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Moment of Truth: Goodbye, Jon Schnepp

Welcome to the Moment of Truth: the thirst that is the drink.

I'm in a mood. I know we're all in various moods these days, what with a cartoon pig dictator come to life to clown his antics all over the world in the name of the country in which we live, and dictatorial cartoon pigs wallowing rampant in every other nation where cartoon pig food is abundant. There are any number of subjects I could wax aggrieved about, chief among them the recent vote in the Knesset to officially declare the non-Jews of Israel second-class citizens, so that the accusation of Israel being an apartheid state can no longer be considered an exaggeration. But what at this peculiar historical moment can be considered an exaggeration? We're living in a caricatured era of our civilization's decline.

Meanwhile, a mood-altering event occurred over the past two weeks. A friend from back in the day in Chicago came down with what appeared to be flu symptoms. He became delirious, was taken to the hospital, where his liver was found to be shutting down. Later, in the hospital, he suffered a stroke, causing hemorrhaging on one side of his brain. His platelet count was too low for the doctors to relieve the pressure by cutting him open, and blood thinners failed to do the trick, with the result that the bleeding of one half of the brain crushed the other half. I'm piecing all this together from conversations with friends closer to the experience, so don't take this as accurate, but it seems to jibe with other reports.

I was among friends who saw Jon Schnepp in the hospital last Tuesday. Unable to breathe on his own, he lay there in a state of neural non-function, breathing with the aid of medical machinery. Thanks to his friends and family, I was able to see him that one last time, and it was hard to take, but I'm glad I went; except for the tube and the machines and the unconsciousness, he did not look unwell. I left him a small figurine of the Cyclops, a model of the one Ray Harryhausen animated for the movie, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. I almost expected Jon to open his eyes and say something. But that, devastatingly, was never going to happen. The word I got was that he was released from this state of non-animation into eternity sometime on Thursday, family members and his fiancée and partner in everything, Holly Payne, by his bedside.

Jon Schnepp was an exceptionally tall, vivid person, with an outgoing personality to match his size and mad-scientist Jew-fro. There was no one more alive than Jon Schnepp. This, like the state of the world, is not hyperbole. If anything, it's an understatement. The tragedy of his passing at the age of 51 stunned people throughout commix nerddom, with fans who knew him only from his appearances on his media review shows and through other fan venues mourning his passing with sincere tears and decrying the unfairness of fate. Comic-Con, which is right now in full swing down in San Diego, will surely be memorializing him. In better times he'd be there, with throngs eager to talk to him.

I knew Jon from back before Chicago's Wicker Park was gentrified into its current condition as a trendy Hellmouth. He was an early adopter and master of the Avid editing system. He was a performer, writer, artist and filmmaker. He knew what he wanted out of life, unlike some of us, and spent every waking hour creating and attracting the world he wanted to live in. He made his dreams come true, because to him they were simply what he was born to do and be. He made commix, wrote, directed, and acted in films and TV, directed and wrote the Adult Swim cartoon, Metalocalypse, which charted the adventures of the Scandinavian band Dethklok, who became in real life – whatever that is – one of the most popular Death Metal bands in the world. He also edited many episodes of Space Ghost Coast-to-Coast, a surreal-to-Dada cartoon. He directed a segment of the movie The ABCs of Death, and a documentary, The Death of Superman Lives, What Happened?, about Tim Burton's aborted Superman movie.

Schnepp's aesthetic was ahead of its time, with a diction, camera style, and editing language all his own. The off-dialogue cutting style of Ren and Stimpy morphed into Schnepp's absurdist white-noise-throbbing pauses in Space Ghost. His story-telling dynamic camera in some of his earlier films made after his move to LA, like "The Removers," often imposed a fourth-wall-breaking emotional response in the viewer that prefigured the comic camerawork on the single-camera groundbreaker Malcolm in the Middle. By the time Adult Swim had achieved its peak of popularity, you could say, as I did, that the world had finally caught up with Jon Schnepp. Or you could say the world and Jon Schnepp had co-evolved to accommodate each other. I believe Jon was an influential artist whose influence grew as nerddom flourished, commix came into their own, and superheroes took center stage in movies.

I could list his accomplishments, I could list his passions, talk about the many people he and I had in common, and the old days of the performance venue/living space, Milk of Burgundy, in Wicker Park, but those would just be specific examples of the Schnepp continuum. He and I stayed in touch after he moved to LA, and one of the first things I did when I got out here was contact him. He had already worked on Space Ghost by then. He and I did one of the most Hollywood things I've ever done out here: we visited the home of Forrest Ackerman, creator of the pulp magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland, on one of the days Forrest opened his doors so anyone could visit and view his collection of movie memorabilia. Jon treated Forrest like he'd known him for years, as in many ways we both had. Jon was super-enthusiastic about what and whom he loved. What he loved, he loved a lot, and knew everything about, deeply. Later he would befriend a legion of artists and personalities as his orbit grew. He got to hug Amanda Palmer!

I had a blast being part of Mad Science, back in the day, a sci-fi pilot show starring Jon and his then creative partner Mez Murray. They put a huge portion of that generation of Chicago talent and technical expertise to work. Anyone in that scene who encountered him was touched by his brilliance and joie de vivre.

Jon got a ton out of his time on the planet and gave a ton back. He made a lot more people a lot happier than some who make millions as entertainers and live into their 90s. What I'm trying to get across is that Jon was not just taking up space down here on Earth. If anything, he deserved more space, more resources, and more attention. And whenever, throughout the years, Jon has shown up on my radar or our paths have crossed, or he's even crossed my mind, the awareness of his existence has always been accompanied by happiness and inspiration. I still have a three-inch-tall steel figurine of Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still, which Jon suggested I buy. He had one and it was just so heavy and cool. I'm tempted to say, "Klaatu Barada Nikto, sweaties," but not even Gort can change this situation.

An extraordinary phenomenon is that Jon's ability to build a brilliant life made me realize how many of my friends have also built them. It even made me realize how I myself have at times turned pure existence into something more. Jon's life was like a fire that illuminated those gathered around it, and even those just passing by. Or dancing by, dancing in and out of the light. That's what fans and friends are mourning, because he extended so far beyond the limits of himself. He was so much more than just a man in a startlingly present body, or even a mere consciousness propelling that body and making it do its thing. He was like a gravitational wave that ripples across the universe. And yet, so not-full of himself, it could make you question whether or not you had the potential to ripple as well. And many around him have, and still do. He just made everyone happier to be alive. If there's a person who's an exception to this, I don't want to know them. I hope that person finds a way to spark something better in themselves, because now, to the world's misfortune, Jon's flame is out.

He was the exact opposite of what's been going on lately in the news. He cared about people and animals and the spirit, and I hate like hell to see him go. He made everything better. Thanks to Dan Bigelow and Mez Murray for keeping me in the loop, to Ivan DeWolf for the companionship on visiting day, and Holly for making sure as many as possible got to say goodbye.

This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!


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