Max Maxwell - February 2003
I met Max at the University of Oklahoma in experimental filmmaking class in the fall of 1978. We became fast friends and soon began collaborating on many projects.
I first became aware of Max by seeing his madcap films in class. They were both funny and shocking, naive and brilliant, and deliciously cheesy and thoroughly entertaining. Just their titles, like "Famous Doll Murders" "How To Cook A Cockroach Souffle" and "Godzilla vs. Sesame Street", to name a few, give a clear indication at how outrageous his films were.
I had quite a few jobs while attending college, including that of maintenance worker at several apartment complexes. One day I got a work order to fix a bathroom sink and it turned out to be Max's apartment. After I completed the work I ended up hanging out with him for several hours and soon after that we were inseparable.
Max had a way of getting all of his friends involved in his filmmaking projects and it wasn't too long before I was recruited to lend technical assistance and operate the camera when Max needed to be on screen.
My work was more solitary as my primary collaborators were the media equipment, but Max lent moral support and occasional assistance with my projects as well.
The OU School of Art film department had this incredible cache of old deteriorating vintage educational 16-mm films that were collected for artists to use to practice editing and as a wealth of found footage material for our film projects. We were occasionally turned loose in the room where these films were stored and allowed to take any films we wanted to work with. I, like many other students, realized the true nature of these treasures and rather than cut-up the original films we would reproduce the footage and keep the films intact preserving them for posterity.
I got a nice collection of about a dozen or so films on drug addiction, dating etiquette, atomic bomb preparedness, juvenile delinquency, and workshop accidents. One of the first projects Max and I created together was the 'found footage' film extravaganza "Back To Normal". Max projected the films while I captured the footage with another camera, editing in-camera as I shot the film.
Over the years we have collaborated on countless projects, as well as showing our work together in various venues.
It would probably help a bit to understand a bit
about me to understand my artistic bent.
I am fascinated by things that some people may find
bizarre or offbeat. I find wonder in
ordinary things also. But sights, sounds, and
sensations that are surreal or otherworldly
grab my attention.
The first interest in art that I remember was in the
first grade. There was a girl named
Carol Conners that would take crayons and draw circles
and ellipses. It was abstract,
and she would draw real fast, but you could tell what
it was and it looked so neat! I
was fascinated! We hung around a lot. I would go and
play over at her house. Looking
back, I realized she was gifted and her parents knew
and encouraged it. She practically
had her own studio with clay and paints and easels set
up for her.
I kept drawing pretty much the same way, copying
her, until third grade when I was
moved to a public school. Whole different crowd, but
drawing helped a lot! I got
introduced to not-so-stuffy thinking and a lot more
ideas, but not from the teachers. They
were generally boring, which inspired me to spend more
time on drawing -- doodling to
be precise. And, this is when I came up with my first
comic strip, TOILET MAN! A super
hero that would jump into a toilet to change, and at
the end of the strip would emerge
from a sewer cover in a street and get hit by a truck.
It was the exact same beginning and
ending in every strip, but kids loved it! (Hey, we
were eight years old!) This is a true
story: When I had moved back to Dallas from college at
22, I called the local PBS station
during their fund drive to make a pledge. When the guy
answering the phone got my
name, he said "Max Maxwell!!! -- You mean, the guy that
drew Toilet Man?" It was a guy that I
knew named Rich that was a volunteer. Weird huh?
It would probably help a bit to understand a bit about me to understand my artistic bent. I am fascinated by things that some people may find bizarre or offbeat. I find wonder in ordinary things also. But sights, sounds, and sensations that are surreal or otherworldly grab my attention.
The first interest in art that I remember was in the first grade. There was a girl named Carol Conners that would take crayons and draw circles and ellipses. It was abstract, and she would draw real fast, but you could tell what it was and it looked so neat! I was fascinated! We hung around a lot. I would go and play over at her house. Looking back, I realized she was gifted and her parents knew and encouraged it. She practically had her own studio with clay and paints and easels set up for her.
I kept drawing pretty much the same way, copying her, until third grade when I was moved to a public school. Whole different crowd, but drawing helped a lot! I got introduced to not-so-stuffy thinking and a lot more ideas, but not from the teachers. They were generally boring, which inspired me to spend more time on drawing -- doodling to be precise. And, this is when I came up with my first comic strip, TOILET MAN! A super hero that would jump into a toilet to change, and at the end of the strip would emerge from a sewer cover in a street and get hit by a truck. It was the exact same beginning and ending in every strip, but kids loved it! (Hey, we were eight years old!) This is a true story: When I had moved back to Dallas from college at 22, I called the local PBS station during their fund drive to make a pledge. When the guy answering the phone got my name, he said "Max Maxwell!!! -- You mean, the guy that drew Toilet Man?" It was a guy that I knew named Rich that was a volunteer. Weird huh?
Halloween circa 1997
I started looking at other things for influences. I
loved field trips, especially to the
museums. A whole different world from cartoons. I had
other influences too. My brother,
Jerry was much older than me, and was interested in
electronics. He always had machines
and gadgets around the house that were like magic. He
also had a weird sense of humor,
which is how I got hold of Mad magazine. It was not
like Saturday morning cartoons,
which even at that age I was beginning to be sorely
disappointed with. My favorite was
Don Martin. Very strange characters with those long,
flat feet that bent down when they
walked -- like your feet could do that! I immediately
started studying his style and trying to
reproduce it. I got pretty good at it and once again,
kids loved it! I got lots of requests.
Another thing my brother introduced me to was solder! Since he would be soldering wires and circuit boards, I would watch him turn metal to liquid, and then back again to solid after he shaped it. That was magic to me. I started playing with it myself, making abstract shapes at first, then making figures. I had, (And still am!), been a big Godzilla fan. So I solder-sculpted a chess set whose characters were all Japanese monsters. Godzilla, Rhodan, Mothra, the whole gang. My parents were impressed and I started to get the inkling that they were encouraging me. Or at least they felt I was beyond stopping.
Space Poster circa 1976
I pretty much sculpted and drew without thinking
about it being a big part of my life until
seventh grade. Another school change. Private
religious school. Uniforms, the whole
works. It completely changed my perception on
expressing myself. It wasn't bad the first
year really, but I felt I could speak more through my
cartoons and drawings than anything
else. It was at about this time also that I discovered
the National Lampoon magazine. I
don't think my folks would have been wild about the
content, but they pretty much gave
me free reign. Not only did I love the off-the-wall
and controversial humor, they had
comics and a whole cartoon section I hadn't seen
anywhere else. Entering the world of
adult cartoons! In one issue, I noticed in the back an
advertisement for a "whole box of
underground comics" for ten bucks. I sent away for it,
and when it arrived, they weren't
joking! It was stuffed with about thirty different
undergrounds, like they were cleaning out
an old closet. One of the books was by Vaughn Bodé,
and it completely blew me
away! The colors, the way the frames interacted with
the characters, the characters
themselves! Of course I started dissecting and
imitating it. I wrote my first ever fan letter
to a cartoonist and he actually answered back! I still
have the note card letters he
sent me. Thanked me and told me what kind of pens,
markers and paper he used. I was off
and running. I started doing my own cartoon series and
comic books. Not a great deal of
which got printed, but I was having fun.
With all the different styles I was starting to morph into my own. (Nothing is really truly original). Second year through to graduation went down the tube as white flight hit and every rich white family was trying to get their kids away from busing. School went gigantic, lots of jocks that couldn't make it in public school were now stars because of their rich pappies and the social order went into a narcissistic spiral. Probably best for me. I stuck to my art for expression even more. Not being a jock and having hair as long as allowed put me in a very small minority. I got busted in high school for helping put out an underground newspaper, "Chicken Scratch". There were no obscenities or nudity, it just slammed the rich kid snob football scene. They recognized my drawings. Well, at least I had a recognizable style at the time.
House Cat circa 1978
It was off to college after that where I got a
whole load of influences! For the first
time I was in a learning environment with artists of
all different media and ideas and the
whole concentration was on art. It was wonderful.
During my first year I started
concentrating on other media instead of just drawing.
For the first time I went to art
events as they happened instead of just going to
static events in museums. I was learning
to freely try other types of expression. I met artists
like Brian Crossett, who mostly was
into welding art, Tom Renbarger, a painter, sculpture,
and mish-mosh specialist. They
helped make up the (unofficial) Home for Wayward
Artists. It was a place where painters,
sculptures, music, film and video artists would live
and hang out. A place to have laid back
discussions and of course, parties that attracted even
The next year I became more interested in film as I was taking a course as an elective to my major. I have always been interested in film, but these classes took me beyond the "here's a plot with actors and a music score" type film. I now saw films like drawing or painting. I could put my ideas and imagination into moving pictures and sound if I wanted to! Not just to tell a conventional story. I have been entranced ever since. It is around this time I met my good friend Stevo, who became and is an influence to this day. He introduced me to the more electronic side of moving sound expression. We would discuss things. He would help me on my projects, and I would help (try to) him on his. It was during this period of diving into filmmaking that I opened up my cartoon universe and released it's ruler, Mr. Nuclear! Lord Emperor Maxmillian Nuclear (He's been promoted), has ever since been a cornerstone of my artwork and thinking in a symbolic way.
Silverhammer circa 1979
Stevo was also the DJ at the college radio station.
I have always loved radio and
comedy (Firesign Theatre, National Lampoon, Dr.
Demento), and have myself enjoyed
clowning around editing funny music and sound bits on
reel-to-reel and cassette tape recorders. It was a natural
to get involved in that too. Stevo put together one
show that we did called, "Over the
Rainbow", and helped get my "Nightmare City" tape on
the air. It was aired
on Halloween with other hoopla, and became an annual
With Stevo I met even more artists, lots in the field of electronic art. Ron Franks, a photographer, printmaker; Kevin Stark, a painter/illustrator, musician; and Tim Boggs, a video, musician, sculptor. More and more influences. In 1980 we got together in Oklahoma City for our own show of each of our works called the "Art Manifest". It was the first show where I was a major participant, not just a small contributor!
In my last year of college, 'circumstances' made it
necessary to move to a new dwelling.
I took up residence with two gentleman at a
Professor's house who was on a retreat for
the year. I met John Schulte, a very bizarre writer
and video, filmmaker. We became
friends quickly and he has (and is) been an influence in
my life. Schulte makes 'art' films, but
with little plots and messages of a humorously dark
nature. He definitely appealed to my
After graduating from college, I headed back to Dallas to an uncertain future. I knew art would be involved, but I also needed to live. I interviewed for several advertising jobs, and finally ended up at a gaming company called Heritage. A fantasy job come true! Drawing up games about monsters and space ships! I got to draw and paint, learned more about airbrushing, and got back into miniature modeling with some pros! During this time I also found out about the Dallas Artist Co-op. A Non-profit of artists that banded together to help each other put together and promote each others work. I helped with shows and performances like the "Ids of March" week shows, and Spazbot performance music concerts, actually starring in three of them! My interest in sound continued as I was recruited to do the Co-op's radio promo show for KNON, 90.9 FM. It went from 5 to ten minutes a week with a 30 minute show once a month. I was also doing what I call 'creative' phone announcements...some of which got me in trouble...with the police! That's another story.
Nightmare City Halloween 1984flier
I also had some shows of my own, with video
premieres, but the biggest show that I was
involved with was the Nightmare City Halloween 1984
show! Stevo was in Dallas during
this period. He organized and we put together a live
Halloween show at the Twilight Room
while we were on the radio simultaneously with
broadcasts of our videos on cable access.
The Dallas Artist Co-op helped decorate the Twilight
Room as a haunted house and the
show was on. 1984 was a good year!
Since then I have made films like "First Attempt at Autobiography". I continue to make videos with my new 8mm video camera. I did a stint of comics called the Vomit Pigs for Upbeat magazine, and other cartoon strips like, Mr. Nuclear and Zen Janitor for other publications. I am also dabbling (slowly) with the computer. I love to write as well as draw, I consider both to be art forms. I send 'art packages' occasionally to my friends without warning, and my latest touch is my 'Art Postcards'. I started doing these at random as a way of spontaneously expressing myself in whatever mood I am in, using all kinds of mediums, as long as I can do it on a mail-able postcard.
In a nutshell: I started out with an overactive imagination, triggered by a girl with a crayola, went from copying cartoons to learning how to express myself in high school, and in college I got the sorely needed saturation of the many mediums and ideas in the art world and started to absorb them. And I haven't stopped since!
Max with model circa 1985
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Max has been sending me art postcards for years.
This one is my favorites...
Live Video Postcard
#1: Crazy On My Meds
27 January 2000 5:30 AM