It’s official: I can no longer bitch about people reading Fifty Shades of Grey on the subway. Not after unabashedly studying some pretty-detailed-for-a-doodle anal sex and scrotum sketches on the N train, squished between a man in his 90s and a toddler. Woops. My uncensored reading material, however, was completely worth the public-decency faux pas, as Taint, a zine delivered to us all the way from Canada, that grabs you by the balls and simultaneously kicks and kisses them until they’re black and blue and extremely pleased.
Andrew Horn is behind the “Gay Smutcore” zine, which he produced during his transition from raging junkie to sober artist and social good-doer. In quick little punches of anecdotes, drawings, and explicit photos, Andrew reveals some of his most intimate moments while communicating the bleak darkness in which a heavy drug user resides. The end result is either hilarious or heartbreaking. We weren’t exactly sure which, so we caught up with Andrew to ask him about his Taint.
VICE: What’s up with the title? Does it have multiple meanings?
Andrew Horn: I enjoyed the double take on it. It's a sexual reference towards the body, or something that is simply tainted—corrupted, poisoned, infected, or depraved.
Did you make any zines before Taint? And what made you decide that this would fit into your process of getting clean?
No. This is my first one. I’ve been a fan of VICE for a long time. It definitely had some influence over some of the style. But what inspired me was my friend Tiffany, she’s a musician, artist, all around amazing woman. She made a zine herself with the same theme: low budget, lowbrow, trashy, and uncouth. She gave me a copy and I loved it. Eventually, I decided to make my own. I also needed an art project to help me focus on something positive—something that wasn’t work, school, drugs, sex, or the other 1001 problems I seemed to be having at the time. It was quite therapeutic to go through some past experiences and put them down on paper. It’s personal, but I’m an open and honest person, sometimes brutally. I don’t mind sharing the skeletons in my closet.
How old were you when you started getting into drugs?
I got drunk for my first time when I was 11. And I was experiencing addiction at the age of 13. By the time I had finished ninth grade, when I was 14, I was smoking pot everyday and experimenting with hallucinogens and freebasing cocaine.
How long have you been clean?
There is not really a simple answer. I went into rehab treatment on August 2011, after that I had 58 days without any drugs, which is the longest I’ve ever gone since I was 12. Day 59 I had surgery because of an injury I had after getting hit by a car while riding my bike.
Oh no. What happened?
At first, I asked them not to give me narcs. But when I woke up in the recovery room, there was a nurse with a 5cc syringe full of morphine asking me if I wanted anything for the pain. I said "Fuck yes.” I made her keep giving more and more until she refused. I told myself I was in a hospital, so it was on no biggie that I was using again as long as I didn’t take any home. I asked them so many times not to give me any; they even confirmed that it was written in my chart, “No Narcotics.” But then my best friend picked me up, I got in her car and started looking at my discharge papers and my prescription was fucking morphine.
I abused the hell out of it. Then I went back to my doctor and managed to score another three-week supply. I did all of that in five days. I was doing about 400 to 500mg a day. From that point I was struggling hard—off again, on again and using of opiates, alcohol, coke, and crack. Eventually when I tried stopping I started to get dope sick. I had the physical addiction back.
Jesus. How did you kick the habit?
I went onto methadone, which I am still on. Some people say if you're on methadone, you're not sober. But that’s because they don’t know what it’s like. Methadone doesn't get you high. It just subdues your cravings and with regular dosing it can trick your brain into thinking you are getting morphine so you don't get sick.
What made you realize that you needed to get sober? Was there a particular event?
I was wasting my potential, it just took a while before I did anything about it. There was always promise that I was going to have a lot to offer in this world—I felt it in myself even when I was a wasted tweak on the road. I was just too strung out and broke to accomplish anything. One incident that stuck with me was my mother telling me I looked like death was warming over me. Plus the drugs weren’t exciting anymore. It became redundant, boring, habitual, and unhealthy.
So let’s talk about the format of the zine.
Each of the stories is different. I kept them short, but potent like a new and different punch to the face. I didn’t want too many drawn out reads because they would have less impact. At first I was also trying to go by two different identities within the zine. I was myself, Andrew Horn, the writer. And I would write stories about the experiences of “Braxton Steele”—the man in the pictures. He’s just this sleezy porn-star alter-ego I created. In the end, everything is about me, quite obviously and openly.
In between the heaviness of the stories, some of your drawings seem to provide a moment to catch your breath and laugh, like the tranny prostitute. While others are disturbing, like the blood-smear page.
Many of the doodles pertain to the elements of sex that I enjoy—wet, dirty, bodily fluid-drenched sex. Blood is something I’m not to into, though. But I do find blood to be powerful, it has a lot of representational strength because it can give life or to take it away. It courses through us.
You’re also your own model in some Tony Montana-esque photo. Is anything in those pictures real?
If that had been a real giant mound of coke on those mirror, those photos would have featured me dead. It was just icing sugar. The close-ups of shooting up are real photos of me hitting a vain, and drawing back blood. The objective was to portray and express personal experiences and feelings visually rather than through words.
What do you want readers to come away with after reading Taint?
That we should be honest and realistic with ourselves. It’s OK to have a drug problem, and it’s OK to admit you have one—admittance and action can only be beneficial. Kicking drugs doesn’t have to be an impossible lonely road. I have friends who I don’t think are honest with themselves about what they’re into, and I guess I feel it’s time for people to open their eyes a bit. I’ve also had some unintentional influence on a couple of my friends, and they’ve lightened up if not entirely eliminated their drug use, checked out counselling, and are doing much better.
That’s great. In Taint, you also mentioned that you work at a needle exchange in your area. Is that ever difficult for you?
The organization I do work and raise money for is AIDS Programs of South Sask. When I was much earlier in the process of getting off drugs, it would have been bad news to be in there. I never allowed myself to go there in the first place. Now after trying for complete sobriety for a year now, and having consistent months sober, it’s not so difficult for me to be around such material and subject matter. Being a gay man in North America, a drug addict, and having someone dear to me who is HIV positive, it’s an important social issue for me.
That's real. For a dude who takes pictures of himself covered in fake blood and signs off his e-mail correspondences with “Razor burn and back pain,” you seem like a really nice guy.
Andrew is launching taintme.org this winter, so keep an eye out!