Today I am going to write at length about one of my favorite humans on the planet.
But first, some backstory:
2009-ish, I guess that’s 6 years ago now – that was a strange, awful year for me. It had actually been a strange and awful number of years. I was floundering and feeling like a desperate mess. I had moved to New Jersey from Florida five years previously and things were not working out at all, which was some kind of bullshit, I can assure you. I had left everything I’d known behind for this opportunity and it was turning out to be the worst kind of hell. It was to get worse, and then get better, but I did not know that then.
Everyone’s got their coping mechanisms. For some it’s a kitten video binge on youtube, for others, it’s a tall glass of something cold and intoxicatingly potent; for me, at that time, it was obsessively seeking out horrors beyond my comprehension in the form of obscure cinema. I was fascinated with bizarre horror films at that time – well, I had been for as long as I could remember, but now it was so much easier to seek out and find these strange cinematic gems, and to connect with the like-minded souls who enjoyed them.
It was a Friday night, probably February. I view my time in New Jersey through the lens of a perpetual February -dull grey skies, relentless cold, dirty sidewalk slush that appears as if its been piled by the curb since the dawn of man and will never fully melt, even sometime in the future when the stars have all died. At the end times, there would still be a pile of pissed-on slush next to a dumpster, with an old boot next to it, somewhere in New Jersey. February in that place was the worst month to be a lonely person.
The hour had struck midnight and I was wide awake, and, of course- alone. Due to the unfortunate circumstances I had gotten myself into, all of my weekends were spent in my own company, which I don’t mind telling you, was pretty bleak. I was searching for reviews on a certain film and I unwittingly stumbled across the blog of one Tenebrous Kate, Love Train For The Tenebrous Empire. “Lurid. Weird. Fantastique.” promised the header, and after several feverish hours of devouring every entry and every lurid, weird, fantastic review I concluded that it was indeed all that and more.Occult nonsense and gothic horror? Women in prison? Necrophilia and Nunsploitation? Check, check and check. Cheeky kink? You betcha. Did she bring the weirdness, as promised? Fuck yeah, she did.
Brimming with wry humor, marvelously keen insight, and more knowledgeable on all my favorite subjects than perhaps any mortal has any right to be (because she’s actually a wizard, I suspect), Kate, I was to find, was more than just a damn good writer – she’s a talented artist as well, across several mediums. For years she’s consistently wowed me with her wicked Halloween costume prowess, she’s an illustrator and painter, as well as, a sometimes public speaker – which I believe is an art form into itself – and a wrangler of artists and writers for her mico-publishing imprint, Heretical Sexts. I would learn these things as they unfolded over the next several years, but at that specific point in time, I knew I had discovered a remarkable human woman and my life would never be the same.
I’m certain it took me at least a year to work up the nerve to even leave a comment on her blog, and yet somehow here we are, years later and you are about to read an interview that she graciously agreed to do with me. How did the stars align to even make this happen? I still don’t rightly know, but I am honored and privileged to have gotten to know Kate and I hope you will enjoy reading further and learning more about her background and her weird and fantastical projects as well.
S. Elizabeth :Lurid. Weird. Fantastique. That’s been tagline on your blog header for as long as I’ve been stalking you. (I sort of think of it as a mantra or an incantation now, ha!) Tell us about what those themes/concepts mean to you and how they translate to the various projects you summon forth to share with the world.
T’Kate:You know, I’ve always struggled with defining the “stuff” I enjoy, because I feel like genre labels tend to restrict discovery of interesting things instead of assisting after a certain point. I chose “Lurid, Weird, Fantastique” because my favorite things combine a bit of sexiness, plenty of strangeness, and an element of imagination, whether it’s psychedelia, fantasy, or decadence. That tagline wound up being a good match because, though I initially began writing strictly about movies, it also lets me play with art, books, and music without feeling like I’m veering off topic!
I’d love to know Tenebrous Kate’s origin story! I imagine a little 5 year old T’Kate toddling around in enormously oversized Black Sabbath tees alternately peeping at dirty magazines and staying up late to watch lesbian nazi exploitation flicks. How far off am I? When did your strange fascinations begin to take hold? And how did you come to channel them into your art and writing?
I was an extremely sensitive child (like, creepy, Poe protagonist levels of nervousness and sensitivity to stimulus), plus I was the first kid in my “generation” of the family. What this meant is that I was sheltered from a lot of media, plus I socialized exclusively with adults for the first several years of my life. My parents are both former English teachers, so I read a lot–early exposure to Tolkien and those Time Life Enchanted World books had a huge impact on me. There was definitely forbidden media, and it’s hilariously tame in retrospect: I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV after my mother decided that Duran Duran’s “Girls on Film” video went far beyond the limits of good taste. It took me to age twelve to get up the nerve to sneak downstairs after everyone had gone to bed and taste a few delicious minutes of “Headbangers Ball.” I didn’t start seeking out more extreme movies until my love of heavy metal and goth pointed me in that direction in my teens. What started as a way to test my adolescent nerves turned into a real passion after I recognized that there was more to some of these films than one might guess from the “gore checklist” mode of appreciation that was the norm in the 90s. Involvement in AOL chatrooms connected me with Scott Gabbey, who was developing what would become Ultra Violent Magazine, and that solidified my involvement in the world of “writing my thoughts about weird stuff.”
I think I found your blog through – of all things – a search for reviews on the film Hostel II (and was surprised to see someone give it a decent review!) – but it was your referencing and reviewing of gloomy, decadent occult artists, films, and music that really drew me in. I would love to talk about your interests in this vein – whether they are spiritual, literary-minded, aesthetic or whatever – and what are some of your beloved favorites that you’ve either reviewed for Love Train or that you’d recommend for a like-minded weirdo?
Oh boy–this is difficult for me! My favorites shift in focus over time, and I love different books, movies, art, and music for different reasons. I just seek out art (we’ll lump all creative output into this word for now) that resonates with me, and I feel like this shared creative vibration links all of the disparate things I enjoy. A great example of movies that really hit me where I live would be Tinto Brass’ historical epics–I think Salon Kitty and Caligula are absolutely captivating because there’s this combination of lush beauty, historical fiction, theatrical violence, melancholy, and taboo that just makes my brain and my eyes leap around, not knowing where to land. That’s the experience I’m looking for in art. Maybe the most perfect movie that captures this mindset, though, is Ken Russell’s “The Devils.” It’s so perfect that I’ve never written about because it’s just so vast in its imagery and implications, and it’s better if one just experiences it without vivisecting and destroying through over-analysis.
Delving into your various endeavors -your latest project, Die Mensur, “an exploration of the secretive world of German fencing fraternities” and a collaborative effort with with Gilles de Rais of the band Porta Nigra – Secret German fencing fraternities! Who knew such a thing even existed? Please tell us about how you stumbled upon this secret society of swordsmen and how you brought this amazing thing into being. How did it end up as the beautifully bound booklet that it is today instead of oh, say, working it into a blog post…or a painting, or even including in story arc for Super Coven?
I first became aware of Mensur (which is a form of non-sport/non-honor-duel fencing that has been practiced by student fraternities in Central Europe since the mid-1800s) from my long-time partner, whose family is of German descent. The powerful image of two men standing perfectly still while waving a blade towards one another’s faces had this combination of posture discipline, severity, and ritual that fascinated me. There are photographs of the aftermath of the Mensur that show these handsome young men with completely bloody faces and it’s really unforgettable. As a person who’s into body modification, I was intrigued by the dueling scars that were worn as a badge of honor. There’s not a lot of information in English on the Mensur since it’s an entirely oral tradition passed down through the fraternities, but it’s popped up on my radar over time (the mondo movie Ecco features what I’ve since learned is an accurate re-enactment of the Mensur, for example).
I read a review of the German decadent metal band Porta Nigra’s 2015 record Kaiserschnitt that included a photo of the band wearing Mensur protective gear and that’s what made me stop and listen to their music. Kaiserschnitt is an incredible record, and Gilles de Rais, the lyricist, is clearly a person who knows a lot about history and literature. After I wrote about the record on my blog, I wound up connecting with Gilles, who put me in touch with his contacts at a fencing fraternity in Cologne. I was honestly shocked that the fraternity brothers were willing to speak to me! Talk about being an outsider–I’m an American woman artist, and these are pretty conservative young men who are part of what’s essentially a male-only secret society
As to why I chose to make a book on the topic, it’s very important to me that, when I speak to people who clearly take their beliefs and passions seriously, I take those things equally seriously even if they’re different from my personal world view. Mensur is just such an interesting topic on its face that I felt anything other than a direct, documentary approach would have been doing it (and the people who were generous and candid enough to speak to me) a disservice.
Die Mensur is just one of several projects published by Heretical Sexts, the micro-niche publisher focusing on the dark and the bizarre that you founded in 2014. Billed as “Weird Words on Dead Trees” and giving a platform to “those outside the status quo”, you’ve published ‘zines chronicling fictional dream dates with villains (two volumes to date!), explorations of femininity and the occult, as well as your own personal collections of essay and arts in Forever Doomed. Why do you think there is a need right now for these kind of publications? Why is it important to give these discerning creeps a voice, and who is it that you imagine your audience to be? And if you can share, what are some topics or themes that you hope to tackle going forward?
Honestly? It started with a desire to create more valuable work while controlling the context of some of the topics I wanted to discuss. I don’t really like genre labels and I’m not much of a joiner, so the “orthodoxies” of certain internet conversations bum me out tremendously. By creating printed pieces, it means a couple of things: 1) readers are demonstrating a real desire to read what’s on the page, which means their minds are probably more open already and 2) the act of reading on paper (or eReader–I fully cop to reading on a Kindle sometimes) creates the kind of immersion you just don’t get from internet reading. I want to offer an experience where people aren’t getting upset by the comments or distracted by social media or whatever. Like, just sit and think about what you’re reading and looking at in an open-minded way.
I am also lucky enough to know a lot of incredibly talented, intelligent people, and I feel that combining their voices and viewpoints can elevate everyone involved. Collaborative work just feeds my soul in an amazing way, and those that have agreed to work with me really commit to the concept and deliver remarkable art and writing that, in turn, inspires me. I think it’s important to publish humorous work (like the My Dream Date with a Villain zines) alongside more serious pieces (like Die Mensur or certain pieces in Witch Women), because life is complicated and our human brains are messy and contain multitudes. I’ve got a bunch of stuff in the pipeline right now! Jack Shear, who has had a hand in every single piece I’ve done with Heretical Sexts and who has been an amazing sounding-board for ideas, is developing a piece on Gothic fiction, and I’ve been pitched some great ideas on a very grown-up activity book that I’m pretty stoked to help bring to life.
Getting back to Super Coven, your web comic about friends and bandmates Andy, Jess and Red and the “monsters, heavy music, and all manner of occult nonsense”, that makes up their day to day goings-on – I know you’ve had to step back with the updates due to general busyness and other projects, but can you talk a little bit about where we left off? Without giving away any spoilers, we’ve encountered everything from bigfoots to nazi vampires to a burlesque dancer in a relationship with her motorcycle – what’s next for our intrepid stoner friends? And I have to ask -these characters seem so relatable, I feel like I could know these guys, maybe I AM these guys… – I have had so many of these weird, late-night, bar closing conversations about crazy monster theories and conspiracies and god knows what else. How much of this is pure imagination and how much can you attribute to actual real-life stuff? (Please tell me this motorcycle loving Lorna is based upon a real person!)
Oh sure! I still love Super Coven, and it’s been a really important project for me because it got me into the habit of producing (and sharing) my creative work on a regular schedule. I have the whole storyline laid out for this arc (which Jack Shear co-authored with me), plus there’s another story I’ve got a half-baked idea for that involves the character of “Draculigula” because most of my best Super Coven ideas are basically just portmanteaus.
As to how the comic developed, I really loved Scooby Doo and Dark Shadows as a kid, so I nicked the “pals solving mysteries” concept from the former and the “everything AND the kitchen sink” approach from the latter and blended it with my own worldview. I wanted a concept that would support all of the things I’m interested in (occult matters, history, folklore, gothic/decadent literature, various kinds of music, witty banter…) in a universe where those things could conceivably be blended. I’d like to think there’s an audience that likes monster fights and Huysmans references, anyway.
Writing and illustrating a long-form, serialized piece has been challenging, and I realize in hindsight that “conversations in a bar” do not make for scintillating visuals, but I’ve amped up some of the action stuff in this most current story (which I do intend to complete!). I’d like to think that occasional werewolf fights and motorcycle love-making offer enough to keep people reading.
This makes me wince as I type it, but I’ve been going to weird shows, bars, and clubs in New York for well over two decades now, so yes–there’s a good deal of “slice of life” stuff in Super Coven. The whole “real vampyre” thing is definitely drawn from my personal interactions. Sadly, I’ve never encountered an objectum sexual as fashionable and enchanting as Lorna.
You have got so many irons in the fire – if you’re not webcomicing, you’re working on a new book for Heretical Sexts, or you’re blogging a fantastic review on an obscure giallo film teeming with blood and bare breasts, or you are writing for various other publications – Ultra Violent Magazine, Occult Rock Magazine, Slutist, and most recently Dirge Magazine, OR you are making live speaking appearances at pop culture variety shows in NYC. Damn, lady! What do you do in your downtime? Do you have any downtime? What are some current loves and favorite things that you’re enjoying?
That IS what I do in my down-time! I’ve just cut out most of the aspects of what I was doing that I didn’t really enjoy. There was a time in about 2010 or so where I felt compelled to write about EVERY movie I watched or to “give a chance” to a lot of things I really knew I wasn’t going to dig. Now I write only about the things that inspire me and have given myself permission to stop reading or watching at the point where I’m no longer engaged with a thing. I’m also kinder to myself when I need to shift my focus from project to project, or if I need a break. I only work with people I like on projects that excite me–I’m just fortunate enough to know a lot of great people with exciting concepts. In fact, I have a wishlist of people I’d love to work with, so we’ll see!
I know I’ve asked this with regard to various projects above, but on the whole – what is next for Tenebrous Kate? What is left to conquer? I am hoping it is some sort of crazy-kinky memoir, but that’s just me. Any thoughts?
I’m always cooking up something! I really love working on the Historical Sluttery series that I’ve been doing for Slutist so I plan on continuing that, plus Dirge has been the kind of place that lets me write lengthy pieces where I get to showcase GIFs from silent films so I dig working with them. In addition to the couple of projects I mentioned above for Heretical Sexts, I’m writing some really lurid historical fiction that I plan to illustrate and bind in way that mimics early 20th Century pornography. I just like ambitious things that shouldn’t have an audience, whether I’m seeking them out or making them myself!