Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Former colleague burned to a crisp

For the second year in a row, I have discovered through the wonders of the internet that someone I was once close to has died.

It’s a bizarre feeling.

In this case, it’s Bill-Dale Marcinko, whose name will mean absolutely nothing to just about anyone reading this. And when I say I was once “close” to him, I guess what I mean is this: Back in the 1970’s long before the birth of the world wide web and the ways in which it interconnected everyone, when I was trapped in the backwoods of southern New Jersey with no transportation and a fervent desire to be elsewhere, when most of the people I knew and was close to were people I corresponded with and never met, I knew Bill-Dale Marcinko. Like me, he was a guy who published fanzines. I read his, he read mine, we found something to argue about via the mail — if you weren’t in a fan feud, you really weren’t anyone — we sniped at a then-seemingly-important group called The Fans of Central Jersey, and we actually met up once or twice at conventions. That sort of thing ended for me when I got more involved with women (not girls), and graduated from fanzines to “real” zines (like The Comics Journal), and became a reporter, and adorned myself with the outward trappings of growing up without ever fully growing up inside.

Now I find out that Bill-Dale was burned to a crisp in his house in late 2005. He was 46. In reading the various notices — and here’s one and here’s another — it sounds as though college was the high point for him, and that afterward it was a long slow slide that left him living alone in the house of his deceased parents, taking daily deliveries of pop culture ephemera from UPS, and building a Collyer-esque clutter that ultimately barred firefighters from saving his life.

Is this tragedy? I don’t know. Historically, tragedies concern a fall from great heights (one of the reasons “Death of a Salesman,” which concerned an everyman yet called itself “a tragedy” was revolutionary — much as I don’t care for it). Think Oedipus, or Macbeth. Marcinko’s height was putting out three issues of a xeroxed fanzine densely packed with text, one with an actual raisin hand-taped into each copy. Did he have writing skill? No less so than whoever is behind TMZ.com or Entertainment Weekly. But it didn’t lead anywhere larger for him.

In one of the zines I was producing during this period, I ran cartoons from a friend of my good friend and mentor Richard C. Roesberg. (Who sometimes comments on this blog.) His friend was a phenomenal artist (and I don’t use the adjective lightly) and a clever wit; I got two 3-panel samples of a strip he was going to do about Albert Einstein and his wife and I published them both, but no more came, no matter my cajoling. His friend was also someone who daily became more and more unhinged, until for some reason he moved out of the interior rooms of his house in Philadelphia and moved into the spaces behind the walls where the closets connected up. And then he killed himself.

I don’t know anything more about Bill-Dale Marcinko’s life since 1980 or thereabouts, but I will say this: Last winter in my mother’s basement I came across my copies of the three issues he put out of his fanzine and during a purge of accumulated junk from my early life I couldn’t throw them into the refuse pile. I shipped them back to California, where I now live, and where I still have them, and where I will keep them.

3 Responses to “Former colleague burned to a crisp”

  1. Rich Roesberg Says:

    I remember reading Bill-Dale’s name and hearing about AFTA back in my old fan days. Sad to learn of his downhill slide and death. I just read a similar account about a writer who used to contribute to Rolling Stone. It seems some people who possess a creative impetus find it accompanied by mental fragility.
    My friend John was like that. His ability to draw and paint was incredible. I once sat and watched him sketch a complex picture of the comic book character Plastic Man, who was stretching his elastic body up out of a chimney. The view was from overhead, with Plastic Man’s face close to the viewer and the house from which he was emerging far below. Clinging to Plas were numerous ‘chimney snoids’ as John dubbed them, little men inspired by Robert Crumb’s Mr. Snoid. He executed the drawing without any preplanning, never stopping to consider what he would add next.
    I wish I had pestered him to give me that art. Most likely it’s long gone.
    After his aged parents died, John became reclusive. He had medication but, without supervision, stopped taking it and eventually tore out all the phones. I got a letter from him in which he wrote that The Masons (you know, the guys who put all the mystic symbols on our dollar bills) were out to get him because he had been researching them for years. Well, he had been reading about them and I guess that’s why his delusions of persecution settled on them as his enemies. I wrote back, trying to be rational. He never replied to my letter.
    I can easily call up mental images of his upstairs bedroom with its slanted ceiling, bookshelves, old reel-to-reel tapeplayer, a Frank Zappa poster I gave him, and a large, mostly finished, symbolic painting of Nancy and Sluggo. He was interested in Alfred Jarry and pataphysics, had made short animated films, did some commercial art, was included in at least one group art show, and once covered his floor with dead leaves because it was Fall. Sometimes we did ‘jam’ drawings, taking turns adding to them until they were swarming with figures. We even considered doing a zine together.
    John was gifted but troubled. When his father admired Dali’s “Premonition of the Spanish Civil War” John painted him a fine copy of it. After he got drafted the Army had to give him an honorable discharge as ‘Incompatible with Military Service’ or something like that.
    I can relate to the writers whose memories of Bill-Dale you provided links to. There are certain people who have an early and permanent influence on us. Losing one of them reminds you of how important knowing them was.

  2. Clifford Meth Says:

    Bill-Dale introduced me to many of the ideas and books and people that I still hold dearest. I share your loss.

  3. Richard Ewald Says:

    I am very saddened to read this. I met Bill when we were both students at Rutgers. I worked with him on the alternative campus newspaper and one of his early zines – CROW. I recently moved and came across a proof copy of Going Under The Ice that he had given me as I unpacked some old boxes. I started rereading this work and was wondering whatever became of him. He always seemed to me to be under a heavy emotional load. I thought his writing would be cathartic, but no. It only caused him to try to dig deeper into his psyche. He questioned everything and always put his emotions under a microscope. I guess in the end he had too many questions and too few answers.

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