Q&A: Author Andrew Bonazelli on Horror Novel told via Postcards, “DISPOSED OF”
Hot on the heels of the re-release of his brilliant, subversive ode to the heyday of 80s larger-than-life action film excess and its absurdist/dehumanizing aftermath, DTV, one of literary dark fiction’s best kept secrets Andrew Bonazelli returns with DISPOSED OF, a harrowing, poignant, ultimately pretty goddamn disquieting “depressive suicidal postcard series”—delivered to your home in an all-too-apropos evidence bag and featuring gorgeous imagery from photographer Coleman Yunger alongside a creepy, ambient soundtrack by Brian Ziprin.
FANGORIA recently chatted with Bonazelli about the intricacies, both tactile and immaterial, of DISPOSED OF, his refusal to abide preconceived notions of genre or form, the outlaw artistic deviancy collective he helped found dubbed TOWERING ACHIEVEMENTS and an aesthetic worldview large enough to draw inspiration from both CALVIN & HOBBES and BLOODSUCKING FREAKS’ Ralphus…
FANGORIA: So…do you have a history with nutty postcards, or was this concept conjured out of whole cardboard?
ANDREW BONAZELLI: Uh, just the one on my fridge of a Great Dane and a ’50s-looking pin-up girl that says, “That’s right—we’re getting married!”
FANG: Fair enough! DISPOSED OF is a pretty drastic departure from your previous work in format, if perhaps not in tone. Where’d the concept originate?
BONAZELLI: It came to me probably ten or twelve years ago, when I lived in Seattle. I saw ONE HOUR PHOTO with Robin Williams, and was really affected by how sad and strange it was. At one point, his character Sy—this ineffectual cipher who runs a department store’s photo lab—buys an old black and white photo of a random woman at a flea market. Sy develops photos for what he perceives as a “perfect” conventional family of three; he becomes increasingly obsessed with them, as they seem to possess everything he lacks, and later he tells the wife that the flea market photo is his mother. It’s just an outright lie from somebody yearning to connect. That really resonated with me, that kind of desperation and loneliness—and the internal darkness that fueled it. I think a lot of that story bled into what DISPOSED OF tried to achieve thematically.
I always wanted to use postcards because—in my very limited exposure to new fiction—I hadn’t seen anybody try to tell a first-person psychosexual horror story through that medium. The idea of unearthing what you imagine are innocent, sweet postcards in an attic or basement, assuming they’re love letters, reading them in sequence and having the rug pulled out from underneath you with spikes beneath: that was very interesting to me. As for the evidence bag, reading the story to completion explains why the postcards exist in that context. It’s also somewhat of a nod to the end of ONE HOUR PHOTO, now that I think of it. I’d love to say more, but the thing’s so fucking brief as it is—I’d rather not spoil my own story.
FANG: Is this a prime example of a project that is deceptively simple? On the one hand, writing a series of postcards requires a much lower volume of words. On the other, teasing a narrative out of such minimalism seems more than a bit daunting…
BONAZELLI: I was way more concerned with the artwork than my storytelling approach, actually, because this doesn’t exist without supplementary art. The original draft was sixty cards, but I eventually whittled it down to thirty-one over the years. It just seemed a lot easier to ask a photographer to create approximately thirty corresponding images gratis, as opposed to sixty. And it finally worked. I wasn’t sweating diminishing the text by half—it was probably a little bloated in its original form anyway. But I’ll never have to torture myself over which one’s better, since I banish all my old shitty edits to recycle bin hell, where they belong.
FANG: I can’t think of anything out there like DISPOSED OF. Did you have any particular inspirations or touchstones in mind?
BONAZELLI: Nothing aside from ONE HOUR PHOTO that I can recall offhand. The early 2000s was pretty much the advent of McSweeney’s gripping the indie-lit zeitgeist, and I probably naively thought this was a project I could successfully pitch to them. I was incorrect. I usually am when it comes to the whole “another human being on earth will be interested in my fiction” thing.
FANG: It’s interesting this book follows a hyper-visceral, darkly funny book like DTV and not, say, the super grim apocalypse-in-motion of THE DREAMT AND DEATHLESS OBSCENE or the BULL-DURHAM-by-way-of-BLUE-VELVET brutal baseball of MECHANIKS. You went a little light and then plunged back into some pitch-black material. Was that intentional or just how things shook out in the creative process?
BONAZELLI: It would be really, really cool to actually think about tone and form and sequencing, and release projects accordingly—you know, like a real artist gets the chance to do. But as I alluded to earlier, it took over ten years to get thirty-one fucking postcards off the ground—primarily due to bouncing from photographer to photographer, constantly chopping up the narrative, and struggling to find a way to print them all inexpensively. So, the reality is that I have no aesthetic talent aside from writing—dubious as that is—and when a photographer or visual artist or musician finishes their part of a collaboration…Well, that’s when it comes out. Boom, ready to rock! I will surely be expiring from lung cancer in a year or two, so the faster I can get this stuff out into the apathetic public, the better.
FANG: Many of the postcard messages, especially as the story begins, possess this aching poignancy—“Old fools having false epiphanies ask me to dance…I don’t have the face of a woman who wants to dance. Nobody sits and waits the way you did”; “I allow myself one costume: Abused Runaway Housewife…Cowering by the vending machines, shunning held doors, projecting nightmares onto his fine, hairless knuckles.” How did you decide you wanted to tell this story through the POV of a “depressive middle-aged woman,” and was it difficult to channel that sort of mindset at all?
BONAZELLI: Even though the basic “stalker” core of the story has existed for a long time now, I know a lot of people today who have gone through significant, tumultuous life changes after losing a longstanding significant other. Either by death or divorce or mutual disinterest, or simply fucking things up and driving them away. More recent edits of the story probably absorbed some of that emotion. The feeling of being completely adrift and incapable of rescue is very real, very identifiable and occasionally very dangerous—for men or women.
FANG: Talk to me about collaborating with Coleman Yunger. Did his images help lead or shift the narrative?
BONAZELLI: Coleman works at my favorite bar in Philadelphia, 12 Steps Down; he supplements his income as a wedding photographer, and sometimes puts on photo exhibits at 12 Steps and elsewhere. His persona is kinda “tough guy lothario dickhead,” but he’s really an artsy-fartsy softie at heart. I asked him to read the text and supply the images that would finally make DISPOSED OF a physical reality, and he was way into it. Or at least faking being way into it—because he didn’t want to hurt a prized, paying customer’s feelings.
Anyway, we had a variety of sit-downs where we studied preexisting and brand new images that would either correspond with or counterbalance the narrator’s shifting moods. I think what we settled on has a relatively timeless quality—with the exception of one or two graffiti-heavy pieces—which was exactly what I wanted.
FANG: DTV enlisted an impressive roster of innovative underground metal bands—WOLVHAMMER, EARLY GRAVES, TOTAL FUCKING DESTRUCTION, etc—for a barnstorming motherfucker of a soundtrack. DISPOSED OF has its own unsettling score. What sort of guidance, if any, did you give Brian Ziprin?
BONAZELLI: I actually sent him a copy of SubRosa’s “The Usher” as a potential direction when I thought it was going to be a band project. When McSweeney’s realizes the error of their ways and offers me hundreds of thousands of dollars for the rights to DISPOSED OF, I’ll just ask Rebecca Vernon if I can use the song and Brian can go fuck himself! Seriously, though, Brian is one of the more mystifying and inexplicably self-deprecating creative people I know. I gave him no real guidance other than requesting that it didn’t come off like a static, stunted, emotionless recitation of dialogue. I think he accomplished that, along with his friend Kate Czajkowski, who read the narrator’s lines. They contribute a real sense of dread and vertigo.
FANG: Is there any particular reason you’re drawn to bringing these sonic elements in?
BONAZELLI: I’m fully aware that my books suck, hence require aesthetic addendums from people with actual talent.
BONAZELLI: You know, answering this and the last question with a modicum of sincerity, maybe that stems from the fact that I wish I had the acumen to make my own movies/albums/paintings, so I bother friends and acquaintances to make these fiction projects more “complete” to my fantasy specifications. Really, to me it’s more a “why not” than a “why” question. It’s hard not to let the music and film and visual art you experience bleed into fiction, so why not add that extra dimension if it makes sense? It’s also really lonely and scary releasing a project out into the wild alone, so it helps to have someone with a similar level of investment on your side. Unfortunately, they never quite care like I do, so it’s mostly me incurring the soul-crushing failure part.
FANG: Your work covers a lot of ground, both in terms of concept and approaches to storytelling. I’m curious, who were some of the literary heroes that set you off on such an idiosyncratic path?
BONAZELLI: The only really important one is Bill Watterson. To me, the overarching theme of CALVIN & HOBBES was that your imagination is a limitless refuge from the banality of everyday existence, and the more time you spend there cultivating it, the better. I really hope twelve and thirteen year-olds are still reading his anthologies and appreciating his work.
FANG: The Towering Achievements homepage features Ghoulies, Critters, Slimer, Stripe from GREMLINS—since this is FANGORIA, any particular shout-outs you’d like to give to the genre? Is this a life-long love affair?
BONAZELLI: Adam Hunt of Graf Orlock did that art—again, gratis—and it rules beyond fucking belief. I wish I could hang out with every one of those characters in lieu of my equally gross but less cuddly human friends. I was tempted to ask Adam to include Ralphus from BLOODSUCKING FREAKS, but probably wisely curbed that impulse.
Anyway, all subgenres and eras of horror are wonderful, no fucking duh, but I will confess to appreciating subtle, reality-based horror like the original THE VANISHING more than the usual Eli Roth bloodbath slop. Gore is lovely, but so many horror directors spend their time trying to emulate THE EVIL DEAD for the fucking zillionth time rather than trying to discover how to truly unsettle people. For me, it’s all about people’s capacity to hurt, maim, torment, rape, or murder; that gray area, that build-up, that uncertainty, that rationale—not necessarily reveling in the actual act.
Then again, there’s definitely a time and place for Santa Claus randomly axing a ten year-old’s head off for the crime of sledding down a hill.