Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tales of human suffering and bicycle love: An interview with John Reed

Last month I received a copy of John Reed's Tales of Woe (Thanks Kate!) in the mail. Being a big fan of true crime stories and tales of weird happings, I eagerly sat down to read Mr. Reed's book. I wasn't quite prepared for the tales of human depravity and injustice contained within. I've never read a book with such dark subject matter that'll make you feel better about your life like this book does. Recently I had the pleasure to talk with John about Tales of Woe and it's creation.

Can you fill in our readers on your new book Tales of Woe?

Reed: Tales of Woe is the book that makes wife ashamed to be married to me. You know how things usually happen for a reason? Even really terrible things? Well, in Tales of Woe, there is no reason.

The book is filled with very dark tales of human failings. What inspired you want to write about them?

Reed: Our culture propagates this notion that crappy things happen to people either because they did something to deserve it, or because there's some good that will come out of the crappy thing that happened. In my experience, that's not true. Crappy things happen to good people, there's no reason for it, and they didn't do anything wrong. If you go out into the world expecting justice, you're going to be a miserable person.

Did the darkness of these stories have an effect on you?

Reed: They were extremely upsetting to work on. Some of them were so bad I sat here in front of my computer feeling like I was suffocating. There's a word for that, isn't there? Not panic attack, but suffocation attack. Just the thought of it makes me feel a little breathless.

I've always viewed the book in terms of Greek Catharsis--that you watch something shitty happen and then feel better about your life. I can't say I really expected that to work--but it has. I do feel better about my life, and I'm a happier person. I like people more, I grin at strangers. It may very well look like insanity, but people smile back. The less I expect justice, the happier I am.

How did you find these stories? Such as the man making love to his bicycle in a hotel room and the art exhibit that took flight.

Reed: That one was a local paper. Many of the stories came from local sources. The English papers had pretty good stories for me. The Alaskan papers were especially good. Phone calls and emails after that. I did have a few unreported stories, but I couldn't confirm enough information to feel comfortable publishing them. A five-page story is short, in terms of a book, but it's still a fair amount of news.

Did you find any particular one among the stories to be the most disturbing?

Reed: To me, the most awful one is Momma's Little Angel. No doubt. Makes me feel like throwing up.

Were there any tales that you left out of the book?

Reed: Yes, and art. A woman was raped and forced to blow her son. We had a full-on illustration. We swore we wouldn't back down, but we did. We also toned down one of the Sarah Palin pin-ups, and a few of the sex-trade images. But we do have cocks on strings in there.

Is there a favorite artist among the Tales of Woe?

Reed: I adore them all. I am goofing around with Michele Witchipoo on a web-comic/webisode comic thing. Shitty Mickey at And I'd like 8Pussy to give me a tattoo.

Tales of Woe features forty-five pages of original art from eleven artists. What was your selection process like for the art featured in the book?

Reed: Illustration, harkening to the pulp journals of the pre Comics Code era, but finer. Art, not graphic illustration--but it still had to have a sordid, comic/comix feel. We looked at over 3000 artists. I hustled through illustration websites, deviantart, a few comic conventions, recommendations (i've written about art and been around the artworld for a while). I'd say there were 20 final picks, who we contacted by email. (I'd known one of the artists previously.) Maybe five didn't pull it together to reply, or were totally crazy. A few were internet illiterate--I could tell through our exchanges and that was no good. And that left us with these 11. I was aiming for 10. Five women and five men. We ended up with six women, five men, and a male designer.

Do you have any plans for a sequel to Tales of Woe?

Reed: Sign me up. What do you think? Tales of Woe Sex, or Tales of Woe Death, or Tales of Woe Animals?

Can you tell us a little about what you working on next?

Reed: A lot of paperwork for my parole hearing. I'm just focusing on that.

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