Article for Medill: False alarms cost police

Glenview Police responded to 2,706 false alarms from Jan. 1 to Nov. 16 of this year, endangering officers by conditioning them to expect all alarms to be false, Commander Don Hohs of the Glenview Police Department said Monday.

The 2,706 false alarms were 3.2 percent more than the number of false alarms that occurred in the same period last year, according to police statistics.

Repeated false alarms can leave officers complacent and unprepared to handle dangerous situations and criminals associated with legitimate alarms, Hohs said. In 2002, 99.9 percent of alarms were false and in 2001, 99.8 percent of alarms were false.

“At any given time out of all of those alarms, you’ve got to be ready for anything to occur,” he said. No Glenview officers have been killed or wounded as a result of complacency encouraged by false alarms, he added.

False alarms also consume police officers’ time and contribute to wear and tear on police vehicles.

A patrol officer spends an average of 15 to 30 minutes responding to an alarm, Hohs said. The department requires two patrol officers – each officer in his or her own vehicle that is undergoing unnecessary wear and tear along the way – to be sent to each alarm.

With two officers each spending 15 minutes responding to each alarm, a total of 30 minutes of work time is consumed. Using this estimate, Glenview officers spent about 1,353 work hours responding to false alarms through Nov. 16 of this year. A patrol officer’s median wage of $27.22 per hour means that the Glenview Police Department has paid its officers roughly $37,000 to respond to false alarms for this period.

Preventive patrolling, when police drive around an area to create the crime-deterring perception of a heavy police presence, can be compromised by false alarms as well, Hohs said.

Police cars responding to false alarms cannot patrol, and the result is a less pronounced police presence. That may encourage people to commit crimes they would not commit in an area with a more pronounced police presence, Hohs said.

Glenview, like many other municipalities, has attempted to control false alarms by fining the businesses and residences that generate them.

Homes are allowed three false alarms before the village begins to collect – $50 for the fourth through eighth false alarm, and $100 for every false alarm beyond that. Commercial properties are fined $25 for every false alarm beyond three.

If the police department responds to more than 10 false alarms within six months at a single property, that property’s alarm system may undergo “system revocation proceedings,” which means it may be stopped from alerting police. No alarm system in Glenview has ever been considered for revocation, officials at the police department said.

Alarm system companies are also fighting false alarms, said Ken Hohs, president of Norshore Alarm Company Inc., a company that has installed about 150 alarm systems in Glenview homes and businesses. He is a distant cousin of Commander Don Hohs.

While Commander Don Hohs mentioned electrical storms as one cause of false alarms, Ken Hohs said many false alarms are caused by a small percentage of alarm system owners who often commit user error.

User error includes owners forgetting to lock their doors; the wind blows the doors open, triggering the alarm, Hohs said. Other people trigger the alarms themselves and forget the codes and passwords to turn the alarm off.

Hohs said to reduce the number of false alarms, alarm system owners should make sure every window and door of their house is closed and locked before setting their alarm. If alarm system owners have any questions about the operation of their alarm, they should call their alarm system company.

He also said that many of the businesses and residences he works with have their alarm system alert a private switchboard before the police are contacted. An operator at the private switchboard will attempt to contact someone responsible for the activated alarm system in order to verify the alarm’s legitimacy before calling the police.

”We don’t like false alarms any more than anyone else,” Ken Hohs said.

Commander Don Hohs said false alarms are a “constant problem” he expects to worsen from year to year as more people acquire alarm systems.

National spending on electronic security products and services is growing at 8.6 percent per year, according to the National Burglar and Fire Alarm Association’s Web site.

In 1998, American police departments spent $1.5 billion responding to approximately 38 million alarms, 94 percent to 98 percent of which were false alarms, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

Article for Medill: Train wreck death

Glenview Police identified Peter Guttilla, 87, of the 500 block of Briar Hill Lane, Glenview, as the man who died after a Metra train struck his car on Thursday morning.

Exactly how and why Guttilla’s car got onto the tracks is still under investigation, said Commander Don Hohs of the Glenview Police Department. A final report on the accident will have to wait until the Cook County Medical Examiner completes its investigation.

“We’re assuming there was a medical condition at the time,” Hohs said.

On Thursday morning an eastbound Buick Century driven by Guttilla rolled under the lowered railroad crossing guard in the 1800 block of Glenview Road and pushed the guard up and over the top of the car, according to Hohs. The car continued toward the train tracks and a northbound Metra train struck and mangled the car’s front passenger side. The impact batted the car into a light pole, tree and black station wagon before the car settled in the parking lot of Bess Hardware, which sits next to the tracks.

Glenview firefighters broke the car’s windows and used an axe to pry open the car door before pulling Guttilla free, said Deputy Chief Wayne Globerger of Glenview Fire Department. Paramedics took Guttilla to Lutheran General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Peter Guttilla’s son, Chicago resident Nicholas Guttilla, 61, said his father was “enjoying his retirement years.”

“It kind of came as a shock,” Nicholas said. He said his father worked in law enforcement his whole life and was the former chief of the Wheeling Police Department who had lived in Glenview for 50 years.

Nicholas said his father did not suffer from any serious medical conditions that might have explained what happened when his car went onto the tracks.

Dan Schnolis, Media Relations Specialist with Metra, said the train was delayed for 43 minutes while police officers and firefighters investigated and secured the accident scene.

Guttilla’s death is the sixth since Jan. 1, 2003, involving a Metra train and a vehicle, Schnolis said.

On Jan. 14, 2003, another one of the six deaths resulted after an accident at the Chestnut Avenue crossing – about one mile north of the Glenview Road crossing. A train struck a vehicle driven by an 84-year-old man at 11:40 a.m. and the crash resulted in the man’s death, according to a report from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

“It [the six deaths] is about on the level with what we experience year to year,” Schnolis said. He said Metra will investigate the accident but not undertake any special inspection of Metra’s train system.

More than 150 deaths associated with rail crossings occurred in the United States from January to June 2003, according to a preliminary report by the Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis.

Article for Medill: Car explodes during suicide

One man is dead after an explosion Thursday night in garage of the house at 9320 Greenwood Avenue across the street from the Golf Mill Shopping Center, according to Bob Cohen, Director of the Maine Township Emergency Management Agency.

Leo McDevitt, 44, was found dead inside the garage of the house by firefighters responding to an emergency call placed at 6:43 p.m. His death was listed as a suicide by carbon monoxide inhalation, according to an investigator at the Cook County Office of the Medical Examiner.

McDevitt’s wife came home after firefighters had arrived, said Robert Batey, Chief of the North Maine Fire Protection District. Emergency personnel found nobody else in the home after three searches, Batey said.

The cause of the explosion is still under investigation by federal, state, local and county authorities, Batey said. Foul play was ruled out, Batey said, and it was not the car that exploded.

The house’s windows were shattered. The address sign hanged at a forty-five degree angle. The front door leaned against the side of the house and lamp posts marking the entrance to the garage were bent. The roof sloped unnaturally as if ready to slide off and ragged tears zigzagged up the side of brick columns.

A charred and dented car – a Monte Carlo according to Batey – sat crookedly in the driveway. Rags of rubber, presumably the car’s tires, lay on the ground and the severed roof of the car rested a few feet away like a fin cut from the back of a fish.

The home’s garage door was closed at the time of the explosion, Cohen said. Bits of it were found 80 yards away in the parking lot of nearby Golf Mill Shopping Center, Cohen said.

“Almost every wall on the house had some section blown out,” he said.

No other houses in the area were affected by the explosion, Cohen said.

North Maine Fire Protect District arrived first on the scene, Cohen said, and nine other fire departments were called in to assist. Firefighters worked on the fire until 1:30 a.m. and put out a small flare-up around 3:30 a.m., Cohen said.

Other officials and officers from the Maine Township Emergency Management Agency, Niles Police Department and Cook County Sheriff’s Office were on the scene as well, Cohen said.

Article for Medill: Saving the mannequins

Six firefighters from the Glenview Fire Department will head for Rockford in spring to tear apart cars like the rest of us tear apart paper.

They’ll be competing with approximately a dozen other teams of firefighters in the annual Midwest Regional Extrication Challenge to save the life of a mannequin trapped in a car bulldozed into a tight knot of metal.

Teams have 20 minutes to assess a simulated accident scene, create an extrication plan and safely remove the mannequin from of the crumpled car. They will cut, push, slice and pull with air chisels, rams, winches, saws, and heavy hydraulic tools such as the metal splitters sometimes referred to as the “Jaws of Life.” Three judges will watch every move they make, giving out points for teamwork, leadership and technique, said Lt. Larry Wysocki, captain of the Glenview Fire Department extrication team.

Over the past 11 years, the competition in Rockford has helped prepare firefighters from Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin for real rescues involving extrication. Any fire department can compete if they pay an entrance fee of roughly $250, Wysocki said. Captain James Walters of the Skokie Fire Department joked that his extrication crews could compete with any of the others teams though they have not ever participated in the competition.

Wysocki said his team is “good as any team” going to the competition. “Winning the competition is gravy,” he said, because the competition’s main benefit is educational.

The competition includes a seminar about contemporary extrication issues, such as continually evolving car design. Airbags and automatically activated roll bars on some newer models of cars run the risk being activated and injuring the passenger or firefighter during an extrication, said Chief Craig Wilt of the Cherry Valley Fire Protection District, which hosts the competition. The seminar teaches ways to avoid activating the devices.

Watching other fire departments perform extrications has been “incredibly educational,” Wysocki said. Also useful is extrication equipment presented by manufacturers at the competition, such as the buttress braces Wysocki found at one year’s competition. The braces help stabilize a car to protect the trapped person from further injury. Wysocki also found a hacksaw, called the “Glassmaster,” designed to cut through windshields.

This equipment helps firefighters get accident victims to a hospital within 60 minutes of the accident. Wysocki said firefighters refer to it as “the golden hour.” The Glenview Fire Department extricates 10 to 20 people per year, Wysocki said.

“Ultimately, we’re all thinking about that golden hour,” Wysocki said.

About 10 years ago, the Glenview Fire Department had a “golden hour” of its own.
It competed in the midwest regional competition for the first time and won, going on to the international competition in Louisville, Ky. Australian, German and English teams used extrication techniques similar to American techniques, Wysocki said, and the German and English team even used some of the same Dutch-manufactured equipment used by the Americans.

Outside of competitions, the Glenview Fire Department hones its extrication skills twice a year at Red’s Auto Body Shop, 1904 Lehigh Ave, Wysocki said. The shop tows abandoned cars and supplies them to local fire departments along with a storage lot for a practice area.

“We’re the only ones who have the inventory [of cars] to offer them,” said Vince Pisha, general manager at Red’s. “Sometimes they’ll [local fire departments] do 30 cars a month.”

Removing a person trapped within a car used to be called “disentanglement,” Wysocki said. Because there were no powerful and portable extrication tools in the past, firefighters often had to work around the car’s distorted shape, carefully pulling the trapped person free – like cutting a hole to the center of a peach and trying to pull out the seed out through the hole. Now, with the lighter and more powerful hydraulic tools, firefighters simply cut or bend the car free from the trapped person – slicing free the meat of the peach to reveal the seed in the center.

“We’re talking tens of thousands of pounds of cutting or spreading force,” Wysocki said. “The cutters we have will cut the posts of the car like butter.”

First, second, and third-place awards will be given to extrication competitors in each of three different categories, Wilt said.

The “limited” competition category allows firefighters to use non-gas-powered, hand tools during the extrication. The “unlimited” competition category allows them to use gas-powered, hydraulic tools. Depending on the accident, tools from both categories are used in real situations.

The third “overall” category combines the points earned in the limited and unlimited competition categories. The team with the most overall points will have a guaranteed place in the international competition. The Cherry Valley Fire Protection district will also use the regional competition’s entrance fees, paid by all teams, to pay for the winning team’s entrance fee to the international competition.

A fourth “rapid” competition category with a time limit of 10 minutes, regularly done in European extrication competitions, is under consideration in the United States, said Captain Elgin H. Browning, webmaster for the Transportation Emergency Rescue Committee, an organization working with coordinators of the extrication competitions.

The Northern Illinois Public Safety Training Academy (NIPSTA), a coalition of approximately 20 local villages, will probably decide within a year whether to run a local extrication competition at the former Glenview Naval Air Station, Wysocki said.

Article for Medill: HIPAA’s side effects

If you’re away while a loved one gets hurt and an ambulance from the Niles Fire Department whisks him or her to a hospital, don’t call the fire station to find out which hospital – walk in with a picture ID or start calling local hospitals.

Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) passed by Congress in 1996, the Niles Fire Department is barred from telling callers where it took a patient, said Lt. Martin Feld, Emergency Medical Services Coordinator at the Niles Fire Department. Relatives or loved ones must come to the fire station and present a picture ID, he said.

HIPAA, a complex set of regulations with multiple deadlines for compliance, was designed to protect the privacy of Americans’ health care information and to streamline the health care and health insurance industry.

Before HIPAA, a phone call was enough for Feld. He would tell the caller which hospital the patient was taken to if the caller could confirm a few personal details about the patient — his or her name, date of birth and address.

The ease of acquiring information in the pre-HIPAA era created problems as well as solutions.

“Back when I first started, almost 20 years ago, a woman would come in and read ambulance reports,” Feld said.

Ambulance reports, filed by paramedics after treating patients, contain confidential medical information about those patients. The Niles fire department, recognizing the sensitivity of the information, disallowed such access in the 80s, Feld said. Today the department keeps ambulance reports in a locked box instead of a tray and only two people in the department have a key to the box, Feld said.

More recent privacy measures undertaken by the fire department include adding another piece of equipment to its ambulances – a “tri-fold.”

A “tri-fold” is a one-page form, folded into a three-column brochure which describes how a patient’s medical information may be used by the fire department. Since the passing of an October 16 HIPAA compliance deadline, paramedics at the Niles Fire Department must try to have patients sign it, Feld said. By signing the form, patients consent to limited, specific releases of their medical information. If a patient is incapacitated, paramedics will try to get a signature from a family member or other legitimate representative of the patient, Feld said, adding that the extra HIPAA paperwork presents an unusual challenge to the fire department.

“I don’t think the intent [of HIPAA] was ever to trickle down to the fire departments,” he said.

But even without a signature, medical information that is related to the patient’s treatment can still be released, so paramedics can tell doctors what happened to a patient, Feld said. When doing so, HIPAA requires medical personnel to use “reasonable safeguards,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Web site. The site gives two examples of reasonable: confirming fax numbers with the person to whom information is being sent and lowering one’s voice when discussing a patient’s care while others are within earshot.

HIPAA still allows a paramedic without a signed tri-fold to tell people at the scene of an accident about what happened to a patient if the paramedic believes the person receiving the information – the husband of an incapacitated wife, for example – could be reasonably expected to receive the information, Feld said.

The tri-fold’s addition to the rescue process marks the biggest difference in how paramedics do their work since HIPAA’s inception, Feld said. He cautioned that others fire departments might have different HIPAA compliance methods.

Evanston Fire Department complies with HIPAA by declining to tell callers which hospital a patient was taken to, Chief of Operations Blair Haltom said. However, the fire department will tell callers the names of the two hospitals to which the Evanston Fire Department brings all of its patients and suggest the caller contact them. Before HIPAA the department would name only the pertinent hospital.

“It’s a back door way to do things, but that’s what we have to do,” Haltom said. “All we need to do really is not violate HIPAA.”

Nancy Jaffe, Assistant General Counsel at Rush Shore North Medical Center in Skokie, said the Niles Fire Department’s interpretation of HIPAA was “pretty strict.”

If someone called Rush looking for a patient, the hospital could say whether the patient were admitted, unless the patient told the hospital not to release the information, Jaffe said. The hospital could also tell the caller the patient’s location and general condition: fair, stable or critical. If the patient was incapacitated, Jaffe said hospital employees would use their best judgment regarding the release of patient information.

“What HIPAA did was put a lot of layers of paperwork on top of that [Rush’s privacy policy],” she said.

Each violation of a HIPAA regulation can incur a fine of up to $100 and fines related to one particular code cannot exceed $25,000 per year, according to the Department of Health and Human Services Web site.

Article in Where Y’at: Kissing the nails

“You want to see my rabbit head?”

The man asking me if I want to see what’s left of Thumper goes by the name of Flag. He came to New Orleans from Connecticut and spends his time here finishing off Know Nothing Zirkus Zideshow performances by lying on a bed of 2,723 10-penny nails and fellating himself. In his spare time, he likes to garden. Seems Thumper was eating Flag’s salads and he had no choice but to take the bunny out. The head – eerily magnified by the yellow fluid preserving it in a jar I might have drunk apple juice out of at one point – is shared with me as calmly as if it were a jar of cookies.

While I sit in the dark kitchen of this surreal circus’ new Bywater house, I am told in an equally calm fashion that, as part of their show, Piss Puddles drinks his own urine, Styx drills his urethra, Killo*censored* plugs a light bulb into her vagina, Camanda dances on top of her, Miles nails his penis to a board, and Eric pops out of a straitjacket.

Insanity is a good way to describe one of this circus’ show. The way they punish their bodies and survive is astounding. For Dr. Eric von Know Nothing, one of the founding members of the Zirkus, overcoming the physical limitations of the body is “never just a purely physical kind of thing.” Walking on glass like he does in Jackson Square to make ends meet requires the synergy of a disciplined mind, a fearless heart, and a well-conditioned body – a synergy where, according to him, one finds “the power to do such things.”

This power extends to his vocal cords: while the Zirkus tours the United States six months out of the year, he spends two hours a night, five nights a week, pumping up his fellow performers by cajoling, taunting, screaming at and brazenly conversing with members of the audience. If that doesn’t work, he pulls out his 9 mm and shoots at one of them.


Yep, a lucky attendee gets to have an apple swept off their heads with the highly effective broom of a bullet.

“When you become close to death, your brain works a lot harder than it’s used to…and something awakens in you.” The Doctor uses his gun, one of death’s million plus business cards, to show people that there are “no hard and fast rules” binding the body or mind to a reality circumscribed by stereotypes and naive expectations of what is possible.

Eric admits that the shows of the past achieved this by shocking the audience with performances that were “just plain weird”. As the Zirkus transitions into more demanding acts, he hopes to demonstrate that with the “power of the brain, heart, soul, and body working as one, you can accomplish anything.”

Zirkus members began doing anything and everything back in 1998, when Eric, Flag, Piss Puddles, and Killo*censored* left Connecticut and New Mexico for New Orleans. Behind them were a band and other creative projects that never quite solidified into exactly what they were looking for. Ahead of them was a city below the sea, a place, according to Eric, that is home to a “morbid swamp energy” that “will push or break any artist.”

The show began on street corners by putting on highly experimental puppet shows for tourists. These freeform improvisations slowly evolved into the well-crafted circus traveling from New York to Los Angeles with stops along the way that have left enough of an impression to engender a cult following in Milwaukee. Their renown – or notoriety – has not wrecked their ability to appreciate the admiration (or repulsion) and have a good laugh at themselves.

When I asked them why Milwaukee would inculcate a fervent fan base, Piss Puddles turned to me and pronounced “beer” with definitive drollness just as Killo*censored*t was quietly telling me that “Milwaukee is a great place full of awesome kids.”

They could not say the same for Los Angeles where a booking is impossible without a promoter due to the city’s size. None seemed too concerned with the irksome logistics. After all, the edge of America was not an end but a hopeful beginning to future venues: Europe, Japan, Australia, and the Middle East.

Should that East meet the Zirkus’ West, the collision would prove interesting. How receptive would it be to Killo*censored*’s act, where she goes not only without a veil, but without underwear too? If they were flexibly receptive, very flexibly, it might go over well – after all, her nudity is clothed in darkness and is not intended to pornographically titillate. To the contrary, it is impressively functional: she plugs in to a nine-volt battery, runs an electrical current through her body, and fires up a light bulb inserted into one of several places she refers to as “precarious”. Eric calls it the “Jesus walking on water” moment with total sincerity.

“When you watch that happen,” he continues, “that moment is miraculous and I’ve seen that attitude course through an entire audience time and time again.”

You may not agree with Eric – that a woman using her vagina as a light socket is miraculous – but Killo*censored* explains why she does her act and in doing so, perhaps explains the occasional expression of transcendent appreciation upon an audience member’s face.

“I want to know and I want other people to know that you really can do anything you want in the world and make a living at it…you can do anything you want and you’ll be fine.”

Not all reactions to the Zirkus’ performances are so divine. When Piss Puddles, one of two hobo clowns, fills a cup with his urine and slurps it down, laughter sometimes fills the room.

“That’s surprising, I didn’t think they would,” he comments. Even more surprising is Miles’ statement that “girls try to kiss [him] afterwards.” Piss Puddles assures me kisses are not often requested and then he sarcastically informs me that he’s improving his act – by learning how to “gargle his urine to the tune of My Sherona” and tell good “shit jokes”, at which point Killo*censored* reminds the entire crew that “shit is not funny. Remember that guys? Shit is never funny.”

Piss Puddles’ counterpart is Styx. Another hobo clown of the Zirkus, he met Killo*censored* at an environmental protest in Oregon and she convinced him to join her back in New Orleans. He brought a drill and a hearty urethra. His performance involves sticking the bit of the previously mentioned power drill into the previously mentioned urethra and letting her spin. The volition to pull this off could be hereditary – six months after being on tour, he discovered that his father used to be a clown, and Styx is proud of continuing the family tradition. Also, like the other members, the desire to change people’s perception of the possible and impossible impels him to drill his own penis. He likes “putting people in a different realm and changing their whole thought pattern.”

Styx’s penis is not the only genital under fire during a Zirkus performance. Miles too tests the mettle of his member by nailing it to a wooden board. “It’s pretty painful,” he understates. He describes the act further as a chance to show that he is “able to do things that other people could if they had the balls for it.” Besides the satisfaction of successfully daring to do what others are too timid to try, he enjoys “the look on people’s faces…a bit of disgust and terror. All the guys slowly move their hands over their dicks. It’s funny when the girls do it too.”

Camanda has a lighter touch. She puts on a pair of stiletto heels and dances atop a naked Killo*censored* while carrying a pair of flaming torches. To give her a groove, the Thalidomide Trio – composed of any member of the Zirkus who is not busy with their own act – plays haunting Tom Waits-like tunes that also function as a musical segue between the various performances, performances that finish off with Flag.

“I’ve trained in martial arts and stuff my whole life and I’ve done yoga and stretching and I have, uh, a pretty big penis.”

This is Flag’s explanation for how he manages to get on a bed of 10-penny nails and lick himself.

The position is incredibly dangerous. When he tosses an apple, the nails slide through its skin like needles through fat. A few minutes later, Flag’s rolling on this deadly contraption like it was a waterbed. It’s absolutely amazing – here’s this guy, made of the same stuff as you and me, lying on 2,723 tiny daggers and just plain refuting the death stored in their 2,723 vicious little tips. Then he brings on the self-fellatio and the performance becomes not only a denial of mortality and its accompanying frailties, but a graphically explicit laugh in the Reaper’s face by laying claim to sexual pleasure while his nails dig into Flag’s flesh. It’s ludicrous, impossible – yet real. For once, it seems as if a human being is as strong as Grim.

As Eric explains, this is the sort of feeling the Zirkus wants the audience to feel as they “laugh histerically one minute and fear for their life the next….we want to make them believe in God…or disbelieve…I think that’s what the Zirkus is all about.”

For further information about the Know Nothing Family Zirkus, visit
*Where Y’at published this story in February 2002.

Article in Where Y’at: Comics from below

Comics — the way our grandparents spelled it — were relatively harmless tales of cute, wide-eyed characters birthed from the womb of early 20th century newspapers. Titles such as King Comics, Famous Funnies and Comic Monthly innocently sold themselves for a dime. They eventually evolved into an army of men in tights trying not to trip on their capes as they socked bad guys in the mouth and scooped up swooning ladies. A hundred years later, I sipped on an Abita and admired drawings of chicken in spacesuits. They floated, along with Bobbit’s penis and a dypsomaniacal parrot, inside a Kinkos-printed, underground comic entitled Turd.

Underground comics as we understand them today — comics like Turd, referred to as comix by their creators, and its descendant, the collaborative Dafa Fungus — find their stem cells in the 60s. Artists such as Frank Stack, Robert Crumb, Spain Rodriguez, and Gilbert Shelton started drawing whatever they damn well pleased. Typically, it was whatever shocked the staid flock of unsophisticated readers and their superhero sensibilities. Introverted explosions of rich neuroses and desires squeezed through the pens of skilled draftsmen and changed a culture’s concept of what could be said and how.

Their rebellion was not unfounded, nor was it completely theirs. Like most revolutions, the match had been whisking against the book for a long gritty while before the conflagration of change erupted.

Beginning in 1952, Harvey Kurtzman tenderized the stiff meat of tradition with the piercing satire of Mad Magazine. Two years later, a psychiatrist by the name of Fredric Wertham wrote a book called Seduction of the Innocent. It decried comics’ desultory influence upon the young. Silly now, but effective then: Wertham, armed with his book, convinced the American government to encourage comic book publishers to censor themselves before Uncle Sam did. They acquiesced and formed the Comics Code Authority, an organization that used draconian censorship to decimate the number of comic books circulating by nearly half — not to mention violently robbing the medium of the creative space it needed to evolve.

The repression backfired.

When the 60s hit, taboos were discarded like roaches. Curiosity overtook the nation’s youth. A network of like-minded fans patronized the head shops sprouting up like weeds in San Francisco and New York. Slowly, disparate insurgents congealed into an audience. Lewd flouting of social mores brought people together faster than a free bag and the smoky rubble of collapsed conventions began to form into an organized, adult comix movement. The much-needed addition of a mature brand of comics was abetted by another unusual accomplishment of this period’s artists: they owned what they drew. Up to that point, artists were paid on a per-page basis and had no control over the uses to which their characters were put, nor access to the proceeds created by these uses. The comix movement added this target to the radar of its rebellion. Underground presses adopted a flat-rate/share-the-profits payment scheme that became entrenched enough to cause the big boys of comics publishers — Marvel and DC — to adopt similar policies by the early 1980s. Given this, cartoonists felt the tingle of art heaven: getting paid for what they wanted to do. Comix exploded and the repercussions reached across the many panels of time and distance to do a little shaking right here in the Big Easy on a hot summer night in 2001.

Turd was the first collaboration between Caesar Meadows, Arthur Teagarden, and Burgin. From its fecund pile of satire and delicious obsessions rose the multi-faceted beast called Dafa Fungus. DA references dadaism and the New Orleanean twist on the word “the”. FA is for free association, and in Burgin’s uptown home on Wednesday nights, this trio brings together local cartoonists and freely associate their asses off.

Like a…a…well, fungus, Dafa grows, penetrates, and playfully coats niches of your mind you thought sealed forevermore by hardened gobs of good ol’ American repression.

There are 12 squares (called “panels”) about two inches wide and long wriggling across each of the 12 pages that make up an issue of Dafa. Every artist gets at least one panel — in good underground tradition — to say and draw whatever he or she wants. However, an artist must let two other artists draw before adding another panel of his or her own. Between goofing around, conversational critiques of contemporary culture, and disciplined drawing, a single, previously empty page gets filled with inky demons and dreams by the end of the night.

The inspiration for the format came to Meadows when he was in school and passing composition books back and forth with a friend. When a third joined the frenzy of creating what could be considered the first Dafa, Meadows experienced a leap in the richness of the work: “2 people didn’t have the same kind of random chaotic factor…which was better.”

Indeed, chaos, partly inspired by the Crescent City’s own peculiar brand of unpredictability, runs through Dafa like blood through a vein. Subject matter jumps from Popeye to severed fingers to talking vegetables.

Meadows explains the flexible methodology: “I hope no one would look at that [Dafa] and think there’s any kind of agenda being pushed… life is pretty ridiculous…the craziness of it all…that’s certainly New Orleans…the Mardi Gras spirit of the city is large part of why it’s got the format it does.”

And he’s right — between the panels, where your brain takes mind-bending journeys as far as the artist can go in the space of a quarter inch, you can hear the clattering of unrestrained revelry and spontaneous whooping of frenzied joy. There is a delectable unhurried wander from panel to panel; I found myself going slow to heighten the thrill of the next surprise, and this tender pace taps to the music of the underground. Comix — underground comics — are not about getting off on the mechanical ascension of a tired plot leading to a superhero’s predictable victories. They are about lingering over wonder, drinking confusion, understanding the nonsensical, and, as a result, exploring what commercial comics do not.

The trenchant lack of urgency that so sweetly defines life hugging the Mississippi shows its influences in other ways; issues of Dafa come out about twice a year, allowing creativity — again, in an undergroundesque manner — to flow forth without the rigid, deadline-driven or editor-as-censor control common to more mainstream comics. The relaxed approach to completion reflects the rhythms of New Orleans which fall in step with the beat of the underground’s heart: comix answer to the artist who created them, and that artist alone. He or she decides not only the what and why of the material, but where, when, and how it is released — a question usually answered by the mainstream pressure of making a buck.

Meadows, putting down his pen and passing the page onto the next artist, tells me, “New Orleans is a really relaxed doesn’t have the same level of urgency…I like that…the fact that there is so many months between issues….it’s not a hurried thing…if the interest is there and the time is there…it flows.”

The flow is not free. Meadows, Teagarden, and Burgin pay hard cash out of their own pockets to publish Dafa. The money is well worth it. An uncompromised, no-boundaries aesthetic integrity motivated by meaning and not the market — a tradition in the community of independent underground artists of all styles and eras — is as apparent in Dafa as the black lines of ink running down its pages.

Dafa’s all-inclusive, creation-for-the-joy-of-creation attitude has brought many other local artists along for the ride. Collectively, they draw a glimpse, panel by panel, into the status of the comix community in New Orleans.

Josh Simmons, creator All About *censored*ing, Ugly *censored* *censored*, and the documentary-style Cirkus New Orleans (about the journeys of the Know Nothing Family Zirkus Zidezhow) pushes then shreds the envelope in hardcore wave after hardcore wave of viciously sexual images and words that penetrate your thoughts like a nail into soft wood. Powerfully grotesque executions of scenes from a twisted sexual dystopia move you whether you like it or not — where, how, and why they move you is a question you’ll have to answer for yourself. Equally well executed is his utopian comic entitled Happy. In this world of giggling bunnies and elephants like giant, huggable marshmallows, Simmons assured me that everybody is, well, “always happy.” The eerily bubbly characters inside seem to prove it. Topshelf (, a well-respected publisher of underground comix based in Georgia, will be publishing Happy in January, 2002. When I asked Simmons what he takes from the Dafa meetings, he cited what Meadows mentioned as one of its best characteristics: an inspiring sense of community with other artists.

Robert Tritthardt, commiserates: “It really felt like a sense of community, even though it was small. It’s nice to have people to bounce ideas off of.” His own title, Writhe and Shine (, is a sophisticated, witty exploration of the New Orleans Gothic subculture done in dramatic chiaroscuro that look as impressive and vigorous as woodcut prints.

Dafa Fungus is much more than a comic book. It is a home and a haven. It is comix. Once a week, playfully radical ideas that might otherwise wander unseen in the caves of the underground are given a 4 inch square platform upon which to perform. The array of style and subject matter hits every facet of rebellion in a box : scatological quips, cynical social commentary, maniacal joy, and bare sexuality.

Whether you like the tune or not, Dafa Fungus is an important member of the comix choir. It inspires and delivers. Meadows said it could move me, change my life, and it did — I drew a panel at the last meeting, and even though it lacked the skill of the others, I felt the same sizzle: ideas were popping up, big zinging what-ifs and why-don’t-wes. It was, as Caesar said, the excitement of a medium that has “the complexity of prose combined with immediacy of visual imagery.” It is an art that can inspire your heart and your head, as long as it’s not getting ripped out or chopped off by a scythe-wielding peace sign.

Visit Caesar Meadow’s online, comic book archive:
E-mail Josh Simmons at

*Where Y’at published this article in November 2001.