Bizarro Horror Fiction Author MP Johnson | Freak Tension Zine

Information about writer MP Johnson's horror fiction and bizarro fiction, Freak Tension zine and more.

Berzerkoids, my latest book, hit the stands last week. It’s been getting a lot of attention, in large part because of the gorgeous cover by artist Bill Hauser.

This is not the first Bill Hauser/MP Johnson collaboration. Check it out:

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Bill and I have actually been working together for over a decade now. In the late ’90s, I started doing a zine called Freak Tension. I would distribute it by standing outside after punk rock shows and handing a copy to every punk who walked out. One of those punks was Bill Hauser. I think he got his copy after the Cro-Mags show at the Quest in Minneapolis, but I could be wrong. Some time later, he contacted me by email asking if I’d like him to do a cover for Freak Tension.

At the time, I was doing most of the covers myself, which probably goes a long way in explaining why so many people threw their copy of Freak Tension straight onto the ground when I handed it to them after a show. Even though Bill hadn’t done a whole lot of art at that point aside from his own DIY comic, Oh Crackers, I said sure, what the heck? How could it not be an upgrade? One of the best decisions I ever made.

Bill’s cover for Freak Tension #10 blew my mind. It was an intense rendition of Frankenstein that was so far beyond the typical zine cover that it was almost sacrilege to slap it onto some sleazy newsprint. When I took it to the copy shop to work on the layout, the guy working there blew a gasket over how good the art was. “It’s like some Bernie Wrightson or Michael Kaluta shit!” he squealed.

That was in 2004. Since then, Bill has done some more covers for me, as well as T-shirts, bookmarks, flyers… He’s also built a huge following for his work on punk and metal record covers by bands like Ghoul, Hirax, In Defence, Antiseen and many more. He even did a T-shirt for Ozzy Fucking Osbourne!

And now Berzerkoids:

Berzerkoids By MP Johnson

I elbowed my way into his schedule to ask him some questions about art and Berzerkoids:

MP: Who is your favorite Berzerkoid?

BH: Picking my favorite Berzerkoid is like choosing my favorite child! I love them all! However if you came up with one that called “The Doodler” who is an artist Berzerkoid, but only draws phalluses, he would have to be my favorite!

MP: What was your inspiration when designing the Berzerkoids?

BH: My number one inspiration was the M.U.S.C.L.E. figures from the 1980’s! They were one of my all time favorite toys. I even had the little wrestling ring where you could make them fight. I would endlessly reenact the wrestling ring scene from Escape From New York with them. But really, all the great toys I grew up with were a huge inspiration to me for this project, and all of my artwork in general.

MP: How is doing a book cover different than doing a record cover?

BH: To be honest, it’s basically the same thought process. Both records and books are now sold and marketed primarily digitally, so it’s important to me to have striking images that translate well to an Amazon product page or to a record label page. Images I draw will be seen for the first time at a size of maybe 1 or 2 inches, so they have to have maximum impact at a small size. My work is very detailed, so it’s always a challenge getting it to read well.

MP: Why do you draw monsters?

BH: I’m not really sure. I started drawing at a very young age and I immediately gravitated toward things that were grotesque. I’ve always had a fascination with the abnormal and strange. I grew up in house that was pretty isolated from the outside world. I wasn’t allowed to watch much TV and I didn’t have a lot of friends. I lived in what amounted to a house sitting in the middle of a field, so I spent a lot of time completely bored out of my fucking mind! I would draw monsters and robots and alien landscapes just to have something to do.

MP: If you could time travel 20 years into the future, what would future Bill be working on?

BH: I hope I will be still be drawing record covers and merchandise for punk and metal bands! Music has always been a constant in my life, and I hope bands continue to want to work with me. I do hope, however, to be drawing more comics in the years to come. I started teaching a comic book class at The Art Academy in St. Paul, and it has reignited my love of comic books. I’m currently working on a comic book that will be released early June for the opening of a gallery exhibition of my artwork in Haarlem, Netherlands. The show is called Never Surrender! The Art of Bill Hauser, and will be the first overseas exhibition of my artwork.

MP: Who would win in a battle between Madballs and M.U.S.C.L.E. guys?

BH: Dude, seriously? I love Madballs, but there’s only like 20 or 30 of them. There are like a thousand M.U.S.C.L.E. dudes! AND, they have mad wrestling skills! The Madballs wouldn’t stand a chance!

 

 

Berzerkoids, my fifth book and first short story collection, just came out from Bizarro Pulp Press. Take a moment to soak in the beautiful cover by Bill Hauser:

Berzerkoids By MP Johnson

The art is based on the title story, “Berzerkoids are Here,” as well as the sequel, “Rise of the Berzerkoids.” Of course, those stories were inspired by the great toys of the ’80s, like Madballs and M.U.S.C.L.E. guys.

This is the book I’ve been dreaming about releasing since I was a kid. It’s packed with everything that I love: malicious toys, punk rock, drag queens, monsters, slime! I’m super proud of the thematic and emotional range on display in these short stories. Bizarro fiction, horror and lit are all represented here. There is plenty of gore in these pages, but there are some pieces at the close of the book that I hope will tug at your heartstrings.

Some of these pieces are appearing in these pages for the first time. Others are reprints, having originally appeared in publications as diverse as Strange Sex 2 from StrangeHouse Books and esteemed literary journal Revolver. Here is a list of the stories:

  • Berzerkoids are Here
  • I Summoned a Demon with a Vagina Mouth
  • Ex-Punk
  • Loving Arms
  • Hearts and Caterpillars
  • Killer Nails
  • Looking Fab and Fighting Scabs
  • I Think I’ll Donate this Severed Head to the Salvation Army
  • Groupie
  • Through Time, Knuckles First
  • The Final Failure of a Professional Small Animal Inside-Outer
  • Curse of the Curse
  • Record Collector Scum
  • Story of a Board
  • Feed My Corpse to Sharks
  • The Songwriter’s Fingers
  • Rise of the Berzerkoids

I took a lot of time selecting these stories from the hundreds that I have written over the years and sequencing them for maximum entertainment value. I really hope you pick this one up and give it a chance.

When I tell someone I write bizarro fiction, the response is usually, “What the fuck is bizarro fiction?”

That’s when I look deep into the person’s eyes and make an assessment. Is this person ready? Is this someone whose idea of crazy is an extra dessert at Applebee’s on date night? Or is this someone who can let go of normal, at least briefly, and step into a world where malls menstruate, where bubblegum pink centaur cowboys team up with machine gun-toting blowup dolls, and where masturbating astronaut walruses can incite tears?

So, before we go any deeper, let me ask you: Are you ready?

This is what bizarro fiction books look like.

Literature’s Equivalent To The Cult Section At The Video Store

In the distant past, when people had to go to video stores to rent movies, the best stores had a cult section. This was always my favorite section. It was where the stores threw all the stuff that didn’t fit anywhere else: Troma films, David Lynch films, Alejandro Jodorowsky films, John Waters films. You know, the good stuff!

The first Bizarro Starter Kit – Eraserhead Press’s introduction to the genre – calls bizarro fiction “literature’s equivalent to the cult section at the video store.” This is fair, but it doesn’t actually describe what the books have in common, other than that they don’t have much in common with other genres. It neglects the fact that these books share a variety of traits, one of which is crucial to understanding what bizarro fiction is all about.

So It’s Horror, Right? Or Science Fiction?

Sometimes, when I’m trying to explain bizarro fiction, the person cuts me off. “It sounds like horror to me!” or “You mean sci-fi, right?”

Bizarro fiction frequently employs elements that have become hallmarks of other genres. In my writing, for example, I pull a lot of inspiration from horror. Monsters and cults and demons frequently pop up. While I enjoy using horrific imagery, I can’t call my writing horror because the motivation is different. Horror books are written with the intention of scaring readers. If my stuff comes with scares, it’s entirely incidental. I am less interested in scares and more interested in surprises. I want to elicit one “What the fuck?” after the next. Also, I just really like monsters and gross stuff. I don’t want to hide them in the shadows. I want them to be out in the bright light of day, doing surprising things.

Other bizarro writers tangle with elements of science fiction, western, romance and more. But they take these elements and turn them into something new.

One Surprise After The Next

Another frequent definition of bizarro is that it is weird. Sometimes, and often disparagingly, it will be written off as being weird for the sake of weird. That’s entirely inaccurate. Yeah, it’s weird. But it’s being weird for the sake of surprise.

The one trait that all bizarro books have in common is the element of surprise. Perhaps you’re thinking, but that’s a key part of all genre fiction. True, but not in the same way. Horror typically reserves a big surprise for the end. The reveal of the monster. Science fiction lays out the surprise at the start, creating a new world for the reader. There may be smaller surprises throughout, but nothing like in a bizarro book.

A good bizarro book hits you with one surprise after the next, starting with titles like Ass Goblins of Auschwitz, The Haunted Vagina or, um, Dungeons & Drag Queens (winner of the Wonderland Book Award, by the way). Bizarro books are page-turners in the truest sense, because you could not possibly predict what will happen next.

The very best bizarro books come with strong characters that give readers someone or something to root for through all the twists and turns. The combination provides a reading experience unlike any other genre.

For more insight on the bizarro fiction genre and how I became part of it, check out my article, One Punk’s Guide to Bizarro Fiction.

It’s that time of year when I start looking back and asking myself, “What the fuck did I do with my time?” Here’s the answer:

The Wonderland Book Award

Every fall, the Wonderland Book Award honors the best novel and best short story collection in the world of bizarro fiction. This year, Dungeons & Drag Queens won in the novel category! I’ve been writing my whole life, and it feels fantastic to get some validation that I’m doing something that other people enjoy.

Two New Books

I released my third and fourth books: the gory Cattle Cult! Kill! Kill! from StrangeHouse Books and Sick Pack from Bizarro Pulp Press.

Weirdpunk Books And Blood For You

My love of punk rock and weird fiction inspired me to form my own publishing company, Weirdpunk Books. I co-edited the debut, Blood for You: A Literary Tribute to GG Allin with Sam Richard. It was funded with a Kickstarter campaign and accompanied by a DIY zine called The Highest Power, which marked my first zine since the last issue of Freak Tension a few years ago.

A Shout Out From Publishers Weekly

Very few of my short stories made it out into the world this year. However, one of the ones that did got a lot of attention. The venerable Publishers Weekly reviewed Giallo Fantastique and gave a shout out to my story, “The Strange Vice of ZLA-313.”

Also, I accomplished a major goal. In December, my story “Love Skull” appeared in Dark Discoveries magazine. I’ve been reading that mag and submitting stories for most of its decade-plus run. It feels good to finally get a piece in those pages.

Bizarro Bash, Conventions And Readings

I set up and promoted my biggest event yet. Bizarro Bash, which corresponded with the annual AWP convention, was a massive success. Well over 150 people crammed into the back room of Grumpy’s Downtown to catch readings by myself and other bizarro writers. This was one of four events I ran this year.

I traveled all over the country for conventions like Texas Frightmare Weekend, Rock and Shock, Flashback Weekend and Crypticon. I lost track of how many cons I did. It’s always refreshing to sell books in person and just nerd out with fellow horror fans. I’m finding that one of the coolest things about this whole writing business is the friends I’m making along the way. Totally unexpected bonus!

Shirts

I had Bill Hauser design some MP Johnson shirts so people could show off their love of weird books (and my books in particular), and the craziest thing happened: People bought them and wore them!

Looking Forward

I don’t think I can top the Wonderland Book Award, but I’m already ahead in terms of books. The first half of 2016 will see the release of: Dinosaurs & Drag Queens from Eraserhead Press and Berzerkoids, my short story collection, from Bizarro Pulp Press. I’m hoping to release four books in 2016.

Weirdpunk Books will release its second book, Hybrid Moments: A Literary Tribute to the Misfits. It will be co-edited by myself and Sam Richard. Submissions are open now. We will probably run a Kickstarter in the fall.

I’m going to wrap up Freak Tension with a greatest hits zine collecting some of my favorites from the 15 issue run. Then I’m going to move into new zine territory with my as of yet untitled drag queen zine, which will tell of my misadventures in the world of drag and feature interviews with drag queens, reviews of drag shows, etc. I’m pretty psyched about it and hope it will become an annual thing.

The debut book from my new press, Weirdpunk Books, is out now:

Blood For You: A Literaty Tribute To GG Allin

In this book, underground fiction’s finest authors take notorious punk rocker GG Allin and put him into the most insane, horrific, twisted fictional stories you can imagine. I’ve been dreaming of this book for years, but nobody was publishing it, so I decided to enlist Sam Richard as co-editor and make it happen. Of course, no publisher is quite nuts enough to publish something like this, so I had to form my own publishing company too.

Weirdpunk Books isn’t any old independent publisher. It fills a void. As far as I know, there aren’t any other presses out there devoted to the convergence of punk rock and weird fiction. So I’m going to publish a book a year or so, or really whatever I feel like. On deck is Hybrid Moments: A Literary Tribute to the Misfits.

Sick Pack, my fourth book (and second this year) was just released by Bizarro Pulp Press. Check out the cover art by Matthew Revert:

Sick Pack

Are your socks knocked off? Good. Keep them off, because you’ll be more comfortable without them when you start reading the book after you buy it from Amazon.

I’m really proud of this book because of how perfectly bizarro it is. It’s got hypnotic abs. I’ve also managed to include a super awesome punk rock mosh pit finale. Along the way, there’s necromancing coatimundis, body part bounty hunters, mustache crime lords and so much more.

You know that question that writers always get about where their ideas come from? And sometimes writers give some crazy esoteric answer? The concept for this book actually grew out of a goofy conversation I had several years ago with my friend Dylan. “Those abs are hypnotic!” “Yeah, but what if they were actually hypnotic?” I get a lot of ideas from just goofing around with friends.

Here’s the blurb from the back cover:

Fabulo’s six pack is hypnotic.

Literally.

His abs can hypnotize people, and that’s why they appear on the covers of romance novels worldwide. He’s in-demand and life is good for him. But what about for his abs? Did he bother to ask them if they wanted the spotlight? Of course not. The truth is they’re sick of it. All the dieting and crunches. They want more out of life, so they vamoose, forcing poor Fabulo to replace them with something altogether different and altogether disgusting, an all new…

Sick Pack!

Blood for You, the literary tribute to GG Allin I am co-editing with Sam Richard, is now available for preorder. In case you haven’t seen the glorious cover by Justin Coons yet, here it is:

Blood For You: A Literaty Tribute To GG Allin

If that’s not enough to sell you on the book, then how about this list of authors/GG Allin worshipers who will have stories in it:

  • Nick Cato
  • John Bruni
  • Jorge Palacios
  • Andrew Wayne Adams
  • Airika Sneve
  • Richard Arnold
  • Shawn Milazzo
  • Nicholaus Patnaude
  • David C. Hayes
  • Nicholas Day
  • Kevin Strange
  • Gabino Iglesias
  • Joel Kaplan
  • Jeff Burk

Go on, preorder it. You know you want to.

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