Happy belated new year, everyone. We’re a little over two weeks into a milestone year. 2018 is an anniversary. It was ten years ago that Repo! The Genetic Opera, a film that I co-wrote and in which I played a starring role, was released in theatres. This accomplishment paved the way for what would become a very exciting and unique decade for this ragtag artist.
In 2008, I could not have predicted the course that my life would take in the decade to follow. At the time, I was singularly focused on the moment, and that moment was Repo! Having spent years developing, producing and nurturing the project, when its film manifestation was at long last available to the world, the moment was golden. Finally being able to share the musical movie with others was so exhilarating, acute and surreal that I, along with a few souls who were close to the project, worked tirelessly to extend the Repo! experience for as long as we could.
2008. It was the first time in my then thirty-one years that strangers recognized my work as an artist. It was my first experience with pretty women being nervous to talk to me, as opposed to the other way around. Repo! also provided my first real brush with traveling, and the release of the film (and our efforts to stretch our shining Repo! moment as far and wide as possible) inspired a series of road tours. The echo of the work we did on those movie tours still reverberates in the way I approach art today.
A lot has changed in ten years, but I still define my life in accordance with my art projects. As such, I’m especially proud of this past decade. 2008: Repo! The Genetic Opera. 2009: The Molting comic book series. 2010: The Tutor online painting series. 2011: Count Tarakan: Bad Ass Russian. 2012: The Devil’s Carnival. 2015: Alleluia! The Devil’s Carnival. 2016: American Murder Song: The Year Without A Summer. 2017: American Murder Song: The Donner Party.
Even though not all of these projects were equally successful, I look back on this resume and feel both satisfied and hungry to do better. Like any artist, I don’t want my best work to be behind me, but, as I face this new decade, I struggle with the notion of finding happiness in the present versus always battling towards a better horizon.
2017 was a great way to conclude the decade that began with Repo!‘s film release. It’s been one of the happiest years of my life, and, perhaps without coincidence, it’s been a year where I’ve felt a real sense of control over my artistic output. But 2017 also had its dark moments, its deaths.
This past fall, halfway through American Murder Song‘s “The Donner Party Reunion Tour”, our sound tech, Darius Hamilton-Smith, got word that his older brother was killed in a a car accident. Even though the theme of our traveling show was desperation and murder on the American frontier, none of our touring company was prepared for this real-life reckoning with death. The situation rocked us, but the devastating experience also brought our touring family closer together in remarkable and lasting ways.
The closing week of 2017 also brought with it the passing of a friend of some fifteen odd years. Sergio Diaz was not only a pal, but a model for one of the characters in my The Molting comic book series. At Sergio’s wake, members of his family, who I’d not previously met, thanked me for immortalizing him in my comic. Even though I’d drawn Sergio as a hoodlum smoking speed in a gangbanger garage, their association with me and their lost loved one was an emotional revelation. It made me proud. A week later, unexpectedly, I’d find myself at a museum touching fossils that were over two-hundred million years old. I couldn’t help but form connections with those ancient bones and all of the themes of this blog post.
This blog platform itself is also ten years old. I began penning entries here roughly a month before Repo! was released in theatres. With the changes that social media has thrust into all of our lives this past decade, I’ve found myself writing less and less here, ditching long-form blogs in favor of shorthand social posts. As such, I’ve contemplated doing away with the TZ blog altogether. I hang on to it, however, because I view its collected works as a bit of a museum—or, indeed, a graveyard.
With all this talk of years and legacy, it is perhaps no surprise that my most current project is rooted in history. American Murder Song is a collection of original murder ballads that focuses on specific crimes in America’s past. The first cycle of songs are centered in 1816, the infamous “Year Without a Summer” where climate anomalies devastated New England. The second series of tunes is on The Donner Party, America’s favorite pioneer cannibals, and their ordeal trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains during the winter of 1846.
Saar Hendelman, American Murder Song‘s co-creator, and I are in the process of deciding which historical event to focus on next with the project. In doing so, I can’t help but wonder how the choices that are made this year will shape the new decade. Life willing, I’m exciting to see what 2028’s blog will reveal.
In the meantime, this anniversary year should not be skipped over. Repo! is an accomplishment. The movie is not only a milestone for those involved in its creation, but it’s been a source of entertainment and, dare I say, inspiration for audiences across the globe. For those of you who have been part of the Repo! journey this past decade, how would like to see its tenth birthday celebrated? Outlandish or realistic, I’d love to read your Repo! Birthday Party suggestions in the Comments section below.
(image credits: 1 & 9: photos – Alisa Burket; 3: graphic design – Sean Scoffield; 4: photo – Carlos Serrano Cubells; 5 & 8: colors – Molly Rodman, letters – Oceano Ransford; 6-7: photos – Steve Wilkie; 10: photos – Will Rot; and; 11: photo – Suthi Picotte.)