An Interview with the Former Weekly World News Editor Who Created Bat Boy
Every supermarket checkout stand in America is boring and prosaic these days. Sure, there’s plenty of news about Lindsay Lohan and Brangelina, but in the 80s and 90s there was an outlet for ridiculous, made-up stories called Weekly World News. Early on, its headlines were just fake enough to not be considered fraud, but just true enough to grab your attention.
They often relied on existing myths and conspiracies, like the lumberjack who kept Bigfoot as a love slave. Sometimes they would co-opt religious imagery, as when a giant Jesus went all Godzilla on the UN. But nothing had the staying power of Bat Boy.
Bat Boy was easily the paper’s greatest contribution to pop culture. According to a Washington Post article titled ”All the News That Seemed Unfit to Print,” the writer Bob Lind was inspired to write the headline “Bat Child Found in Cave” when he saw an image that artist Dick Kulpa had created almost by accident. But the Post didn’t talk to Kulpa about what was in his head when he accidentally birthed part of America’s cultural imagination. So I did.
I wanted to know why he inserted this ghoul into the nightmares of every American who shopped for groceries in the late 20th century. Instead of a feisty old retired yellow journalist, he turned out to be a friendly cartoonist who still occasionally puts Bat Boy into his work. He did have some choice words for The Onion, though.
VICE: Hi, Dick. How did you get a job at Weekly World News?
Dick Kulpa: I started out as a freelance illustrator working long distance from Akron, Illinois, and I produced drawings for these guys. Nine artists were in contention for this, and they all fell by the wayside. I did something like 85 drawings over the course of a year, many of them with under 24 hours notice. When they discovered I could write headlines, I was invited to try out for the staff, and I did, and within two days I was hired full-time.
What were your contributions, other than Bat Boy?
My natural capabilities are in story editing and editorial. I used that throughout my life as my tool to express myself. But there’s a difference between artists and editorial artists. I used to rewrite scripts sent to me by comics magazines years ago, and it was something because I had to pop up the punch lines, etc, and make it so a reader, when they read it, gets a payoff. That was my calling, basically. I could come up with all sorts of story ideas of this nature, and did. That was my value. Those people on that staff were top-notch people.
California Prisons Are Making It Harder for Inmates to Organize and Protest by Banning ‘Obscene’ Reading Material
In February 2013 a group of inmates in California’s Pelican Bay State Prison called for a statewide hunger strike to protest the widespread and sometimes capricious use of special housing units (SHUs, a burreaucratic term for solitary confinement). Germinated in a small collective that included representatives from four different gangs, the call quickly spread throughout the state’s lockups, and on July 8, 30,000 men in 25 prisons refused their meals, attracting national and international media attention. At the end of the two-month protest the state legislature promised to hold hearings to look into the use of SHUs, and some reforms have resulted, including a “step-down” program that may hasten some inmates’ transfers out of solitary.
The strike represented a feat of communication that defeated barriers of concrete, steel, and distance, and it had relied, in part, on the newspapers, magazines, and prison newsletters that had spread the word about the protest.
“The access to the media—from mainstream newspapers to more prison-specific publications—empowered these prisoners to strike,” said Oakland attorney Anne Weills, who represents a group of prisoners suing the state for keeping them in solitary for over a decade. “It gave them a sense of individual and collective empowerment.”
But Weills wasn’t the only person who noticed how the prisoners’ use of the media had facilitated a stunning denunciation of SHUs. The prison authorities also took note—and now the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) is proposing a ban on publications that address prison concerns under the guise of clamping down on “obscene materials.”
In California prisons, “obscene materials” has traditionally referred to a fairly narrow realm of images and written material, including photos or drawings of nude people or sexual penetration and pornography involving minors. Since the CDCR first adopted these prohibitions in 1995, there have been no updates, modifications, or additions to the list of contraband publications—until now. In April, the CDCR announced that it would change the rules to prohibit any publication that has an association with a “Security Threat Group” (STG, the new term of art for gang) or any material that might “indicate an association with groups that are oppositional to authority and society.”
Introducing the Profiles Issue
When dealing with idioms, you have to tread very carefully in regards to which ones you subscribe to, because you run the risk of inevitably being called out on your bullshit fortune-cookie rhetoric. For example, if you think you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but you also think a picture is worth a thousand words, you’re basically saying you’ve got a thousand-word assessment in your head, but you still have no idea what’s going on.
Luckily for you, the cover of our profile-themed May issue (shot by Nick Veasey) is so on-the-nose, that even if you have trouble molding your life to predictable parables and proverbs, you’ll get an idea of what’s in store. (Hint: It’s a picture of some anarcho punk decked to the nines in leather, studs, lapel flair, and cliche hair. It’s fitting because, deep down inside, he’s just another poor sap made out of the same meaty goo that makes up his mainsteam contemporaries.)
In the spirit of capturing one’s essence, here’s a glimpse of some of the other stuff in this issue:
VICE Senior Associate Editor Krishna Andavolu flew to Uruguay, ground-zero to the world’s first legal and regulated cannabis market, and profiled Jose Mujica, the country’s current president and one of the main proponents of decriminalization.
In “The Mayor Vs. the Ooze,” Sean Williams profiles another unsung hero, Toldi Tamas—the mayor of a small Hungarian town who saved his people from an environmental catastrophe.
Then, there’s Jon Taffer. While he might not be a hero or a champion of political reform per se, he’s reality TV’s necessary evil. “Dive Bard" tells the story of America’s greatest poet of drunkeness and failure.
VICE’s weekend editor, Mitchell Sunderland, temporarily embedded himself in the gay porn realm for Body of an American, the story of Michael Lucas, a Russian immigrant who conquered porn and became one of the most powerful gay men in New York City.
We know the print magazine lasts about 30 whole seconds at boutiques and stores before it sells out, so why aren’t you subscribed already? Do that right now right here. Got an iPad, fancy pants? Even better—download our FREE app, because then you get a whole bunch of extra stuff like extended interviews, more pictures, and all that jazz.
Introducing the Saving South Sudan Issue
The “Saving South Sudan” Issue of VICE is unlike anything done before in the 21-year history of the magazine. It tells a single story over the course of 130 pages, following the writer Robert Young Pelton, the photographer and filmmaker Tim Freccia, and a former South Sudanese refugee named Machot as they travel to Machot’s homeland, one of the most war-ravaged countries on Earth. For Machot, the trip was an attempt to help South Sudan out of the seemingly never-ending cycle of war, corruption, and power-hungry strongmen that has ruled the country for generations. For Pelton and Freccia, it was the chance to explore and document the conflict that is rapidly turning the three-year-old country into the world’s newest failed state—and to find out what, if anything, could stop South Sudan’s slide into hell.
Understandably, they ran into some problems on their journey. To begin with, they almost couldn’t find a pilot foolhardy enough to fly them into the middle of an ongoing war between the government in Juba and the rebels led by Riek Machar, the country’s former vice president. Then they had to haggle and negotiate their way into an interview with Machar before following his fearsome but undisciplined White Army to a battle in the town of Malakal that turned into wholesale slaughter.
Partly a history of colonialism and misguided Western interference in Africa, partly a profile of Machar as he plots and coordinates his rebellion in the bush, partly a look into one of the most dangerous, dysfunctional countries in the world, “Saving South Sudan” is a terrific, sobering work, and no one but Pelton and Freccia could have produced it. Pelton, the author of the bestselling, one-of-a-kind travel guide The World’s Most Dangerous Places (now in its fifth edition), has profiled “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh, been kidnapped by right wing death squads in Colombia, and lived with an elusive retired Special Forces colonel training Karin rebels deep inside the jungles of Burma. Freccia—who like many journalists, was inspired by Pelton’s work—has made it his life’s work to document conflicts and crisis in Africa and elsewhere. His photos provide a stark, sometimes horrific look into the realities of life in South Sudan, and his video footage is currently a documentary now playing on the site.
Pick up a free copy of “Saving South Sudan” anywhere VICE is distributed, or read it online now. Download the free iPad app for even more pictures, extended video footage, and special extras.
Photo Real – Molly Crabapple on Photoshop, Feminism, and Truth
Two weeks ago, Jezebel published un-retouched outtakes of Lady Gaga’s Versace campaign.
Without Photoshop, Gaga’s wig was more wig-like, her makeup flat beige, but she was the same skinny, strong-nosed chameleon that Stephani Germanotta has always been. The outtakes were not interesting but showing celebrities without Photoshop is Jezebel’s brand.
Jezebel exploded in popularity in 2007 by offering a $10,000 bounty for originals of Faith Hill’s Redbook cover. The raw photos proved the magazine had liquefied the star’s waist, softened her nasiolabial folds, and brutalized her elbow into a bendy tube. This January, with more controversy, Jezebel paid another $10,000 for the originals of Lena Dunham’sVogue cover shoot. Those revealed only a tidied dress.
Jezebel’s is a feminism that seeks its scapegoat in altered images. To refrain from Photoshop is girl-positive marketing gold. Dove Campaign for Real Beauty delights itself by putting out fake filters that chide retouchers. Magazines sign “No Photoshop” pledges. Clothing companies crow that they’ve never taken a clone-stamp to their models’ thighs.
To these feminists, Photoshop is to blame to unrealistic body standards, poor self-esteem, and anorexia in teenage girls. The campaign against Photoshop is the perfect cause for white, middle-class women whose primary problem is feeling their bodies do not match an increasingly surreal media ideal.
Photoshop, the belief goes, takes a true record of a moment, and turns it into an oppressive lie.
But fuck Photoshop. Photos are already lies.
Owning Porno Used to Mean Something, Damnit
1. When I was in high school I kept my porn in a white box. Inside the box was a stack of magazines—almost entirely Playboys, because I liked the clean stuff—as well as a purple folder full of the images I liked best, so that I could spread them out on my bedroom floor and sit in the middle of them, kind of like a crude manual version of Tumblr.
2. The internet really changed the way people masturbate. Today, if you want to see someone naked you just press the buttons and poof, there’s a boob. But as a teenager I remember thinking of pictures of naked women as a kind of secret relic, something you had to search out, anticipate and covet, which made them that much better when you got them.
3. I saw my first porn magazine in fourth grade when some kids in my class were passing one around under the lunch table. I remember feeling a weird sense of doom, like I was going to get caught the second I touched the paper, even though everyone else was laughing about it. I’m not sure what magazine it was, but the pictures were of naked women holding automatic weapons, dressed up like military personnel. I remember the feeling of seeing more than I actually saw.
4. The kid who owned that magazine briefly ran a business where you could buy a page out of other, similar magazines for a dollar. He carried them around in a duffel bag with a padlock on it. They were his dad’s magazines, he said, and there were more where those came from, if you had the money. I never bought one. Eventually he was caught and suspended.
5. I used to occasionally go to work with my dad. I remember feeling an insane sense of agency whenever he would stop at this one gas station that had a rack of tattoo magazines with tits in them. I would stand in front of the rack and wait until I knew I had half a second with no one watching, and then I would open the magazine as if I didn’t mean to, in case someone caught me. So instead of full visions, I caught flashes and tried to embed them deep in my memory so that I would be able to see them for a long time afterward whenever I shut my eyes.
6. A very brief, insanely vivid memory from when I was probably four or five, of picking up a magazine my dad’s friends were passing around at a camp in the woods, and the men laughing as my dad took it away from me before I could see. I remember my uncle saying something to the effect of, “one day you can have that,” and everyone laughing. I don’t remember many other things from that early stage in my life.
Download Our Fashion Issue on the VICE iPad App
Did you know we’ve been releasing a free iPad edition of every VICE issue since 2012, packed full of special features, extras, and exclusives? If not, you need to crawl out from beneath that big ball sack you’ve been hiding under and immediately download all of the great content we’ve cooked up.
Earlier this month, we released our annual Fashion Issue, which was sex themed. The concept lead to us explore everything from the hairy butts of women to the nuns in latex. As per usual, the iPad edition of the issue is bursting with dope, new shit. Here is a rundown of all the goodies:
— VICE’s Creative Director Annette Lamothe-Ramos introduces the issue with a video, detailing how we acquired the incredible Robert Mapplethorpe portfolio and cover photo.
— Artist Ole Tillmann’s Wooly Wendy illustration for “In Defense of Hairy Women” gets an interactive update, allowing users to actually add hair to Wooly Wendy’s face.
— In our Duran Duran-themed fashion shoot, “The Chauffeur,” Annette serves up some behind-the-scenes audio commentary.
— Our “Gender Benders” fashion shoot features behind-the-scenes footage our model boys transitioning into sexy-ass bitches.
— Our “Sisters” photo shoot, which has a nunsploitation-theme, features more audio commentary from Annette.
— “Power,” our fashion shoot and feature on the evolution of black masculinity through fashion, boasts beautiful bonus images taken by Awol Erizku.
— “Some Cat from Japan,” our Q&A with famed designer Kansai Yamamoto, features audio commentary from Annette.
— Jocelyn Spaar’s lovely illustrations of panties for Sadie Stein’s essay, ”Ass Menagerie,” features interactive lingerie animation.
— We added the audio version of Rat Tail’s ”2 Butts 4 the Price of 1” to the mysterious artist’s long lost lyrics.
— Milt Abdjourian, the publisher of an imaginary porn and fashion-focused, adds satirical audio commentary to a selection of his vintage cover images.
(Source: Vice Magazine)
The New Issue of VICE Is Here!
Our new year’s resolution for 2014 is butts. That’s what it says on a notecard amid the papers on the massive table that our editors use as a shared desk. “NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTION: BUTTS!” We don’t know what it means any more than you do, but we’re pretty sure we’re doing a kickass job following through on it—our first issue of 2014, the Horse Is a Horse of Course of Course Issue, features posteriors galore.
There’s the cover by David Choe, of course, which as you can see is very derriere-centric. Then there’s Wilbert Cooper’s deep dive into the epidemic of ass implants sweeping America—as he documents, fake rear ends are becoming more and more popular, and women (and some men) are frequenting back-alley doctors to get illegal butt injections, which can make your cheeks larger and more shapely but can also lead to life-ruining complications. Is it a good idea to pay thousands of dollars to have silicone shot into your hips? Maybe not, even if you are a stripper at an ultra-glamorous Miami strip club, like some of the women Wilbert talked to.
Then there’s the (slightly less serious) investigation a pair of our correspondents did into the asses plowed by Fidel Castro. Is the Cuban leader the greatest lover of all time? Probably.
Other questions asked in this issue include:
Can marijuana cure cancer in children? (Yes, according to the people giving extremely powerful THC pills to an eight-year-old girl.)
What’s it like to be one of the few female cadets at an elite military academy in Pakistan? (Pretty fucking exhausting, but also rewarding, as the soldiers told documentarian Aeyliya Husain.)
How fucking stylish is vintage ski equipment? (Very fucking stylish—just look at that fashion shoot by Graham Dunn.)
What does it take to create a worldwide network of atheist churches? (A couple of English standup comedians are hoping that being really, really nice will do the trick.)
How does it feel to know that the man who kidnapped you and murdered two UN soldiers during the Lebanese civil war 34 years ago is now freely selling ice cream in Detroit? (Not good, writes Steve Hindy, who was an AP reporter in the Middle East before he founded the Brooklyn Brewery.)
Here’s one last question: Why the heck aren’t you subscribed to our magazine? Do that shit here. If you’ve got an iPad, get our app for free here, and enjoy the extras that come with every article.
The human race is a larcenous, duplicitous one, isn’t it? Our ingenuity in the fine art of deluding knows few limits. To honor that ineffable nature of our being, we present December’s edition of VICE magazine: The Skammerz Ishu. Pick up a copy at one of these fine locations (it’s a steal) or muster the courage to subscribe here (do it already), and you can download the iPad version, which includes extras not available in print or online, here.
You won’t need to look any further than the cover to illustrate how scams, swindles, rackets, and grifts can take on unimagined forms. Artist Mishka Henner pulled a fast one on the very people who make their living off Nigerian-prince-style email scams by “scam-baiting” one particularly dedicated con man to create the image that graces our cover. Over the course of four months of correspondence, Mishka’s associate, Condo Rice, convinced the would-be trickster, who claimed to have lost treasure of the Gaddafi regime, into producing the surreal image above. Excerpts from the absurd email exchange can be found in the magazine alongside loads of other tales of scams, including but not limited to:
Our Dishonest Planet: Stories of common hustles and cons from around the world.
Pulitzer Prize and Polk Award-winning journalist John L. Mitchell and Jack Chang’s investigation into the death of Malcolm L. Shabazz, the grandson of Malcolm X, who was killed when a Mexico City bar scam went tragically awry earlier this year.
Former VICE editor Aaron Lake Smith’s love song to the lost days of the Greyhound bus underworld, which looks back on years of riding with a forged Ameripass ticket.
“Sometimes We Taze Each Other, ” a short story by Adam Wilson, winner of the Paris Review’s Terry Southern Prize for Humor.
VICE’s own Krishna Andavolu’s look into the exploitative, horrific conditions endured by the (often undocumented) temp workers in the giant retail warehouses across America.
Amie Barrodale’s rememberance of her years of scoring free nights at the nicest hotels in the world, which she managed by claiming to be a travel writer.