Memory Lane, part 1
I came up in show business as a playwright and monologuist in the late 1980s. My beat was the East Village of New York City. I didn’t have a computer back then — my plays and monologues were written on a clackety old Royal Portable that dated from the Koren War. And my flyers were all assembled by hand. I had no layout tools at my disposal, so I leaned into the crude aesthetics of the punk rock I loved — I slapped together things I found on the street, I doodled in the margins, I made all the scotch tape visible. Instead of trying to make my flyers look slick, I emphasized their shabbiness. If you weren’t there, they probably won’t make much graphic sense.
It’s also worth pointing out that all these images were meant to be reproduced in black and white, at Xerox machines at Kinko’s. Sometimes they looked better that way, sometimes much was lost.
Do remember to click on any of the images to see them bigger.
The earliest extant flyer I have. Circa 1982. I was living in Carbondale, Illinois. I was 20 years old. Strangely, I was making half my income as a performer. Six days a week I worked at a Burger King, but one night a week I appeared at the New Yorker nightclub, hosting an open-mic night. Each gig paid me $75 a week — six days at Burger King, one night at the New Yorker. You could live on $150 a week in Carbondale, Illinois. I lived in a trailer, the rent was $55 a month. Those were the days. Days of crushing poverty and isolation.
In direct contrast to the "busy" style of the first flyer, here’s me heading in the opposite direction. This flyer dates from the summer of 1982. I could probably pinpoint it to the week, because the style is lifted directly from the "Masterpiece?" ad campaign for Elvis Costello’s Imperial Bedroom, which came out in July of that year.
This one probably dates from 1988. I did a monologue gig on my birthday! As you can see, I’m still in a "simple, elegant" mode.
This probably dates from December 1988. I had recently read Whitley Strieber’s Communion, a first-person, non-fiction account of a man abducted by aliens. I was steeped in UFO-related stuff back then and put together this busy, silly agglomeration of images for a flyer for a show that had nothing whatsoever to do with UFOs. I wanted it to look like a flyer designed by a crazy person, perhaps a naive artist like Howard Finster.
As you can see, by September of 1990 I’ve begun to cannibalize myself, trying to build up layers of associations. I’ve torn off the top of one old flyer and lifted the photo from another. The "Grip of Death!" image, if it’s too hard to read, comes from a pack of Batman movie trading cards I found on the street. I probably worried for about five seconds if I could get in trouble with Warner Bros for using their image.
This card was made a few weeks later, and is quite a bit busier. I’m trying to fill up all the space. The main image is me in front of my childhood home in Crystal Lake, Illinois. I had recently gone on a pilgrimage to visit the trauma of my upbringing.
If it’s not obvious, this is my first "Urban Monologues" flyer re-worked with new elements. I’ve torn a page from a magazine to cover up the image of the hand holding the cup, then stuck another found-on-the-street trading card on top of that (I think this set was called "Dinosaurs Attack!"). I’ve added a couple of doodles called it a day. The Lizard’s Tail was a performance club in the dead of Brooklyn. It was not a place that one happened upon — if you were there, it’s because you really wanted to be there. It was really hard to find.
I used to have lots of fun with Letraset, which was a rub-on lettering thing you used to get at art stores. I would smush it up and use it all wrong, distress it, chip it, use sheets that were way too brittle to transfer properly. Here, if you squint, you can see, below my name, the tiny phrase "HEAT RESISTANT," which came from the corner of a Letraset sheet.
Also, I started putting a hyphen in the middle of my name, "Todd-Alcott", because Sonic Youth was doing that at the time and I thought it looked cool.
The photo of me in the suit and dark glasses was taken in the office of the Paris theater, where I worked as a manager at the time — that was my "day job" while I was plying my trade as a playwright-monologuist. What a great job that was! The theater had no concession stand, only a box office. There was almost nothing for the manager to do, just make sure the theater didn’t burn down, and to make sure the employees didn’t rip the place off, and to count the money at the end of the day. I wrote a ton of stuff while working at the Paris.
This is one of my favorites. The image is from an issue of the New York Times Magazine, from a profile on Mike Ovitz, who was, for the young ones out there, an incredible power in Hollywood at the time. The "face" I’ve stuck over Mr. Ovitz’s is a tag from some article of clothing that I found on the street. The face’s "smile" is where the tag would hang from the wire rack. I see now that the tag hails from a Disney product — ironic, since Mike Ovitz would famously find Disney to be his Waterloo.
I like this one a lot too, even though I don’t think it works. There is a lengthy quote from Adolf Hitler at the top, about how art should only be about the fine and good things in life, not about "men in states of decay." I don’t know who would stop to look at a flyer for the amount of time it would take to read the quote, but it perfectly set off what I was trying to do in the show — my monologues were all about people falling apart.
My Franklin Furnace show was one of the triumphs of my early career. Franklin Furnace was, at the time, in the middle of a national scandal because of the performance artist Karen Finley, who had shocked the squares by doing something or other. Their funding was threatened and people responded with an outpouring of interest in their shows, even though they had been booted from their space. So the space, at the Judson Church, was packed, and the audience was with me from the very beginning of the show. That was a great evening for me.
I traveled back to Carbondale, my starving-artist town, to write a multi-media piece about my time there — living in a trailer, dropping out of school, starving almost to death. The cut-up postcard on this flyer is one of the Carbondale camus, the basketball stickers advertise the college team at the school there, and the photo-ID of me is from my college days.
After the Franklin Furnace show was a hit, I did it again at HOME. As you can see, I’m still having fun with Letraset and still heavily influenced by Kline.
Here’s a big Letraset blowout — I really let it go here. Busy busy busy.
The other element introduced here is the "inside of envelope" thing I discovered. For ages I was obsessed with the interiors of business envelopes, I’d collect them and use them for graphics all the time.
Eventually, my monologue show became known as Living in Flames, and popped up at a number of places around the country, but probably first at Dixon Place. I love the image of me hear — it looks like my head is smearing right off my neck. It looks like an image from some horribly sordid underground ritual. Which is exactly what I was hoping to get across.
Finally, the show moved off-Broadway, briefly, at the John Houseman studio, in 1994. By that time, a computer was available to make flyers look halfway decent, and there was probably five dollars or so budgeted for publicity, so a little slickness was in order. Despite the relative slickness here, The font is all hand-typed by myself on my then-40-year-old manual typewriter, and the image is of me actually peeking out through my actual apartment door on E 6th St.