We had the good fortune of connecting with Napoleon Doom and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Napoleon, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
I feel like all my life, everyone else has been on this wavelength I just couldn’t tap into. It seemed that in everything I attempted, no matter how hard I tried, or how much effort I put in, the end result was invariably me being lambasted for doing something wrong and ruining things for everyone.
There were so many things everyone innately knew, yet I didn’t, and I couldn’t seem to learn. However, I did learn at an early age to just make myself malleable and compliant. I just placated other people’s will, because I had learned that anything I might contribute would be wrong or destructive.
In my school life, relationships and career, I just suppressed all aspects of myself and obeyed. People still remarked about how weird, creepy or disgusting I was. They attempted to categorize me with words like nerd, goth, slut, freak, queer etc. What they didn’t understand was that the amorphous abomination they were seeing was my attempt to mould myself into one of them.
I could never admit to myself that I was miserable, because any feeling that originated within me must be in error. Yet some part of me knew. I turned to compulsive eating and drinking, because my life and all my relationships were so hollow that it was the only way I could ever feel satisfaction.
Between the ages of 17-32, I was in two long term, back-to-back relationships, where every aspect of my life was dictated to me. One day, when my partner was dressing me down, and verbally degrading me for my unacceptable behaviour, they said the magic words,
“I’m just so sick of you.”
Though he didn’t intend it, those words granted me my freedom. If he didn’t want me, I had no obligations to him any longer, and I left.
At 32, I realized I had missed out on all the major milestones other people, real people, who are allowed their own will, get to experience. I had no idea how to exist or who I even was. I figured I’d better find out. I knew I was able to write, draw, and create characters and worlds all my own. At some distant point in my life, those things had brought me pleasure. Over time, they had become my refuge, the place I could retreat from the endless, suffocating demands of the others surrounding me.
The rich, elaborate worlds in my mind were all I really knew or understood anymore. I became aware that I could go on pandering to all the people in my life who had become accustomed to domineering me, my boss, the people who deigned to be my friends, the next monster who would bellow and degrade me into letting them use my body… or I could bring the world of my mind into reality. I decided that I wanted to dedicate myself to the latter, with an almost monastic devotion.
Through my art, comics, stories and audio-dramas I have manifested my own reality. I invite people who want to share in it with me to come inside. Those shrieking, demanding voices I spent a lifetime in servitude to? I can hardly hear them anymore.
I still fall back on my old behaviours from time to time. They were my only survival mechanism for so long, it’s hard to unlearn them. I find myself occasionally being devoured by other people’s lives and projects. Grinning spectators of my existence still remark on what nerd, goth, slut, freak, or queer I am. These days, they try to assure me they mean it in a “good way”, but they’re still trying to dictate my life to me, telling me what I am. The difference is now I know I can walk away.
Buried inescapably in my stories are aspects of my former life. There are others who are suffering now, as I did. I hope to spark something within them that helps them break free, whatever that means to them. Bringing my mental worlds into reality has become my reason to live. My waking life is dedicated to making my creations real. People ask me if I’m lonely sometimes because of it. The loneliest time of my life was when I was surrounded by people who saw me as a contrivance to be used. I’m never lonely anymore.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
To this day, I credit a trip through Europe I took when I was 15 for shaping my sensibilities.
The other girls on the tour were more interested in hooking up with local boys and finding Taco Bell’s and Mcdonald’s, peppered throughout the historic city-scapes, than they were the art or culture. Why, in their mind, the cuisine of Europe was to be avoided but the disconsolate p*nises were not, still remains a mystery to me.
The contrast of these girls’ belligerent, American rollicking with the local way of life was the first time I was made aware that there was something beyond the culture I was raised in. The woman in Zurich weren’t chastised for their failure to grin becomingly at every stranger they passed by. Though it drew hysterical giggles from my cohorts, the women of Milan dressed with artistic elegance and sophistication. The American uniform of t-shirts and jeans, hastily thrown on, was so rarely seen that it actually became a marker for fellow Americans abroad.
Rather than hunting out Big Macs in the majesty of Lucerne, I fully devoted myself to absorbing the art, architecture and cuisine of this world.
There were three experiences that forever changed me. The first, as trite as it might sound, was experiencing Michelangelo’s ceiling of The Sistine Chapel. I had read “The Agony and The Ecstasy” by Irving Stone in preparation for my visit. I had seen endless photographs and parodies of the piece. Yet, it wasn’t until I actually saw it, spread out above me, that I understood the how truly remarkable it was.
What photography fails to capture is that the figures are three dimensional, projecting from the ceiling and becoming fully fleshed beings to the eye of the observer. I had never conceived that such a thing was even possible. People recite the story of how Michelangelo built a scaffolding so he could paint this piece, and oh how he sacrificed. They regurgitate dates, parroting that from 1508-1512, Michelangelo dedicated 4 years of his life to this project. However, the accomplishment cannot truly be understood without observing the fruits of his labour first-hand.
It was worth all he may have endured in that time, to have created something so profoundly beautiful, something that survived beyond his mortal existence.
The next awakening I had was upon seeing Michelangelo’s non-finoto pieces, collectively referred to as “The Prisoners” or “The Slaves.” These are marble sculptures, in which the chiseled figures have only been partially freed from their marble prisons. They remain trapped, eternally encased in the stone, teased by their partial release, while their ultimate independence is denied.
It feels so banal to say it, but these statues stood as the metaphor for life as I had come to know it. I was constantly suffocated by the will of others, the mocking, the laughing, the ridicule. It had culminated to where I was no longer even a fully realized being, just a thing that floated along on the whims of those surrounding me. So much so that it would take 17 years for that thought to fully incubate into action.
The third piece that stirred me, and probably the most recognizable influence on my art was the Spreuer Bridge in Lucerne, Switzerland. This 13th century bridge was refurbished in the 1600s, to house “Totentanz” or “Danse Macabre” style paintings in the beams of its covered rooftop. These paintings depict the one truth in life, that death claims us all.
Skeletal figures dance, and cheerfully usher the living- no matter how young, fair, pious or wealthy they may be- to join there ranks. Rather than find it morbid, I saw it as a beautiful reminder that life is fleeting and precious, a gift not to be wasted. I only regret not putting this lesson into effect earlier.
When I returned to the U.S, I began to incorporate elements of the works that had inspired me into my own. I was met with disgust and disapproval.
“This is ugly, disgusting, you should be ashamed of yourself!”
“To think someone with so much talent would squander it away on filth like this!”
“You must be a horrible, sick human being to devote yourself to something so hateful.”
To me it wasn’t ugly, disgusting, filthy, horrible, sick or hateful, but a wonderful discovery of self. For the first time, I had found something that gave me a sense of fulfilment and purpose. However, no one else could be persuaded to see the beauty in it.
In two years’ time, my art and writing had created such repulsion for me at my school that I was offered the choice to leave, or fail and repeat my senior year- when I had matured enough to uphold myself to the standards set by the school.
After that, I lost faith in myself and my vision. I fell into vicious, domineering relationships with people because I no longer trusted myself to govern my life. Art and literature were substituted with food and alcohol, which I glutted myself on in an attempt to find happiness in a life that was no longer my own. I lost 15 years of my life to this cycle before I was shaken from my walking torpor. I don’t try to create things that will please the masses anymore. Instead, I have devoted myself to creating a world apart, where the lost may find themselves again. It’s my offering to this world.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I don’t really find anything as fulfilling as my work. I am friendly with people, and believe everyone is deservant of respect and kindness, but the rigours of maintaining friendship are not enjoyable for me.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
For a very long time, my mom was the only person in my life who ever took the time to try and understand me. She encouraged me to make my creative endeavours my life. She even helped me register for a business license because she believed in my work, and that I could make a career out of it.
When the rest of the world was telling me how I could mend the broken, worthless thing that I was, she convinced me I was never broken, just made differently.
Last year, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was devastated. For the first time, I was confronted with the notion that that even if the disease didn’t take her, I would likely live to see her exit from my life. I came to the realization that somehow; I would have to believe in myself with the same fervour she believed in me. Thanks mom, I’m trying everyday to convince myself you were right, despite the sea of contesting voices.
Other: Creeping Wave Radio Audiodrama: https://www.iheart.com/podcast/256-creeping-wave-radio-30982895?cmp=ios_share&sc=ios_social_share&pr=false&autoplay=true The U Mind Podcast: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-u-mind/id1473777111
All art by Napoleon Doom, Creeping Wave Radio pieces left to right, Napoleon Doom exterior circle. Interior circle Anthony Silva as Thibault the Cat, Gabe Valentin as Gabe the Lizard Man, Shawn Michael as The San Diego Werewolf, Goat vs Fish and Marco A. Shatter on exterior circle. 2nd piece, Exterior circle, Napoleon Doom, Interior Circle, Napoleon Doom as Marielle, Marco A. Shatter (young), Marc Biagi as Father, (Exterior circle: Travis Rhett Wilson as Dr. Dmitri Kosorotov)