American filmmaker, artist, musician, and comic maker John Michael ‘Mike’ McCarthy has made a name for himself over the last 40 odd years as a creator, purveyor of fine filth, showman, and champion of Americana. After first gaining recognition in the underground music scene in the 1980s, Mike went on to play a part in the early 1990s indie comic boom – Through works such as ‘Cadavera’ (1991), ‘Kid Anarchy’ (1991 – 1992), and ‘Supersexxx’ (1993). With Mike’s 1994, debut feature film ‘Damselvis, Daughter of Helvis’, and its 1995 follow up ‘Teenage Tupelo’ solidifying his status as a muti-genre artistic force!
With Mike going on to release multiple films, play in various bands, and engage in a slew of other creative pursuits since. With all of his works stemming from a DIY attitude, deep respect for the tradition of trash-culture; love of fun, the camp, and the outré.

A promo image for Mike’s films.

In addition to his more well known endeavours, Mike is also a champion of the Tennessee / Mississippi region; his long-term stomping ground. Tirelessly promoting and leading various historical and artistic projects in the area. Such as ‘Sculpt Memphis’ – Through which Mike works to create celebratory sculptures of various area legends. With the project having already led to a lifesize bronze statue of Johnny Cash sculpted by Mike. Prominently standing near where the fabled Man in Black played some of his early gigs.

Lately, Mike’s career and his ‘Teenage Tupelo’ film have been celebrated via Fantagraphics Publishing’s impressive 336-page, 6-pound release, ‘Teenage Tupelo: The Book.’ The mammoth compendium – filled with essays, pictures, and ephemera – offers the ultimate insight into Mike’s career, life, and cultural obsessions.
We were lucky enough to get some time from Mike to talk about ‘Teenage Tupelo’s legacy, the recently released book of the same name, his passions, work across a variety of media, and plans for the future.
Check it out, below…

For those unfamiliar with your works, can you give us a brief idea of your background – from your evolution as an artist, to where you are today?

I saw the necessity to combine my interests in American comic books, Western rock and roll, and world wide cult film into something personal and hopefully original, despite very little money and a absurdist sense of humour.

To me, the Golden Age of American pop culture exists within the life of Elvis Aron Presley (1935- 1977.) Nothing of any original value has occurred in American pop culture since Elvis’ death.

Today I’m still in Memphis, doing illustration, performing in bands, writing screenplays, and hoping to create more bronze sculptures. I am struggling for the time to draw graphic novels again, the goal being to illustrate my screenplays.

When did you first start getting interested in art; and what were some of your earliest influences?

Movies? Raquel Welch in ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C.
Comics? Jack Kirby dynamic art in FANTASTIC FOUR #88

Music? Punk Rock gave me purpose and focus.
It found me when I was 19.

Out of all your work, why did you decide to make Teenage Tupelo the centrepiece for both re-issuing on blu-ray as well as the tie-in book of the same name from Fantagraphics?

Teenage Tupelo had the most ties to the ‘90’s underground via Sympathy for the Record Industry (soundtrack and single) and Something Weird Video (VHS release) yet it had never gotten the attention it deserved until now.
I have an enormous amount of Teenage Tupelo archives (photos, interviews, reviews) that had been stored for 28 years in a long box. Those items needed context, copyright, and an explanation, to my children at least, as to why this work matters.
I want the movie and Guerrilla Monster Films to be remembered.

A promo poster for Mike’s 1995 film ‘Teenage Tupelo’.
Teenage Tupelo: The Book‘, by Mike and various contributors. Published in 2024 by Fantagraphics.

At 6 pounds, and with 336 oversized pages, how long did it take you to curate the Teenage Tupelo book; and were there any challenges in bringing it together that you did not expect?

The In-Design work began in January 2020 and lasted through May 2023, but for the last ten years I had been thinking about some kind of book as an overview of my works. Many of the images had been scanned and most of the essays were written. Of course, I had to revise many of the essays.

As the book is both a cultural exploration and biography, was there anything you unearthed while putting it together that surprised you?

The identity of my biological father as Terry Blair Carr. This added about 12 pages to the end of the book and gave it a proper ending. I didn’t have to fall back on the old tagline “Elvis is my Father.”
The 23 & Me revelation was a gift from my girlfriend Anneliese Marie Jones in 2021.

As a man with many hats, what do you enjoy the most in the creative process?
Do you see it more as work, and if so what do you do in your downtime to recharge your creative batteries?

There is no downtime. I get lost in my work and internal deadlines matter.
It only becomes work when there’s burnout.

Vacations are for normal people with regular jobs. I use to go to Europe to film festivals that were paid for. I was able to take my wife Kim and daughter Hanna to Paris and London in 2005 just to show my 22 minute short ELVIS MEETS THE BEATLES!
Those were the days! (Thanks Paul Duane!)

JMM’s short film, ‘Elvis Meets the Beatles.’
Released in 2000.

You have mentioned wishing you could hit the reset button and let the world be introduced to works beyond trash/cult icons like John Waters and Russ Meyer.
What alternative reality would you like to see with other directors being held in high regard and what would that look like?

I think my point was, when critics look back at 20th century American underground film, their reference points for comparison are always Russ Meyer and John Waters because, ironically, they were the most successful commercial model. Those two filmmakers are crazy-worthy, but the critics wear their names out because of their escape from obscurity.

I wanted to break free of the underground and enter the mainstream, as they did, but that window is closing. So, I write screenplays. I think it’s important to get the words in a bottle and cast into an ocean. AI (or perhaps grandchildren) will create my movies for me one day after I am gone. But if I don’t write them, then they can’t be made.

Have you noticed the opinion of your work change over time, particularly as mainstream has moved further away from sexualized content in entertainment with idolization of the female form often just assumed to always be objectification?

Long answer: Everything in the west, including God, soup cans, and self-identity lends itself to objectification. If you look closer at my work, you will see I am more fascinated with giving dimension or interpretation to the stereotypes that other people created long before me. I am riffing on past objects: stereotypes as archetypes.
I have also heard that men are into ‘things’ and women are into ‘people’, which might explain war and peace and everything in between which Art tries to comment on.

As a human being, I was objectified by Punk. I have learned to “Embrace Repulsion”. I thought the whole point was objectification.
I would like to think that I have used women (and men) as sex objects in a different, and more thought-provoking way than than the originals (like Playboy or Dean Martin’s Gold Diggers) who inspired me.

The short answer is I am just trying to evolve the (sometimes over-sexed) glossy images that affected me as a child. My men are juvenile delinquents and cavemen but my women are works of art.

What current living artists get you excited about music or movies?
And what is the last thing you read? Would you recommend it?

My son John just made a short film called SUPER THRIFT and now he’s working on a sequel SUPER THRIFT 2 (and looking for funding on Go Fund Me).

I really loved reading Peter Stanfield’s PIN-UPS 1972: THIRD GENERATION ROCK N’ ROLL. Stanfield uses archival research to pin-point the birth of Punk (before Glam was even a term) in its early band-forms, and offers a defence of Bowie’s PIN-UPS LP as the true last Ziggy Stardust statement.

I also enjoyed the James Warren biography EMPIRE OF MONSTERS and the JOHN STANLEY (Little Lulu) biography, both written by Bill Schelly and released on Fantagraphics Books. My TEENAGE TUPELO book is on the Fantagraphics Underground imprint.

How you would summarize your history with Something Weird Video for those who have not read Teenage Tupelo, and what do you think the labels legacy is or will be when people look back at it?

SWV saved old films that would have been lost to time and that is important from a cultural standpoint because these films were DIY; below and beyond Hollywood’s mainstream appeal. I identify these films as punk (Mike Vraney of SWV was also the manager of one of my favorite punk bands T.S.O.L.).
TEENAGE TUPELO would have been lost if Something Weird Video had not released it.

Advancements in AI has meant that a lot of art can be retooled – While this has yet to effect indie and fringe artists as much as the mainstream, do you have any thoughts or concerns about technology on the arts?

Break out the rose-coloured glasses but I can’t wait for AI to accomplish one day what I could not do: create all my screenplays into films. I will have at least four screenplays sitting on a shelf waiting for this to happen: KID ANARCHY, REBEL AUTO, FLIES ON HARBERT, and CADAVERA.

Poster for Mike’s 2000 film ‘Superstarlet A.D.’

How do you feel about people using Elvis’s voice to make ‘new’ music and covers?

Better to use the best than the worst.

For those at home who may be unaware, please outline your musical career?
Such as bands played in, memorable events, releases… etc.

I played rhythm guitar and sang lead vocal in the Kinks-ish punk rock band ROCKROACHES from 1982 – 1993. George Cole was the founding member and wrote the songs and played lead guitar. The band released a demo cassette in 1992 and performed regularly at the Antenna Club in Memphis, Tennessee.

A 1985 DIY promo photo of Mike’s band Rockroaches.

I played and sang and wrote a couple of songs for a Memphis melodic Pistols-ish punk band called DISTEMPER from 1985 – 1986. The band released a demo cassette in 1986 called “Destroy Memphis” and performed at house parties and played the first all-ages show at the Antenna Club in Memphis, Tennessee. 
In our short career, we opened for Dagnasty, The Descendants, Strange Flesh, Corrosion of Conformity and the Boneless Ones. We had two reunion gigs at the Antenna around 2010 with H.G. Ray on bass, (Hippie) Mike Moore on guitar, and Steve Selvidge on drums.

After that, quite a bit of time passed. In 2006, I met Cori Dials at Sun Studio and was intrigued by her voice and stage presence. I gathered a group of midtown players (including George Cole) to form “the dirt road Bowie” FINGERS LIKE SATURN. We recorded a batch of songs that were the flagship vinyl release on Black & Wyatt Records in 2018. I would later feature Cori as the last starlet in my 2010 feature CIGARETTE GIRL. 

Mike’s band Fingers Like Saturn.

Cori moved away and I reformed as THE NEHILISTICS in 2009-2010 with a few more original songs.

I got a great bunch of guys together who I had performed with in a FACES cover band (called THE RODULATORS, 2017-2019) to cover ROCKROACHES songs called THE MARKDOWNS, but Covid interfered and that project has gone on hiatus.
I have just re-formed THE NEHILISITICS but we might go under a different name. I think I’m calling the band DOKTORNIK and the SKRIPS.

Mike circa 2018 live onstage with his Faces cover band The Rodulators.

What are your memories of the 1990s indie comic scene?

Well my last published comics; KID ANARCHY #3 and SUPERSEXXX (1993) and the fumetti DAMSELVIS, DAUGHTER OF HELVIS (1994) all came out before the mid-decade mark and I pretty much didn’t bother to see what was happening in the comics biz. I didn’t go into a comic book store for years. 
My memories of the rest of that time frame were making my films that basically could have been adult graphic novels and were certainly inspired by my comic book sensibilities. Two different worlds but one leads to the other.
I wish more graphic novelists had made films. 

How did you and George Cole, your collaborator on Kid Anarchy, and frequent bandmate, first come to meet and collaborate?

George Cole and I attended a design class at Northeast Junior College in the fall of 1982. He cornered me by the snack machines on a lunch break one day and asked if I wanted to play guitar in his band The Rockroaches. 
This was my entry into punk rock which I forever owe George an enormous debt.
Likewise, he was extemely interested in the comics I was reading at the time – Love and Rockets especially, as it cross-over into this old school Archies meets new school music. We had shared tastes in music and comics from our childhood as well.

In 1984 we moved to Memphis where I attended the Memphis Academy of Art. We created an unpublished strip called POPCORN, and dabbled in small projects to pass the time. The Rockroaches got put on hold as we soon fell in with a younger punk scene in midtown Memphis.
This lead to us forming a melodic punk band called Distemper in 1985-86. I have written about this period at my site 

Are you still making comics at all?
… and any new works on the publishing horizon?

I am slowly working toward a goal of completing the KID ANARCHY graphic novel based on the screenplay written by Bart Shannon, George Cole, and myself. Fantagraphics Books has agreed to publish it.
It’s just a matter of finding proper creative window to produce a work that satisfies me. It’s been a great satisfaction to me seeing the TEENAGE TUPELO book published by Fantagraphics Books, full circle, 30 years after my last comic books.

For the last ten years I have been working on another semi-auto bio meets alternate reality called ONCE UPON THE UNDERGROUND. One of those stories is printed in the TEENAGE TUPELO book.
I have a couple of screenplays that would be fun to illustrate but I don’t have the money / savings it takes to sit at a drawing table without a care for how bills get paid. 

How do your comics and films all tie in to each other – both thematically and creatively?

There is a thread of the adopted child, the unknown past being unable to inform the uncertain future. It’s Billy Batson meeting The Stranger in the subway tunnel. But nothing dark and gloomy disguised as entertainment that we have been force-fed in pop culture for the last twenty plus years.
An avoidance of doom and gloom for the sake of whimsy; more HR PufnStuf and less Grand Theft Auto. If meta-modern is the happening trend then perhaps the mainstream audience will be more open to seeing artwork that combines on several different genres and see the progression (as I was doing in the 90’s).
I don’t know. You figure it out. It’s early in the morning here. 

What are your plans for the near future, the far future, and your legacy decades after?
Any projects in the works you want to plug?

I sculpted the Johnny Cash statue that stands in my Cooper-Young neighbourhood near Galloway United where he first performed. I have a non-profit called SCULPT MEMPHIS in which I hope to create more Memphis legends in bronze as a sort of sculptural trail that leads you through the history of Memphis music.

Of course I would love to make another feature film.

On June 30th, I am hosting a fundraiser for my David Bowie sculpture called the GLAM ROCK PICNIC. There will be food trucks and Memphis bands will play as I seek donations to finish the 10 foot tall statue in clay form.
Folks who attend will be able to actually buy a chunk of clay and apply it to the sculptural shape that is slowly but surely becoming Ziggy Stardust.

I have also been asked to be the “guest of honour” at the 5th annual DEAD FORMATS VHS Convention in Indianapolis Indiana on Saturday July 24. My recent Saturn’s Core release of DAMSELVIS, DAUGHTER OF HELVIS will be screened, along with TEENAGE TUPELO.
Check out DEAD FORMATS for more info.

Mike, circa 2018, with the statue of Johnny Cash he sculpted. As part of his ‘Sculpt Memphis’ project.

What is the best way for people to keep up with what you are working on and throw some support your way?

At this point, I would recommend that people email me to inquire about my blu-rays, comics, original art, and other stuff.
I can be reached at

My YouTube channel can be found at my old site

THE SORE LOSERS is streaming on Amazon Prime.

What is the best version of of the song, Memphis, Tennessee.

Chuck Berry!

If you could sit down with any historical figure, alive or dead, who would it be?

Titus Flavius Caesar

A promo poster for Mike’s 1997 film ‘The Sore Losers.’

What would your holy trinity of filmmakers be?

James Whale, Jack Arnold, and Merian C. Cooper.
or… George Sidney, Norman Jewison, Stanley Kramer
or …. Fritz Lang, Jean Cocteau, and Leni Riefenstahl
or… Mary Harron, Edgar Wright, and Buster Keaton.
Oh yeah, and Ernest B. Schoedsack!

With Impala as the main act, who would be the five supporting bands (Past or present)?

‘70’s Alice Cooper, T-Rex, Vince Taylor, New York Dolls, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Iggy and the Stooges.

Who is the greatest luchador of all time and how would “Late Great” go about defeating him?

Not sure about who is the greatest luchador, but Late Great uses rockabilly mysticism. His mask is covered in images of dead SUN rockabilly and blues artists.
His third eye is an image of an 18 year old Elvis.

The Late Great – one of Mike’s creations.

Unlimited budget, if you could take Teenage Tupelo on a worldwide film tour, how does each screening of the movie go down?

The best experience of a screening, other than connecting with your audience, is to meet someone who helps you get the next movie made.

I would love to show the movie in Portugal, home of Chaputa Records, who have been re-releasing my vinyl soundtracks! (Look for SUPERSTARLET A.D. out on vinyl this year!) Many thanks to Esgar and Rui!

Describe your ideal meal, both food and location and who you have with you?

In Memphis: I like BBQ ribs at the BBQ Shop, Chicken at Gus’s Fried Chicken, Burgers at Huey’s or burgers or BBQ sandwich at Tops BBQ, pizza at Garibaldi’s or Memphis Pizza Café, and donuts at Howard’s Donuts.
Chocolate malts at a franchise called Cookout.
Somebody get me to a doctor.

But to be honest, my ideal meal is free.

What is the top three things you own and why do you cherish them?

(1) I own Control Room “A” where a 19-year-old Elvis was first interviewed on WHBQ in the Hotel Chisca by DJ Dewey Phillips on July 5, 1954. Me and a team of former Sun Studio employees were allowed to go in and deconstruct this historic room to make way for (of course) condos.
The developers should have turned the entire Mezzanine into a Memphis radio history museum (but the bank doesn’t loan money for historic preservation).
Control Room “A” is deconstructed, labelled, and stored in a barn behind my house. Interested parties contact me via THE AITHER.

I don’t have photos of the room itself, because it’s deconstructed and tucked away in storage, but here is Dewey Phillips and Elvis on October 31, 1956 in what is likely Control Room C (just down the hallway), which now survives upstairs on the tour at Sun Studio. Natalie Wood and Nick Adams are just off-camera.

(2) I own a copy of Captain Marvel, Jr. #51 that I use in my art quite a bit. I loaned it to be displayed in Elvis’ teenage bedroom in Lauderdale Courts the summer they re-opened. It stayed there for three months.
I bought it at Memphis Comics and Records years ago, and it’s possible it could have belonged to Tupelo boyhood Elvis. (You can see it in my short film TUPELOVE).

(3) I have a brick from the old Tupelo Jail where my great-grandfather who was chief of police John Elzey Carr had Vernon Presley incarcerated for faking that 14 dollar check.

(4) I bought Paul McLeod‘s “TCB” ring and his Elvis Bust that resided at his (now infamous) Graceland Too mansion in Holly Springs, Mississippi. All these things are ‘sentimystical’.

And just to mention one non-Elvis item, I own a copy of Two-Fisted Tales signed by Harvey Kurtzman.


Mike back in the 1990s.

All images supplied by JMM or sourced online.