I first met David W. Barbee in the wee hours of Friday morning during the third annual Bizarrocon (my first attendance). Being a newly-minted 21-year-old in the midst of several dozen creative professionals, I did the only sensible thing and got so piss-stinking drunk at the previous night’s opening ceremonies that I threw up in a urinal and passed out at 10 o’clock sharp.
While wandering the misty grounds of the hotel and feeling sorry for myself, I chanced upon David and his wife, Sonya. They had also gone to bed at 10pm because they flew 3000 miles west from Georgia. We struck up a conversation, and before you knew it, a friendship was born. Since then, the Barbees have been some of my closest Bizarro chums, and I’ve looked up to David as an example of small press success. Known for his humorous, madcap writing style, often flavored with self-deprecating, Southern charm, he is the author of The Night’s Neon Fangs, Thunderpussy, and A Town Called Suckhole. But it all began with his NBAS novella, Carnageland.
DWB: The cuteness of my baby daughter is currently under review. I'm not authorized to say anything more, but I also can't hide the obvious. This is "planet killer" level cuteness we're dealing with. Bullets bounce off of it, steel melts, and mountains quake. This kid's adorableness could swallow the sun if we're not careful, so let's all start worshiping her as a living god in the hopes that she has humanity's best interests at heart. Patootie shall be her god-name, in fact.
KF: Since Carnageland was the beginning of your writing career, tell me how you discovered Eraserhead Press and bizarro fiction in general.
DWB: I discovered bizarro fiction by wandering around Amazon.com looking for books that couldn't be found by wandering around my local Barnes and Noble. All of their descriptions and covers were strikingly weird, even if they weren't my kind of weird. I bought a few to start with. I think they were Satan Burger, The Baby Jesus Butt Plug, and Suicide Girls in the Afterlife. I was hooked from there. I didn't know a lot about the contemporary literary world at the time, but I knew that bizarro was the most interesting thing going on.
KF: How did you get roped into the NBAS?
DWB: I heard about the NBAS through the old Bizarro Central forums, where I used to hang out. I was self-publishing a few things at the time, but really, I was just a fan at that point. I already had an idea for a story I was going to publish myself, so I pitched it for the NBAS. They liked it, but said I had to take my other self-published books out of print. I think I surprised them when I said I'd gladly do that just to get my foot in their door. I remember Rose or Carlton saying that, in their experience, self-published authors would have never done that. To me it was an easy choice and a step upward. A tiny alien book from EHP is better than two big clumsy novels where I was all on my own and kicking the written word in its groin.
KF: Given the current state of self-publishing (where self-published authors seem to have carved a bigger niche for themselves) do you think you would have made the same choice today?
DWB: I don't think I would have continued self-publishing even when that wave hit. For me, the right choice was to get with other weirdos who had the same goals and learn as much as possible from them. I mean, this isn't a team sport and in many ways an author is on his/her own, but I really like being part of the bizarro community. Seeing all these different writers doing their thing has been invaluable to my own growth and development. Handling the author business entirely alone (which was how I was doing it, at least) is great for megalomaniacs, but my ego was quickly bulldozed by all the stuff I didn't know. I'm now hitting my stride, and I owe it to the support of a strong community.
DWB: Holy crap. Writing the story wasn't so bad. I had it planned out because Carnageland was just the first leg of a trilogy featuring Invader 898. First he invades a fairy tale world where he learns to indulge in all the bad things he's always been told were forbidden. By the second part we'd get to see him as a junkie hopped up on sex and drugs, still managing to get away with it. In the third book he would've been found out and forced to try to escape ultimate punishment. We only told the first part because of the word limit. That's why Carnageland feels kind of short and rushed. During the editing process, Kevin Donihe basically whipped me pillar to post. We did six or seven proofreads, fixing up the prose and smoothing it out. That manuscript needed A LOT of work and Donihe really helped me realize that I needed to evaluate my writing and push myself harder, which I'm always trying to do now. I consider Kevin Donihe to be one of bizarro's best and I'm honored that he's still my editor, still telling me what he thinks about something I wrote. Basically I love that dude.
KF: Do you think you'll ever get the chance to tell the rest of Invader 898's story?
DWB: I think this is the first time I've spoken about it publicly, so I should definitely say that I'd be happy to finish that tale if someone wanted to publish it. The titles to the other parts are Snufftoons and Horrorgasm.
KF: Tell me about how your year went as far as promoting Carnageland and building an audience. What was the response like? What were some of your favorite moments? Did you have to eat a live possum in order to prove yourself?
DWB: No possums were harmed. I spared their lives so the gods would grant me luck. When Carnageland came out I was still a total novice at promoting. I tried sending a lot if review requests that came off really spammy. I worked with some other authors, making artwork or mini comics about 898. I did a ton of giveaways. That stuff was fun and I try to do it still. I sold a few copies of Carnageland at Free Comic Book Day at my local comic shop, including one to a young boy who might not have realized there was an alien penis on the cover. I'm kind of proud of that. I don't use that shop anymore, though. The owner's kind of a tool.
KF: Being the first wave of an untraditional publishing model, did you feel like an experiment? Or like history in the making?
DWB: I was an experiment all the way. Carlton Mellick poked me with a stick while I ran around corners trying to find the cheese. All I found was a pasty, sideburned hulk, waiting there with his stick. But I liked it. Maybe that makes me some kind of weird pervert but I think it also shows that bizarro is where I belong. I want to see us take over the world. So I'm a pervert with ambition, I guess.
KF: I won't name names, but I'd say you're in good company. What was the end result of your time as a lab rat for a small, up-and-coming press?
DWB: Well, it helped me work my way into the bizarro scene, where I've made a ton of friends and allies, which, along with achieving my dream of being an author, is pretty great. One little alien story led to the weird, epic things I'm writing now. Carnageland isn't my favorite, but it was pivotal to my career.
KF: Any advice you'd like to pass along to the newest of the new bizarro authors?
DWB: My advice is to work together! My group worked together, but only a little. Giving tips here and there. But I think more could be done, and on a far bigger scale than what we did. I think this blog idea of yours, and chronicling the NBAS, is a perfect example.
KF: How do you think the NBAS has evolved and where would you like to see it go?
DWB: I think the series has made gigantic leaps and strides with every year that passes. I always say that Carnageland is one of the weaker NBAS books in the whole catalog. And that's not to be self-deprecating. It's because so many great novellas came after. Some of them have been rereleased as standalone books by Eraserhead. I think it'd be cool as fuck if one day EHP released a collection of some of our favorite NBAS stories, like Bucket of Face and Gutmouth and a bunch of others.
KF: That would be cool as fuck. And tell me, David, are you living your bliss?
DWB: I assume that living my bliss would mean riding my bliss. My bliss is a tiger that can run on clouds. Which would be awesome if my bliss hadn't run away when I was a child. It would've been cool if he'd stayed. He had stripes that leaked blue ice cream.
KF: It's like the World of Warcraft, only you can taste it
DWB: I always figured WoW would taste like Chinese food.
KF: Let’s not kid ourselves. WoW would taste like Mountain Dew and Cool Ranch Doritos.