The print interview is the easy part - it's coming up after my waffle... The podcast you'll need the links to - this is actually a two-part chat between Toppie and myself - but, for now, here are the details for the first episode:
This episode is available on iTunes, Acast, Podbean and also on Soundcloud at:
Look... Let's be open and honest here! I do listen to quite a few podcasts - but I feel very fortunate to have been a guest now on two of my very favourite shows - LOTSL and THE SMELLCAST. These two I got into pretty early on in my exploration of podcasts and I have become friends with those involved. They're also quite different from some of the other podcasts that I listen to and I have a definite affection for them both; so it was a big deal to appear on LOTSL the other day and I didn't mind, at all, staying up late to record my appearance. I had been due to appear back in April - even going so far as to staying up late, only for my Skype to let me down at the last minute. This was before I began recording THE SHY LIFE PODCAST and so I'd not used Skype in quite some time! Anyway! It all worked just fine and there were no hiccups this time around! (I must say I felt quite emotional afterwards and relieved that it had all gone well - staying up for about an extra two hours to edit and come down from my "LOTSL high"! Daft yeti...)
THE TOPPIE SMELLIE INTERVIEW
I’ve been on Toppie’s show THE SMELLCAST and he’s now been on THE SHY LIFE PODCAST – but whilst we chatted it occurred to me that there are some questions that suit a print interview that would maybe be a bit brief in an audio interview. So I have submitted this short questionnaire to the man himself.
1. When did you first start creating stories?
I was very young -- it was the year 1968 and I was 6 years old. I adored the color "funny" pages in the Sunday Newspaper. I would spread the paper out on the floor and study the drawings and dote over every panel. I eventually decided that I wanted to draw cartoons like I read in the newspaper. Of course my first attempts were very primitive! I do remember my first original story. In pencil, I drew a multiple panel story in which a man finds an old oil lamp. He rubs it and releases a genie who, happy to be free, bestows upon the man an opportunity to be granted three wishes. The man doesn't hesitate and he wishes for lots of money. For his next wish he asks for even more money. The third wish is for even MORE money! The genie grows weary and annoyed and retreats back into the lantern.
Even as I continued to constantly draw draw, draw, and draw some more, I was simultaneously putting on plays and puppet shows. I would round up some friends and get them involved and we would craft our own puppets and perform our original plays and puppet shows (our parents being our only audience).
In 1970, I discovered comic book magazines, (an extension of the comic strip in newspapers), and I began to imitate them and I drew many of my own Spider-Man adventures (Spider-Man was my absolute favorite comic book character). I have a page from what must have been one of the first Spidey comics I drew. I remember being particularly proud that I got the perspective right for the smashed door (see first photo, at the end of interview). Eventually I stopped imitating Spider-Man, and started drawing comic book stories featuring characters of my own invention.
(Note: Please check the end of this article from some actual artwork from this period...)
By the time I was in Junior High School (what we in America call grades 7 through 9), I was drawing as many as four comic books a month for four of my friends. I wasn't smart enough to realize that I could photo copy ONE comic book and distribute it to all my friends, so I was drawing four completely different stories a month to my "subscribers," who would receive 12 issues a year via the US Postal service!
It was during this time, I discovered a love for old time radio programs, thanks mainly to a short revival of radio dramas that was being syndicated to radio stations at the time -- the "CBS Radio Mystery Theater" hosted by E.G. Marshall. It would air weekdays in the evening and lasted about three years. In America, it was radio drama's last gasp! I loved listening to those broadcasts at night after I had gone to bed, the lights turned out -- so scary! Naturally, I decided I would create my OWN radio plays! I asked my parents for an audio cassette recorder (Panasonic, with a condenser mic), and quickly began creating my own original "radio" plays, complete with sound effects and music! I loved how the audio format enabled me, just as when I drew my comic book stories, to conjure up any scenario I could imagine! Nothing was impossible! And like drawing comics, this was a solo affair, so I altered my voice to create the illusion of all my different characters (sound familiar? #Smellcast). Over the next 6 years, I made up hundreds and hundreds of hours of audio horror, adventure and science fiction dramas and comedies! My audience? The one (and only) person who endured being almost forced to listen to all of my audio nonsense was my best friend. Guess what his name was (you won't believe it)? His name was "Paul," and he was the best audience I have ever had! He listened attentively, and actively, giving me the feedback and ego-boost that I needed! Paul was the greatest!
By the time 1977 rolled around, a new medium caught my attention. The first home video tape systems had arrived! This tech was VERY new and far beyond my own means to acquire and oddly enough my parents didn't seem even the slightest bit interested in buying such costly equipment solely for my own personal use, let alone for use by my entire family. What was I to do? Undeterred, I learned I could borrow video equipment from our local, newly formed (privately owned) cable TV station. Just passed federal laws now mandated that these new private cable companies, which were popping up all over the USA, had to allow PUBLIC use of their equipment, studios and facilities, for a certain limited number of hours per week. These laws were known as "public access" laws, and even at my young age, I understood that I was included as a member of the public, in good standing, Using the cable company's equipment, I (once again with my friends) created dopey, zany videos that we submitted (surprise!) to be aired on our local public access TV channel, which by law, HAD to air a certain number of hours per week of publicly produced content. We produced this content rather anonymously, because we knew we were video-taping absurdly weird content that could only be amusing to ourselves. We really did, however reluctantly, understand that we were not going to be understood by the "normal" people out there watching public access TV. We were very mighty nerds indeed! To be completely honest, our most fervent hope was to stay as anonymous as we could such that we wouldn't get beat up at school the next day.
All of this occurred over the entire decade of the 1970's right up until 1980 when I headed off to college. That's when my juvenile creative antics had to stop. It was time to be a "grown up" and get down to the business of learning how to make a living and all that sort of rubbish. While I still dabbled in drawing comics, I would never again reach the productivity I had achieved in the '70's. In 1984 I graduated with a worthless BFA (Bachelor of Fine Art degree). I had become a "serious" painter and graphic designer. My first jobs after college included being a store clerk and a home nursing assistant. For a few years after graduating, I went back to my drawing board and in what time I had to myself, created a few pages of comics, still believing that I might one day achieve my heart's desire -- to be a professional comic book artist! Unfortunately, real life realities such as making a living, maintaining an adult relationship (doomed to fail), crowded out any hopes I harbored to tell stories for the next fifteen, long years.
I didn't realize it at the time, but from 1980 to present day, I was bogged down by persistent and unending (mild to very deep) depression. I believe that had I not been so preoccupied with my terrible dark thoughts and deep melancholia, I might have gone on to find a way to merge my greatest joy (telling stories) into real life and possibly a career. But as fate unfolded, I would not return to story telling (of any sort) until years and years later, after I finally got professional treatment for my depression. I learned, in time, how to better manage my depression, and when the year 2010 rolled around,and I felt my old creative juices begin to stir once again. I felt too rusty to take up my old drawing pencils and inks, so I went back to my old love of audio story-telling. And that's when I started a podcast called "The Smellcast".
I think I have always been attracted to comic strips, comic books -- or -- Graphic Novels -- because it is a medium suited to both art and story-telling
3. If you could use five words to describe your podcast THE SMELLCAST, which would you choose?
Fantasy colliding with reality (oops that's only four words)
4. Which characters are your favourite on The Smellcast / Pickle Hollow?
My favorite voice to do is Mindy Mindleson (character in the Pickle Hollow story line). Aunt Tappie is a favorite too, but Sassy McSass-Sass is the most FUN to do.
5. Do you ever consider killing off main characters (I have a problem doing this myself)?
I have considered it in terms of wanting to do a poignant story about love and loss... but I probably would bring in a new character, allow listeners to get to know and love that character, and THEN "kill them off." I'm not sure I could do that with any of the current main characters.
6. As a big fan of Dark Shadows – who are your favourite characters?
At the top of my list is absolutely Barnabas and Julia. The series always worked best when they were best friends working together. Runners up are Angelique, Roger and Elizabeth... and Professer Stokes. It's always astounding to remember how many excellent characters and actors the show had. I must mention David (his first year when he was truly that peculiar, scary little boy) and and Willy Loomis (his first year as well, when he was truly psychopathic). I suppose I have to stop somewhere, so I'll stop here!
7. How do you think Toppie would cope if he entered the Dark Shadows world? Are there any other Smellcast characters that you think would fit in well there?
I think Toppie could have fit in as an ordinary mortal who secretly loves Barnabas, but can't express it because his sexuality is a closely guarded secret -- as closely guarded as Baranabas' secret (as homosexuality would have been back in 1967)! Toppie would have discovered Barnabas' secret and kept it to himself, helping Barnabas along the way anonymously. Also, I can see Dallas Cody fitting in there as the guy that had a dead body in his basement!
8. How do you think Barnabas Collins would cope if he entered The Smellcast world? Are there any other Dark Shadows characters that you think would fit in well there?
Barnabas and Julia would both fit in well, I think. Aunt Tappie and Elizabeth would enjoy tea together, often. Creepy David would be fun to have around.
9. Is it wrong that I sometimes imagine how Shy Yeti would cope if he visited Pickle Hollow?
No, that's perfectly normal.... perfectly normal (** discreetly rolls eyes **). Our ability to imagine anything is one of the most exciting (and vitally important) expressions of our humanity! If we can't imagine we can't create! And look at the endless wonders of human creations from the Pyramids to "Dr. Who"!
Yes! I had dreams when I was a kid that I was bitten by Barnabas (and they weren't scary dreams)! As long as Julia could fix it so that I didn't have to kill anybody to live... but I would absolutely want my supernatural powers! I mean, come on... to be able to turn oneself into a bat and fly around? Oh yes!
11. If you had to choose a number of other favourite TV shows which would be in your top 5?
Lost In Space (esp the first two seasons), Star Trek TOS, The Waltons (believe it or not), The Carol Burnett Show, and The X-Files.
12. Do you have a favourite horror film? You can name more than one?
The Haunting (original), Legend of Hell House, The Exorcist, Halloween, The Others, Bride of Frankenstein, The Old Dark House (Boris Karloff''s first movie after Frankenstein -- see it on Youtube! The last 10 minutes are incredible!) Dracula (Bela Lugosi), Bram Stoker's Dracula (Francis Ford Copella's version), Alien and Aliens (I consider them horror not sci-fi), The Wolfman (Lon Chaney), Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Shining (Kubrick), Salem's Lot (The David Soul version, as the three part mini-series, but the theatrical release is pretty good), Fright Night (Original with Roddy McDowall), Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, the Sixth Sense, The Stand (the original TV mini series, first two episodes -- I HATE THE FINALE) The Night Stalker (made for TV movie that spawned Kolchak: The Night Stalker). I guess I better stop.
13. Are there any other film genres that you enjoy? Any favourite non-horror/sci-fi films?
I love Film Noir, cinema verite, quiet character studies, classics, drive-in schlocky movies, very few comedies but Tootsie is an example of what I consider to be the perfect comedy, a comedy with a heart and a real story... as opposed to, say a movie like Caddie Shack, which to me is just silly scenes strung together. And I can't think of a single Alfred Hitchcock movie that I don't absolutely LOVE (Hitchcock is maybe my all time favorite movie maker).
14. As well as sometimes being scary or dramatic The Smellcast is a very funny show – who are your comedy influences?
Slap stick comedies of the silent film era (I love slap stick and screw-ball comedies -- a modern one might be Barbara Streisand's "What's Up Doc?" Carol Burnett, Don Knots (except for Three's Company, a TV "comedy" series that I despise for its absolute stupidity), british comedies (Lavender Hill Mob with Alec Guinness for example). I think WC Fields was an incredibly skilled GENIUS of physical comedy.
15. When I was doing Sutton Park I often had an idea of what the last episode would be – but as the show went on I would use those ideas up. Have you ever thought about what you do if you ever decided to conclude the show; although please, no spoilers!!
Not in any great detail, but I DO have a general notion as to what I would do. Fundamentally it would be a goodbye to the characters, not unlike the last episode of the American TV series M*A*S*H or the final episode of HBO's "Six Feet Under."
I would probably go with a Jimmy Stewart as my all time favorite actor. Someone with maybe the best acting chops? I suppose Meryl Streep is a genius. I really, really like Dustin Hoffman. Michael Caine and Gene Hackman are favorites too. As for TV.... I was in love with Bill Bixby the most... he was in three TV series that I absolutely adore (for different reasons) The Courtship of Eddie's Father, The Magician, and the Incredible Hulk, but especially the Magician -- I WANTED TO BE TONY BLAKE (The Magician)! The Magician is an obscure American TV series circa 1974 barely lasting two seasons -- there are some episodes on YouTube.
17. You are also part of the LOTSL team – do you have a favourite subject that you discussed on it?
What I love the most is when our topics bring out some little funny true-life story or anecdote from us.
18. Do you believe in ghosts? What would you do if you met one?
Not long ago, I would have said absolutely not; I DO NOT believe in ghosts. There are SO MANY WAYS the human mind is capable of tricking itself. While someone might adamantly INSIST they've had a supernatural experience, I remain unconvinced that it is anything other than understandable yet mistaken bits of information. Our brains make connections in ways we generally are not aware of. Among the the most common: how often have you heard someone say, "I saw it out of the corner of my eye, but when I looked it had vanished!" Well... of course nothing vanished, because there was nothing there to begin with.
Another common example are incidences in which people believe they see some inanimate object moving -- such as commonly is said to happen to people looking at holy relics or statues. In truth, the eye makes imperceptible involuntary movements that at times, when the conditions are right, can absolutely look like something is moving when it is, in fact not moving at all. I used to experience this all the time when I was a kid looking at the monster models I could see from my bed. In the dimness of night, I could swear those things were moving!! But of course they weren't moving at all.
I believe this manner in which humans innocently deceive themselves is what accounts for 30% of so-called ghosts and supernatural phenomenon. 69% is perpetrated by Carney hucksters, bamboozlers, frauds, scheming bastards, con artists, just about EVERY SINGLE SO-CALLED GHOST HUNTER in existence are frauds and hucksters (in my opinion). A true ghost hunter should be first and foremost a skeptic. By the way the magician "The Amazing Randi" is a hero of mine for exposing frauds. And remember, the so-called FOUNDERS of Spiritualism (The Fox Sisters of the USA) admitted later in life they were frauds.
NOW THEN: as I say, not long ago I would have said 100% of it is all ultimately explainable or flat out fraudulent. I recently have come to believe that there IS a small, small percentage of unexplained, mysterious events that we can not be accounted for, and I am now ready to admit there ARE curious oddities and things in this world completely beyond our ability to understand/explain. To conclude: I am now not prepared to say there are no such things as (what we commonly call) ghosts. And I am NOT prepared anymore to say there is no such things as aliens from another planet flying around in crafts of unknown origin. Of course the existence of Yeti's are altogether a different thing :D :D I CAN say I am absolutely fascinated by the possibility of ghosts and flying saucers, etc. And I am fully able to be entertained by fictional material designed to scare me. BUT, I remain a TRUE skeptic when it comes to real life.
HOWEVER -- If I truly encountered something unknown...such as a "ghost," I'm quite sure I would be scared out of my wits first and foremost! I do believe I would RUN AWAY, and run away FAST! I'm sure when I calmed down, I would then try exhaustively to rationalize it. I would like to believe I would try to engage the supernatural to understand it, but it is much more likely still that I'd run away! Knowing me I would most likely spend the rest of my life never truly knowing if what I saw was real or not. Then, I would write a book about it and exaggerate the details maybe even lie so that I could make a million dollars and become a renowned psychic to bilk others out of their hard earned money. Okay, maybe not really.
I suppose it would be to go back in time and correct my long, long string of bad decisions and bad habits. The worst thing I ever did to myself was to turn my back on my dreams of becoming a comic book artist. I realize now it was far more attainable than I ever could have had the capacity to understand at the time, when I was younger. First and foremost I would have sought out a MENTOR. And I would have asked for help from others.
Quite honestly, discovering you and getting to know you has been among the very BEST of delightful surprises in my on-line, podcasting life. Its always nice to remember that I'm not the only odd duck out there! :D :D
Thank you for answering my questions. *bows* I would also like to thank you for allowing “Toppie” to visit Shy Yeti’s bizarre world for the Shy Yeti scripts. He must be worn out what with all that and dealing with Sassy and all the goings on in Pickle Hollow. Hehe. Coming up - as promised - some Toppie Smellie art!!!
To see the images in a slightly bigger format, please click on them...
The following link is a short film Toppie made in 2014 called - THE GHOST TREE...