Douglass St. Clair Smith

November 2006By Comments

The SubGenius Psychlopaedia or Slack: The Bobliographon is—how to put this—the most unusual text most folk will ever encounter. Its Fort Worth—bred author-editor midwifed the birth of the for-profit Church of the SubGenius (“the only religion to pay its taxes”) more than 25 years ago and remains the wizard behind the curtain of the post-modern (some say satirical) faith to this day.

Mike Shea: Where and when exactly did the Church of the SubGenius first appear?

DSCS: Doctrine has it that the SubGenius concept was first delivered to the Saint of Sales, J.R. ”Bob” Dobbs, by ageless alien space monster JHVH-1, in 1953, in Bob’s rumpus room in the basement of his house in Wichita, Kansas, where he was living at the time.

I personally caught the SubGenius concept like a sudden illness, or a bolt of badly-aimed lightning, in late 1978 while standing with my new friend Dr. Philo Drummond and my old, late friend Dr. X [Monte Dhooge] on Merrimac Avenue in Dallas. The three of us had been wondering why we weren’t rich yet, even though we were “obviously” smarter than the average Joe. (We had a lot to learn, especially about smartness.) Philo said, “Well, it’s probably because we’re not geniuses, but just . . . subgeniuses.” Upon hearing that word, suddenly I knew what all my otherwise useless skills were good for: identifying and corralling an entire subspecies—or überspecies—of Homo sapiens sapiens, and making money off of them.

I had been making amateur films, publishing fanzines, and networking with weirdos such as The Firesign Theater fan group since elementary school. Philo and I had become friends because of our shared love of comic books, Captain Beefheart, bad monster movies, and kooks—or, I should say, our keen interest in the occult mysteries, the cheesy paperbacks about such mysteries, and the cheesy people who read and write such paperbacks. Philo could appreciate my eagerness to mimic those interesting kooks, and together we started gathering (we don’t like the term “stealing”) ideas from all of Man’s Great Religions, plus Scientology, the Rosicrucian Order, the John Birch Society, and the Masons.

As we were combing old sixties magazines for graphics to, eh, appropriate, we kept coming across what appeared to be the same man modeling in hundreds of completely unrelated magazine ads. It was always this grinning guy with a pipe and a Squaresville haircut, and he was almost always depicted in situations of great relaxation or “slack.” He would be lounging in a hammock while his wife mowed, or fishing in a rowboat in perfect weather or just grinning his fool head off over whatever product was being hawked.

Philo eventually revealed to me that all these ads did in fact depict the same man, that this man, “Bob,” had been Philo’s mentor for many years, and that “Bob” had entrusted Philo with the task of finding someone with just the right skills and just the right degree of jobless desperation to become “Sacred Scribe” of an actual existing secret society, the Church of the SubGenius.

In other words, you can’t blame everything on me. I was just a tool of “Bob,” being manipulated by his minion Philo Drummond. I am however the one who has done most of the dirty work, such as having to deal with normal humans in getting the Word of “Bob” out into the public eye.

During 1979, going from “Bob’s” old napkin-scrawled memos and parts of cheesy paperbacks that he’d underlined, plus some helpful hints regarding secret society protocol that we’d gleaned from The Illuminatus! Trilogy novels by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, Philo and I developed the basic public outreach materials, such as our original Pamphlet #1 and the multi-document Ordainment Kit with its All-Purpose Excuse Document, Doktorate of the Forbidden Sciences, Ordainment Card etc. I hand-wrote the final versions of these documents in a hospital bed following a hernia operation, in September 1979. The first copies of Pamphlet #1 were picked up from the printer on January 2, 1980.

My wife was so angry that I had spent $60 on these frivolous pamphlet copies—which Philo and I had intended to leave around in Laundromats for free, like The Watchtower and Awake!—that she insisted that I mail copies to publishers as the “query” or sample for a book. Philo and I did a mailing, complete with fake “literary agent” letterhead, to 150 publishers. We got 150 rejection slips.

Even the publishers of underground comics tossed them in the trash, but from those trashcans, the SubGenius Pamphlet copies were rescued by various artists and janitors, including Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers artist/janitor Paul Mavrides. A year later our graphics were much better, and we were being reviewed by Rolling Stone and Heavy Metal; R. Crumb had reprinted us in his new magazine WEIRDO; and a young editor at McGraw-Hill had found a battered copy of the Pamphlet in the back seat of my sister-in-law’s car and made us an offer. THE BOOK OF THE SUBGENIUS came out from McGraw-Hill in 1983.

MS: What does “slack” mean to a SubGenius and how much is enough?

DSCS: Slack is different for every SubGenius. That’s the ace up our sleeve. As long as Slack can’t be defined, the Conspiracy can’t bottle it and sell it, and thus They cannot ultimately win. They can only sell False Slack, which is admittedly better than no Slack at all. But False Slack is no Slack at all! A main SubGenius slogan is, “The subgenius must have slack.” This doesn’t mean that Slack is something you have to go out and buy or earn or learn. It means that having Slack is the prerequisite to being a SubGenius in the first place.

“It’s a Slack thing; nobody would understand.” The Conspiracy—that is, everyone you don’t like—is always striving to define “slack” and “slackers,” usually in terms of a marketing bracket. The Con would have us believe that a “slacker” is the standard twentysomething-ne’er-do-well who leeches off society so he or she can watch TV and drink beer or smoke pot all day. “Slack” for the Con-enslaved normal people is when your team just won, you’re drinking the coolest brand of beer, wearing this season’s coolest clothes, are tall and good looking and well off, and have an S.O. who’s the same way. Just like in the commercials, in other words.

The individual SubGenius is able to appreciate the Slack that he or she already has, when that SubGenius has found its own individual path to Slack. For a given SubGenius, that may indeed be to sit on its ass, gobbling drugs and watching YouTube. But many of us awaken to our inborn Slack when we are engaged in our favorite type of work, or work-play, or just play, whatever it is that makes us feel most alive and alert. It’s when we’re doing what feels right. On rare occasions, even an actual job can provide such a path to Slack! The point is that we can’t tell you what slack is. Every other religion or company in the world will try to convince you that if you buy into what they’re offering, then you’ll have Slack. We’re saying you already have Slack, you just have to get off your ass and figure out where you best get it. “Put your good where it will do the most” was the way St. Ken Kesey (a SubGenius Minister) put it. You must learn to think for yourself, in other words—but only “Bob” can show you how.

MS: What role did Douglass St. Clair Smith play in compiling the new SubGeniusPsychlopaedia of Slack: The Bobliographon?

DSCS: Unlike our previous SubGenius holy books, this one had to be produced on an extremely tight schedule and budget. I couldn’t afford to hire pro designers like Paul Mavrides or Hellswami Satellite Weavers as before, and had to do it myself. That meant I had to learn from scratch how to do page layout in the modern age, and fast, which I did, using video tutorials and remembering my distant days of assisting the professionals on the previous books.

Although I had never learned computer page layout before doing this book, I did learn computer graphics and animation, so for the first time, this book had artwork by me as well as the thirty or so other graphics contributors. Most of my stuff is directly inspired by the paintings in older Jehovah’s Witness publications but illustrates events in “Bob’s” life and prophecy instead of the Bible.

I also had to actually write most of the book. We had many vivid, angry rants and studious pseudo-science articles by many contributors, and a couple of chapters are collections of such material from others, but most of that is concerned with ancillary subjects like “Bob’s” wife, Connie, and specific reasons for and ways of fighting the Conspiracy. But the really basic dogma had to be presented in a new way, and the many changes in dogma and prophecy had to be accounted for in a way that made some kind of sense. Yes, we actually try to make some kind of sense. It helps if the reader starts at Page One instead of in the middle.

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