By Jason Sacks
CLIFFORD METH IS A DANGEROUS MAN. The author of the forthcoming god’s fifteen minutes is someone you don’t want to cross. He has black belts in Taekwondo and ShotoKan (from legendary Grand Master Richard Lenchus) and has had more fights than you’d care to know about. Real fights. Blood and guts. Meth’s friends—a who’s who of comicdom icons—bear this out. They’re also a testament to the fact that he’s one helluva writer.
“Meth is the sort of guy who doesn't just feel angry at injustice and cruelty, he feels like he has to do something about it,” says longtime Meth pal Dave Cockrum (co-creator of Marvel’s X-Men). “He’s like a cocked weapon. If you see an injustice, you point Cliff at it and say kill.”
But it’s more than redemptive violence. Some years ago, Silver Age artist Gene Colan found himself facing expensive surgery for glaucoma. The ordeal was worsened because Colan had no health insurance—neither Marvel nor DC provided any for freelancers. Colan’s definitive depictions of Iron Man, Daredevil and Dracula notwithstanding, the corporations had forgotten the old-timers that built their businesses.
But Meth didn’t forget.
As Colan told Westfield Comics in 1996, “The medical bills were through the roof! Even if you're covered with insurance, it doesn't matter... It's a sobering experience. It can bankrupt you. But that's where Cliff came in. He had met me once at a convention—I see a lot of people and I didn't remember him, but there he was, coming to my aid, starting this whole thing, trying to raise some money for me.” Meth and Aardwolf Publishing released The Gene Colan Treasury for that purpose. They also raised more than $10,000 at a New York City art auction. Colan had his operation and today is doing better work than ever. Meth’s motive? “It was a mitzvah,” he says. A good deed.
As acclaimed author Harlan Ellison puts it, “It's easy to be your friend when there ain't no shit coming down. It's when the nails are being driven into your wrists that you find out whether somebody is a real friend and a stand-up person. And that's Cliff.”
With a B.A. in journalism, Meth turned down a Ph.D fellowship from Drew University, as well as an offer from Rutgers Law School, to pursue biblical studies at The Rabbinical College of America (Lubavitch) in Morristown, NJ. He soon took to observing the Sabbath and dietary laws common to Orthodox Jews. However, when a faculty member at the yeshiva’s affiliated day school hurt a nine-year-old boy, Meth’s response was rather unorthodox.
“The boy had been a karate student of Cliff’s,” says Jim Reeber, Meth’s editor at Aardwolf Publishing. “When Cliff heard what happened, he wasted no time. Most of us would have gone to the parents or the police. Not Cliff. He walked into the man’s classroom—and the man was huge; twice Cliff’s size, which is easy because Cliff’s short. But Cliff got right in the teacher’s face and in front of an entire classroom of third graders, and he said that if he ever heard about the man hurting another kid, he would knock the bejezus out of him in front of everyone.” Reeber laughs uneasily. “If you know Cliff, you know he wasn’t kidding.”
Another mitzvah? Not to some. The school administration was up in arms. But that faculty member left town after the confrontation. Meth wrote about the episode in several stories that are still popular ten years after they first saw print (Barnes and Noble purchased one and published it on-line).
Those stories are just two of the many included in god's 15 minutes, a clever take on Andy Warhol’s belief that in the future, everyone will be famous for a brief moment. The book sports a painted cover by Michael Kaluta, with interior art by Colan, Cockrum, Alex Toth, Frank Brunner, Joe Sinnott, Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe, and many others, along with introductions by such luminaries as Robert Bloch, Al Feldstein, and Roy Thomas. god's 15 minutes collects all of Meth’s published fiction, with many stories newly remastered for this edition. There’s also some never-before-published pieces, and an interview with Harlan Ellison about Meth.
Moreover, this being Meth, the book is yet another mitzvah: All profits from its sales benefit Ellison’s legal fund regarding his lawsuit against AOL.
If you’ve missed the suit, here’s the gist: Ellison, one of the most honored living authors, has won awards from virtually every possible group for his fiction, his TV writing, and his essays. When some of these stories were posted without his permission to Gnutella and downloaded by users, Ellison sued all parties for copyright infringement, including AOL, which had once owned the company that created the Gnutella file-sharing software.
Meth explains his decision to give away the profits of what is arguably his most important work to date: “I consider Harlan’s cause just; the man himself an impeccable standard-bearer in the causes of writer’s rights and business ethics in general. Until you’ve been victimized by fuzzy business principles, it’s easy to underestimate the impact that legal theft leaves upon a bank account, to say nothing of one’s peace of mind. So at 69 years old, when time and money become ever more dear (because there’s just less of it), Harlan’s brave and tenacious tilting at the Goliath AOL should be something all of us support.”
But the reason to pick up god’s 15 minutes is neither the cause it serves nor the extraordinary artists attached to the project. It’s this: Meth can write. Really write. Not string words together and tell nice tales. Meth writes the kinds of stories that crawl up your spine, lodge themselves in the back of your brain, and don't let go. The kinds of stories that haunt you and make you think of them at odd moments in your otherwise mundane day.
“It’s hard to put a label on Cliff’s writing,” says Cockrum. “It’s kind of noir-ish, but he puts his own unique spin on everything. They’re wonderful stories that could only emerge from the mind of Clifford Meth.”
Reeber adds, “Cliff is a dramatist. He goes to the dentist or the store and comes back with another amazing story. It’s not that Cliff lives a more dangerous life than most people, though he does, but he’s truly more in tune with daily drama than most people.”
“But don’t get me wrong,” says Reeber. “Cliff doesn’t like to write. He has to. He doesn’t have inner demons; he is a demon.”
It’s true. Meth’s stories are unique. And highly unorthodox, to say the least.
god’s fifteen minutes is available in the February Previews and will be on sale in April. Copies can also be ordered directly from the Aardwolf website, www.aardwolfpublishing.com. All profits from sales of the book will be donated to Harlan Ellison’s KICK Internet Piracy fund.
Got a comment or question about this Soapbox?
Leave at message at the Silver Soapboxes Message Board.