Surreal Comics

Remixed Comic Strip from 1920s

Of all my creative endeavors, the one that has caused the most perplexity among my friends is my “remix” of public domain comic books. Most people who read them struggle to find a story (or even a point.) So, I thought I’d write a little bit about them and direct people to this blog when they say, “I don’t get it. What is it supposed to mean?”

Let’s start with how I make them. The process involves taking 2-3 different comic books of completely different styles, then digitally cutting, pasting, and juxtaposing the characters into new environments so that the original context is lost, and a new, decidedly unsettling, context emerges. It’s a form of surrealistic collage

This technique started with Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté, in which he cut up and rearranged illustrations from Victorian encyclopedias and novels.

For example, Max Ernst’s images look like this:

By comparison, my cut up and rearranged comics look like this:

So, I’m doing the same sort of thing (as are many other contemporary artists and illustrators,) cutting out images reorganizing them. I ultimately redraw and recolor a large section of individual panels to suit the new flow. My hope is that the juxtaposed elements a quasi-story in which the parts almost-but-don’t-quite fit together. As the viewer struggles to make sense of the sequence, it should feel like the struggle to make sense of random images in a dream. Hopefully, unexpected feelings, sensations, and ideas will be evoked (emotions other than frustration or polite indifference.)

As another example, here is a set of three pages I’ve just finished. I took images from a “Romance Comic” a “Horror Comic” and “Children’s Comic” and mixed the elements together. There is a kind of dream logic to it, but not a rational narrative.

In truth, the crude drawings and lowbrow storylines of these forgotten comics are by themselves a bit sinister. There is violence, perversity, and marginality hidden underneath. My juxtapositions try to amplify those elements.

So do you feel anything scanning these images? Nothing? That’s all right. Juxtaposing images is a bit like mixing chemicals. It may take more time for me to stumble on the combination that catalyzes the reaction I’m looking for.


Although they are encountered mostly as decoration for journal covers and kitchen magnets, I remain fascinated by the abstractions of Klee, Kandinsky, and, more recently, Hilma af Klint. For me, beyond being icons of gift shop kitsch, each of these artists seems to be painting a map of an unseen world – a world of metaphors, symbols, and patterns that exists right underneath our ordinary world. The abstract relationships between the lines, colors, shapes, and textures speak to the synchronistic relationships between real-world objects and imaginary objects. Most literal (or “realistic”) images can’t as easily speak about these webs of interconnected metaphors and intuitions.

So, with all that in mind, I draw my own “Maps of Unseen Worlds.”

Inspired by painters like Klee and Miro. This is a digital image made in Procreate.

A mandala is a geometric figure representing the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism. In Jungian psychology, a mandala is a symbol in a dream, representing the dreamer’s search for completeness and self-unity. Generally speaking, the mandala is a symmetrical image that incorporates a central circle or square with an image of a deity at its center. 

With mandalas in mind, I have been drawing images with a black disc at the center, one that represents a paradoxically unrepresentable void or empty space at the center of consciousness or The Self. Beyond the border of the disc are patterns that represent only semi-ordered multiplicities and only semi-symmetrical patterns. It is a “Black Sun” or an inverted mandala. Just as there is a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, there is a void or emptiness at the center of consciousness. This is my way of meditating on that void – drawing it over and over again in different ways.

Pastel on paper reworked digitally in procreate.

What I’m seeking in these images is not a sense of completeness or self-unity (ala Jung) that would fill up the void, but rather the kind of inner awareness that keeps this void open. As I draw the boundary between self and void, it shimmers with an eerie glow. Flashes of line, shape, and color emerge from the boundary, patterns that then unfold and circulate in the spaces beyond. There is no creator of these patterns so much as there is a witness who observes and transcribes them. 

In these abstractions, I’m drawing the gap between binaries, and I’m hoping that the viewer might linger in the empty hole that is neither subject nor object, inside or outside, past or future. It is a gap, fissure, or void that opens up between things, beneath things, and deep within their core.

Of course, the images I make aren’t always abstract or inspired by early 20th Century Modernism, but the void always seems to show up in the center.

Mice of the Black Sun, composed on Procreate.
Posca Paint Pen on paper, digitally reworked in Procreate.

Paper and pigment.

For the last 25 years, I’ve identified myself as a “screenwriter,” but in 2020, I’ll spend most of my creative energy on zines, handmade books, and original artworks, all printed or painted on paper. You may have already gotten some of them in the mail.

Why would I do such a thing? (Besides my ongoing campaign to become Your Most Eccentric Friend?) I have the sense that text and imagery, especially when hand-drawn and hand-lettered and sent via snail mail, gains a peculiar emphasis and potential intimacy. Posting the same “content” on Instagram, Facebook, or Tik Tok would be simpler, quicker, and less intrusive. But “likes” are not what I’m after.

This next part is where I start sounding pretentious to some people, so if you are one of them, take this as a trigger warning. I’m after the peculiar intensity of someone sitting alone with a zine, reading in closely, perhaps bewildered, and asking, “Why would he spend the time and effort making this and sending it to me?” With a zine, I’m not just sharing a random thought or selfie; I’m going through the catalog of mundane ideas, images, and experiences that flood my brain and throwing away 99.99% of them. I’m saying that THIS, this thing on paper that I’m sending you, is especially meaningful, amusing, or important to me. What conveys that intensity is work that went into drawing, printing, and binding it on paper.

My favorite response to the zines or artworks I send is getting sent something in return (an essay, a song, a doodle, a long, thoughtful email, a book, music, or movie recommendation.) Old school “engagement.”

My “office” has looked like a Screenwriter’s cave for 20 years, shelves filled with books on filmmaking, walls covered in movie posters, and corkboards papered in index cards, outlining acts and sequences. Now my “office” looks like a studio, with paints and pencils, glue and cutting boards, brushes and sprays, hitting the Venn diagram intersection of aging cartoonist, hobbyist-bookmaker, and sullen, adolescent riot grrl.

I am still a storyteller, but I’m telling different stories about different things to different people. I have a spreadsheet with the names and addresses of people I am sending these zines and artworks to. Right now, it’s about twenty names long. (See What is An Undergrid?) If you are reading this blog, you are likely on that list, or you are about to be on it very soon. I’m open to expanding and selling my work to the public on Etsy, or publishing in a traditional way, but I’m content if the work never extends beyond what I send to 20-30 people. The number of screenwriting classes I teach will increase, and I’ll introduce myself as “a professor” at cocktail parties, but I feel like this – small and insignificant as it may be – is my real work.

I love the slow depth of crafting a booklet, writing unique sections for each recipient, and then dropping that physical object in a mailbox. Needlessly difficult and entirely without economic value, making zines is something I’ve always wanted to do. I was just too busy rewriting cheesy horror sequels or swords-and-sandals flops to do it.

So, I’m doing it now.

The Black Sun

Black Sun #1 by Sean Hood, pastel on paper, digital remix

My interest in the “Black Sun” as a symbol and a metaphor began when I read Stanton Marlon’s book The Black Sun.

It is a symbol that evokes death, depression, suicide, and nihilism, but The Black Sun also shines with eerie, numinous luminescence. If the white light of the noonday sun is a symbol of positivity, optimism, the Ego’s plans for perpetual growth, the paradoxical light of the Black Sun is a symbol of egoicide and rebirth through creativity.

Under this weird illumination, depression is not (just) a disease to be cured by medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy, but a call to creative action.

Black Sun #2 by Sean Hood, pastel on paper and digital remix

I have the sense that in our consumer-capitalist frenzy of relentless activity and growth we attempt to abolish melancholia, boredom, and grief. The Black Sun is desperately needed as balance to the Tyranny of our well ultra-bright, smiling world.

The Black Sun is a portal that allows the depressed and despairing a path to avoid literal suicide through symbolic egoicide. This path leads into darkness instead of away from it, and reveals an unexpected bounty of compassion, gratitude and awe.

“Do not then close your eyes to the agonizing Sphinx, but look her in the face, and let her seize you in her mouth, and crunch you with her hundred thousand poisonous teeth, and swallow you. And when she has swallowed you, you will know the sweetness of the taste of suffering.” – C.G. Jung

Undergrid Four (of Fifty)

Undergrid Four – Pastel on paper, digitally manipulated

The abstract images I’m making for undergrids are probably a bit bland and puzzling for you, so here are a few things that might put them in context.

  • Each picture titled “Undergrid” is a visual representation of the ideas behind Undergrids (see definition.) It is a representation of the complex, fractal, grid of relationships each of us has with other people and foreign objects, a grid that determines identity and meaning. So, each “Undergrid painting is a picture of my undergrid and in that sense, a self-portrait.
  • Each picture with its overcrowded multiplicity of shapes and connections represents how I experience the world. I often feel overwhelmed and overstimulated by too many things, people, and complex systems. (In future articles, I’m planning to write about Concentration Deficit Disorder.) The world seems to generate an overwhelming surplus of objects, and I have trouble screening out the noise to get to the signal. So, the images look jam-packed with “noisy objects” and it is hard to know which one to look at.
  • Each picture is a kind of Mandala. So making them is very calming and meditative. The way some people color in mandalas with colored pencils in coloring books, I draw “Undergrids.”
Image From Mandala Coloring Book

Notice that Undergrids do not have the formal balance and geometric structure of Mandalas. Despite studying mathematics and formal geometry, my raw phenomenological experience tends to be more disorganized and chaotic.