Championing the Dark Crusade
By Etha Williams
July 28 -- Regent St. Claire leads a dual life, and he’s not keeping it a secret.
In one, he lives with his girl friend and their four-year-old son in a modest 1950s stucco house on a quiet street in Culver City.
A Toyota sits in the driveway near the shade of a large elm tree. Inside, the child plays with legos and watches the Jetsons, while Dad talks on the phone and the air-conditioner hums quietly.
By all appearances, it is the epitome of suburban normalcy.
But the 42-year-old artist’s graphic novels and music belie another world: a macabre place where Frankenstein-like monsters serve as religious hit men, angels speak out in defense of suicide, and apocalyptic horrors are just part of everyday life.
“I do my part for the dark crusade,” St. Claire says, laughing. His smile makes him look like a slightly gnarled and mischievous middle-aged cherub.
Recently St. Claire released “Glamour and Damnation,” a retrospective three-CD box set of songs he wrote and recorded with Castle Blak, the metallic “dark California glam” band he fronted between 1982 and 1991.
And now he’s busy at work on “Sanction,” which he says will be a “very graphic” graphic novel with a political message. It’s all part of his life’s work: “the piece by piece dismantling of the profane and hypocritical religious right.”
Growing up in the small town of Pleasant Hill California, about 25 miles east of Oakland, St. Claire started taking drum lessons at the age of eight and quickly moved on to songwriting.
When he “couldn't find anyone who could sing” his songs, he decided to sing them himself. He taught himself to play piano and guitar and started joining bands.
But St. Claire was never really cut out for the exhibitionism of rock
And he did it for more than a decade, playing drums in punk bands with musicians including Kevin Army, who went on to produce Operation Ivy, Samiam, and Greenday.
“We got to know other musicians who were in the scene, and you can't help but absorb some of their knowledge and their attitude. You just get educated.”
Castle Blak played in L.A. for four more years under the “sleeker” name Blak before the birth of grunge and troubles with a record label led St. Claire to leave music altogether.
By the time the band broke up, he had already begun writing freelance film and music articles using the connections he had fortuitously made through a scammer roommate. It was a childhood dream come true
“When I was 13 years old...I came to the attention of, I don't know, somebody, and I was chosen as the youth citizen of the year in my town,” he recalls.
“I remember I got up there and they asked me...'Hey, what do you want to be when you grow up?' And I said, 'I want to write for television or film.' And they just stared at me...no one knew what that concept was in Pleasant Hill.”
One article of his in particular spoke to things to come: a piece on adaptations of comic books into movies.
Many of the characters – including Cayce -- are inspired by people close to St. Claire, and the subject strikes close to home as well.
“Probably the first rule of writing is you write about what you know. And the second rule of writing is, I guess, that you write about what you care about,” he says. “People that have been very close to me have killed themselves, and I make a joke about this, but it's true. I tend to trip over dead bodies.”
With help from the owners of HiDeHo Comics in downtown Santa Monica -- people whom St. Claire calls his “teachers” -- and working with his co-publisher and girlfriend Heidi Schmid and a team of artists, the Candy Apple Black series was released during the fall of 2003 and winter of 2004.
The three-CD Castle Blak retrospective came out in April 2006.
But, comic books and rock and roll aside, St. Claire knows he isn’t a superhero. He acknowledges that Castle Blak “weren't big stars,” and realizes he can't save the world from suicide, or even from the religious right.
But the letters he gets back --“tons and tons” of them, he says -- come from people who have started bands because of his work, despairing people who feel that St. Claire understands them in a way society doesn't, and people who just like what he does.
He says his goal is to share his own experiences with “the rest of the world.” He's communicating. And that's enough.
The Castle Blak CDs and Candy Apple Black series can be ordered through the web at goodintentionspaving.com
Candy Apple Black is also available at HiDeHo Comics and Books at
525 Santa Monica Boulevard, Santa Monica.
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