Straight From the Hart

Mike Wheeler

ByMike Wheeler

May 2, 2024

I started reading—really reading—at the age of 5 years old. My best friend, Paddy, who was 4, gave me some Richie Rich, Archie, and Little Lulu comic books. You call them “floppies” now, but to me, they were magic. I fell head over heels in love with comics right then and there.

It was a different age. No video games, no internet, no social media nannies. We trick-or-treated on Halloween only—no trunk-or-treats, no car trips to the rich side of town. If it rained, you still took it to get that candy…

I was a straight-A student. I was a cub scout. I liked camping with my folks. I rode bikes with my friends and froze at the local pool at 8 a.m. for swim lessons at Memorial Park. We built tree forts with whatever we could find. We had to babysit ourselves in our broken homes while our parents worked both of their full-time jobs. We sat on our living room floors and drew comic books together in which we were the stars. We were the heroes… Super Hart, Super Steve, Super Flop, The Giant Hunters, The Beast, Warp Comix… And our parents encouraged us. My mother loved it, my dad bought me comics at the flea market on Sundays, and my grandmother was a third-grade teacher—I had all the paper and pencils in the world.

It was awesome. For a while… until fingers started to wag and tongues clucked about what I was drawing. A “concerned” teacher at school, perhaps; a friend’s parent at the park… For you, in this age, some jagoff on the internet. It wasn’t until I saw “The First Artist & The First Critic” bit on Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part 1 that it was summed up for me properly, in a way a kid could understand.

The critic, the censor, the big mouth who hasn’t done anything on the interweb—they’re parasites that wouldn’t exist without the artists to comment upon and the mental weakness of those the “critic” could sway to their opinion. Essentially, the critic produces nothing but discord. Especially the censor—the finger-wagger, the backstabber gossip—the weak-kneed Brown Shirt eager for a night of long knives when they feel strong in their anonymity in the night among the group. The horde, the ANTIFA thug in their black hoodie smashing windows for kicks, the jackbooted enforcer of the party line on a government payroll—faceless and mean. A fact-checker… they’re all going to tell you what to do, whether you’re a butcher, baker, or mythic tale maker.

My mother and father supported me in my artistic endeavors, but my mother was concerned about the level of violence in the comics I was reading and the cartoons I watched. I was forbidden from watching the Speed Racer cartoons—too violent. The 70’s Spider-Man cartoons—too violent. It even got to the point where my mother had my father sit down in the family kitchen with my comics collection and sort them into the “good comics” and the “bad comics” pile, meaning the violent comics from the good comics. The superheroes fighting… it bothered her, but the WAR comics, the COWBOY comics where they shot each other with guns on the frontiers and murdered the indigenous tribes of the Americas? That was fine. Those weren’t violent. Yeah… right. War comics were “good”? Cowboys committing genocide was a “good” comic? Really? Are you kidding me? But Speed Racer was “too violent”?

In high school, I was an honor roll kid, captain of the swim team, a member of the National Honor Society, and assistant to the chemistry teacher in AP Chem. That didn’t stop me from being called into the principal’s office because of one weird parent’s complaint over a piece of artwork I drew in class for the school literary magazine, Prism. It was my second cover. A cover I drew that I was really proud of. It was a scratchboard drawing of my family’s long-haired cat, Claud—a close-up of his face and ears.

It was kind of funny, really… being called into the principal’s office, hearing my name across the school loudspeaker. I wondered just what the hell I was in trouble for. I was a good kid. I had a mouth on me, but I was a good kid. This was weird… but I think it was even weirder for him. My principal? Man, he was squirming in his chair worse than I was. He looked embarrassed—I mean, really embarrassed… and he said something like, “I can’t believe I have to even ask you this, but… is this a drawing of genitals?” He had the literary magazine in front of him with my drawing of Claud’s face on the cover. I didn’t know how to react. I told him it was just my cat. I drew it as a school art project right there in class from a photograph. Ms. Levy, the art teacher, loved it. I couldn’t believe this. It’s what I told him, not believing what I had just been asked. I never saw genitals—it was my cat’s face: two eyes, a nose, whiskers…

He nodded his head at my explanation. Hell, I had the photograph I drew it from. My principal understood I was just a kid who drew a picture of his family cat, and the sinful thoughts were in someone else’s head—someone who had to make trouble where there was none.

This was a fortuitous moment for me—a prophetic one that some could say laid the road for my career to come. The Dahmer books, Kill Image, Kill Marvel, the “A Taste of Cherry” blacklisted and banned in Oklahoma as obscene material to this day… Getting sued by O.J. Simpson over the Doin’ Time With OJ books… Oh yeah… Baby, hold on, because your future’s coming with dynamite in both hands.

Back in 1998, when my cohorts and I at Sampson West advertising pulled an elaborate April Fool’s prank, faking my death for a full week before April Fool’s Day 1998, we had no idea how far-reaching our prank in Los Angeles was going to be. Wizard Magazine: The Guide to Comics almost ran my obituary. I personally had no clue about the reach of the nascent internet back then, with the big-tone dial-up message boards at AOL. My parents were in on the gag; the guys in the office (including my art director, James), they had a blast with this prank. I was writing for The Comics Journal, interviewing Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, and doing stunt interviews. The two papers teamed up to track down the “truth” of my death, and the CJ guys did the hard legwork. They called up the LA County Coroners’ office and found out I hadn’t died in LA County like the hoax claimed. It was a helluva prank. I learned a lot from it. It spread like wildfire around the country. My next-door neighbor, the cute blonde girl I grew up with, asked my mother, “Oh no, Doris, how did Hart die?” and my mother laughed, “Hart’s not dead, April Fools!”

The press hounded my family over details about my funeral, even after being told the family was having a private event—no press invited, stay away. The vultures still wanted their piece of meat, whether I was alive or dead. The Comics Journal and The Comics Buyers Guide revealed the hoax the day before April Fool’s Day (the killjoys). The joke had a good run. I thought it was over… until the paragons of virtue at the Comics Buyers Guide called up my boss, Bill, about a week later. They grilled him and pushed him to fire me for the horrendous, evil hoax I had perpetrated upon the world, utilizing official Sampson West emails, etc., to do this terrible thing, and that he just HAD to do SOMETHING about this terrible human being (meaning me). Thank the Lord above—my boss, Bill, had a great sense of humor, thought our prank was funny, and enjoyed being a part of it. I got lucky.

This is what we face as creators. It’s tough enough to sit down and write that book, screenplay, sonnet, draw that comic book, write that song, or put together that band. But then, to have some stranger, who isn’t a reader, who doesn’t contribute to your life in any way, stick their damn neck into your already tough life, and make it tougher. Because that weak-brained toad cannot get attention or feel powerful in any other way. They are a parasite—a flea that causes the itch, spreads the disease, and causes the doubt and fear, leading to total paralysis of creation.

So we, yes, WE, must band together and hold onto our collective rights as creators and artists, to our own visions. They are ours… That’s right, it’s your artistic license—it came from YOUR brain. When you create, you are either writing for your audience, yourself, or a mix of the two. Or maybe you just got paid to write that big-ass sequel for the ancient Lethal Weapon franchise… It’s still yours. You did it.

There’s ALWAYS going to be an armchair quarterback telling you how you should have broken the boards. They’re going to tell you your story goes too far, or it doesn’t go far enough—the bad guy shouldn’t smoke, drink, or say mean things…

Hell, I haven’t even started to discuss the problems you’ll face promoting your work on social media, like how they will put you on a list and shadow-ban your work on the crowdfunding site, like they allegedly did to critically acclaimed author, Mike Baron. Or how they will hide behind an algorithm or a “fact-checking” company, paid for by the government of France, or paid for by Microsoft, YouTube, or Google (who will hide your TV network from their searches because they are PAID TO by your competition).

Or the censors… the ones paid for by our government sent to stifle any discourse about “civics,” “eating disorders,” or “politics,” or who might be pushing “misinformation” like it’s a random shooter in a retirement home. They’ll tell you that phrases like “coordinated inauthentic behavior” were invented for Facebook as a way to censor critics of government policies or potential laws. Maybe, you just want to sell your comic book. One that tells a different story than the one parroted on every jingoistic, “let’s go to war and kill these brown guys overseas,” war movie being pushed by most major movie studios…

But damn it, that’s a long, deep hole to go down into here.

As an artist, you’re going to face a lot of fights. With the intrusion of social media into every facet of our lives, our children’s lives, our parents’ lives, it feels more omnipresent than ever—but only if you let it. You can step out of these boundaries. It’s a psyche-out from corporate media. You can carve out your creative spaces. Make no bones about it—it’s a fight. You can’t just expect readers (an audience). It’s a competition for eyeballs and surviving the push-back.

Me, I push physical media. My books exist. They’re here. I’m selling them at the small shows, the big shows, local stores, and library events where I can lecture and talk. I keep pushing to find those alternative voices, those alternative conversations where adults can actually disagree. And yes, I’ve gone to battle with these cretins. I’ve been in court. They robbed my house while I was out of town at a Fangoria convention. They called me with death threats and I laughed in their faces. I had stalkers—I laughed at them too, taunting them: “bring it on.” This is what you’re going to face as a comic artist, writer, or filmmaker—anyone with a voice. My landlord asked me to take a vacation… the police told me to leave town… they threatened me, they told me to stop publishing Michael Dianna, or risk being prosecuted for creating and distributing obscene materials across state lines… Yeah, you pansies… Look that gun down the barrel… I never stopped. I published those books.

I’ve spent thousands of dollars defending my rights, and your rights, to free speech—a cornerstone of our democracy, something that’s being threatened by a relentless tide of attrition behind corporate greed and domination. If you want to create, you will face bullshit. There’s always going to be someone who tells you your work sucks, your writing is lame, why bother, are you making money, are you working with the wrong person, for the wrong cause… the doubters and haters. But it’s your work that’s important. 30 years later, these ass-hats are STILL pontificating over my damn Dahmer comics because that’s what it’s about. The comics you create, the sonnet you write, the painting you paint—that’s the work. That’s what’s important, remember that.

Hold onto your imagination. Hold onto your private space. Fight for each other. Laugh with each other. Get horrified together. Get outraged together. Share your stories, dreams, and nightmares. We can help each other through these censorious times. And if you want to rage and grapple, then focus on the real enemies—the ones actually holding you down, not your asshole indie artist struggling to even get their book out. It’s the big corporate douchebags with the money to go for—they’re the ones killing your local comic book store. They’re the ones grooming your kids to live on nothing, to imagine nothing but what they’re told to imagine, for the state… for their corporate master.

I’m living proof. You can beat them and have fun doing it. You can topple their message. It might not be easy, but dammit, it’s worth it. Whether it takes 10 years, 20 years, or 30 years to take back your life, your reputation, your creative license—it’s all worth it, no matter what the cowards tell you.

I’m Hart F-ing Fisher. And it was all worth it. More to come.

About Hart D. Fisher

Hart D. Fisher began his career as the publisher of Boneyard Press and the author of the Jeffrey Dahmer: An Unauthorized Biography of a Serial Killer, which gained notoriety in the worldwide smash hit Netflix series, Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Seen by hundreds of millions worldwide, the series is a cultural phenomenon. Fisher is also the co-founder of the American Horrors TV channels with his late wife, Wakako Kawagoshi-Fisher.

Mr. Fisher is a legendary 1st amendment champion who has worked with rock legends like Glenn Danzig, Marilyn Manson, and Obituary. He has authored best-selling poetry collections Poems for the Dead and Still Dead. He is the writer/director of the feature film The Garbage Man, and has had his opinions about true crime featured on Jerry Springer, Entertainment Tonight, Larry King Live, American Justice, CNN Headline News, Discovery Channel’s The Verminators, the documentary Serial Killer Culture, Time Magazine, and was a featured guest at the SXSW Film Festival with Phil Anselmo.

You can watch his linear streaming American Horrors and American Horrors Classic TV channels for free worldwide on Roku and other platforms. These channels are currently streaming on

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