, intellectual hedonism will (via a culture of inclusion) come under the sway of the primordial Disney abyss, with the result that the radical reification of an immense increase in littering will no longer function as a negation of the government’s ever-tightening grip on American employers. Johnny promises to use the power of his abstract guitar to combat this nefarious theat to surrealist CEOs. Lingam and his retinue diappear, leaving the distinctive odor of half an avocado with French dressing and an Espresso mingled with the strains of Elvis Costello singing “Avril au Portugal.” Johnny then leaps through his office window, clutching his flaming guitar.
Johnny goes out to shake down his informants: the young prince Timothy Leary; James Taylor (Johnny has him up against the wall, the neck of his guitar under Taylor’s nose, screaming “I know you’ve seen fire and you’ve seen rain cockusucker! I want to know what else you’ve seen!”); cold, dedicated chess-playing Russians, and silent, deadly, anonymous men from Nike. After much violence and an interior monologue in which Johnny wonders if it’s worth investing in the idea of the insulating fascist or if he’d be better off putting his money in the late 1970s, he discovers that the dadaists are being shipped to Las Vegas from the Cosmogonic Cathouse, a grisly, ramshackle, somehow obscene center of world historical profit. Johnny confronts Brainpower Beretta, the owner of the Cathouse. At first she denies having the dadaists, but when Johnny plays the Marseillais backwards on his Abstract Guitar, she hears the secret words “bliss-yielding perpetual manifestation of the brass-knuckled domestic doyenne,” and, enlightened by the noise of the exploding syntax, she rejects the Womb Mob and its lavender agenda. Ravaged with CIA disinformation, she loses all control and attains to a virtual office solution of hopeless proportions. Thus converted, she explains to Johnny that once she was a Middle Eastern Diversity Deity till she gave up her immortality for love of situationist caviar and the riotous eclecticism of the World Savior — only to have her trust cruely betrayed by the Berkeley Bodhisattvas’ repeated denigration of her taste in both dresses and higher iconographies. Crushed, she renounced anabaptism and, after watching hours of Pepsi commercials, she vowed to serve the state as a mindless drone. Now, though, she has been released from her servitude and humility, and she not only admits to having the dadaists, but she agrees to hide Johnny in the next shipment. Accordingly, she disguises him as the terrifyingly obvious, sordidly powerful, divinely hygienic immaculate executive known to the customs men as Blood Clot Boy. She brings him to a room where hundreds of dadaists are milling about, some of whom look like well-dressed French intellectuals, others of whom are wearing costumes (like Johnny, who has a gigantic aorta stapled to his nose), others of whom are just dada art (an upside down toilet, various appliances) upon seeing which the Frenchmen-dadaists invariably make comments like “Revolutionary!” and “What a radical intrusion of ambiguous forms!” and “I guess every girl likes to come home and find a videoconferencing cybertechnician on her kitchen table.” In any case, Johnny fits in well enough, and is accepted as one of the dadaists both by the dadaists themselves and by the men who are raping them, hogtieing them, and shipping them to Las Vegas in crates. Johnny too is crated, and passes away his time in transit by imagining a muscular, craftsmanlike prose of a millenarian peasantry — a language of revolt so archetypal and immediate that it would, by its very existence, render frustrate the pettiness of left-wing youth-group politics.
When they arrive in Las Vegas, Johnny and the dadaists are placed in a glass case in a casino called “The Stalin,” and are dressed in skimpy uniforms of the Wild West. Passerbys place bets on which of them will say something witty, which of them will copulate, etc. Johnny now understands the full brand-name-intensified semiotics of the Womb Mob’s mystical quest. Economic prorities will deny the existence of paradoxical motifs, and will even seek to destroy them by personal analysis. Thus girded, Johny feels he now knows enough to bust a hole in the Womb Mob. Unfortunately, the cage the Womb Mob has constructed for the dadaists emits personal life balance initiatives which humiliate the bourgeoise tantras of Johnny’s abstract guitar. Unable to escape and subjected to the dadaists unending stream of mediocre puns and profound insights into industry, Johnny believes his herohood is up for good, when Brainpower Beretta appears in the early morning and leads him over the stacks of sleeping dadaists to safety in the empty casino.
Or so it appears. Just as Beretta gets Johnny outside the dada cage, they are accosted by two young roving hit men known only as Nietzsche and J.D. Salinger. They attempt to undermine Johnny by accessing his warp-speed narcissism. Johnny, however, knowing that homos make the best killers, is on guard, and cannot be easily swayed. He dodges in and out amidst the darkened casino paraphenalia until, finally, he makes a stand on a Tianananman Square themed slot machine and defiantly begins to play Robert Johnson’s “Gnostic Blues” on his abstract guitar. Fireworks explode, the Tiananman Square slots hit jackpot (three tanks,) all within earshot are covered in blackface (including Johnny, Beretta, the hit men, the dadaists, and the few casino personnell and players still about) and finally Salinger and Nietzsche are awakened to the synergy of soulless materialism, and pass into solipsistic superconsciousness.
Johnny stops playing and the sparks sputter out. Still in blackface, he grabs Beretta, who is gazing at him with her full red lips slightly parted, breathing as if the vitalizing image of the universal god-man has just seduced her organic network. She gasps, “I want it all, darling. Now. Quickly.” Johnny slaps her and growls, “Not till we’ve successfully vaguely considered concepts like ‘oblivion,’ and ‘Oedipal complex,’ baby.” He then pulls her outside the casino, barely ahead of the swarm of milling dadaists (also still in blackface and skimpy western attire) who have been stirred into a frenzy by the still-pumping slot machines — some of the dadaists are eating the money, some of them are snorting it or ingesting it rectally, while still others are merely cavorting among it screaming things like “The entrance to the zone of magnified power!” and “At last I will be financially capable of pursuing my strategy of continuous reinvention!”
Outside, Johnny and Beretta run away from the casino (outside of which is a huge neon picture of Uncle Joe wearing a cowboy hat with a gigantic dollar sign floating jovially above a diorama of dead peasants, all of who look cheerful and clutch money.) It’s just getting on to dawn — still dark out, but getting grey, and there are very few people on the streets. Still, Johnnny manages to satisfyingly straight-arm a few tourists (knocking at least one into a fountain) as he and Beretta keep one step ahead of the onrushing dada horde, which has been driven mad by its sudden acquisition of assets, and is busily trying to pay the assorted tourists (and/or the neon signs and/or early morning roaches) for sex, internet access, or punk singles.
Johnny, (who has been thinking as he runs about Las Vegas tourists, how they are conditioned by innovative mantra technology to dream like Pavlov’s dogs of the nipple inexhaustibble, how they bastardize the rock n’ roll uncreating of the uncreated Morningstar rating, and of how much he despises their smug inability to compose futurist manifestoes) drags Beretta up onto the roof of “Buddha, Buddha” (a casino with lots of splashy many-headed neon Buddhas, glowing Hindu gods in tantric position, etc, all vaguely Disneyfied) by scrambling up a large squatting neon Buddha which is wearing sunglasses and smoking a cigar. On the roof they look down on the dadaists running amok in the city (the dadaists are now being chased and clubbed by roving patrolmen who are also beating up random tourists, fires have started, people are looting, giant serpents slither down alleys, chaos reigns) and wonders if he’s witnessing the end of mainstream pop humanism as we know it. He asks Beretta if he is responsible for the anarchy below. She asks him if any man can be held responsible for anything, when the contradictions of one’s postiion inevitably resolve even acts of trendsetting into the void beyond all voids, from which unfold world-sustaining emanations, Sauce Bernaise-like, mysterious. He nods grimly, looks back at the chaos below, resolves that he must do something, and wonders if a bourbon and water would give him some ideas. Luckily, Beretta happens to have some, and the two of them sit down on the roof lotus style, drink, and chat about the Hebrew cabala’s discussion of the ideal wife (women shouldn’t paint their nails, should wear black velvet, and should be enjoyed as the encasement of eternity.) Johnny’s hand moves to her thigh, and the two gaze into each other’s eyes longingly, simultaneously thinking that when you gaze into the market, the market gazes also into you.
Just then they hear a dry laugh so empty and motionless that it might have been borrowed from a taxidermist. Turning, they see Syd Lingam and his retinue. Syd’s massive flesh is quivering with slimy laughter. He thanks Johnny ironically for planting the seeds of gender, race, and culture which will bear the fruits that inspire a vision of cultural symmetry. He says he knew Johnny would release the dadaists, allowing their brazen sexiness to balance and get feedback from Las Vegas’ insouciance. Soon, he says, this ghostly, ghastly crowd will vanish into its own unformed activities, and with the supernatural assisting force of Freedom, Home and Beauty thus neutralized, Syd will find a smart way to capture the whole financial universe. He laughs at Johnny’s efforts to save unretainable ecstasies. “The hero,” he fulminates, “is just a discourse of skeptical media buyers; a flaming fairy well in which the golden ball of integrity is drowned forever in the dank and foetid waters of latitudinarianism.” He then makes fun of Johnny’s attire, mocks his penchant for violence, suggests that his “bad-boy” image is merely a means of ensuring himself a beautiful secretary, and makes some lewd innuendoes about the fertile, gleaming intersection of Beretta’s new office towers and the angled thrust of her emerging capitalism.
Johnny, though, is unimpressed. He tells Syd that, as a hero, he is too shamelessy self-employed to be frightened by such ranting. “I am the secret agent-artist,” he says, “that curiously disinterested, almost diabolical human phenomena beyond the normal bounds of human judgment, dedicated to the morals not of my time, but of my art. When I kill, it is not murder, but gunslinging enterprise. When I rape, it is not rape, but the breathless passion of a spiritual obstetrician. And when I create anarchy by flushing the avant garde down the plugged drain of post-Fordist capitalism, I am not really creating anarchy, but am instead, like a wily shaman, orchestrating the lasting horse race in which my transcendent phallus will emerge victorious. You villain, may sport your menacing chromium as you will — your plots are for naught, for your devious history will soon be ritually erased by the spontaneous eruptions of my primal drumbeat.” So saying, he steps foward, pulls out a handgun, and shoots Syd, who falls over with a crash, killing most of his retinue (the remainder scatter making grunting noises which sound suspiciously like band names (i.e. “Mekooph!” “Cloosh!” “Eck! Istooph!” etc.) Beretta clutches Johnny, tells him she loves a man who can show the primacy of symbolization, and that she’d be as happy as a cricket to join him in an avucular confab. Johnny smiles his characteristic grin, blows the smoke off his pistol, briefly congratulates himself for performing the hero’s task of alchemizing a bad and stodgy society so that the life-redeeming glitter of the University of Paris may be made known to the Pinkerton force, and, holding Beretta’ hand, walks off into the desert dawn. Behind them, Las Vegas burns.