‘Not the product of a sane mind’


DVD box art for ‘Product of Society [the film].’

By Chris Krapek

Some say comic book artist Jon Lennon is crazy.

In fact, it was Ain’t It Cool News who said his work “is not the product of a sane mind.” Can you blame them? This is the guy who’s books feature men shooting up their semen intravenously to get a fix.

In Product of Society [the film], a new documentary from communication studies graduate student Matthew Zingale, viewers explore the mind of a man who likes to see the devil having intercourse.

The narrative follows Lennon as he prepares to showcase his stuff at Chicago Comic Con 2010. You have to admire him. He charges a measly buck for his books and the money he makes doesn’t even begin to cover his expenses. No worries, though. Of course, money would be great, but Lennon doesn’t care. He would rather you enjoy and appreciate his work more.

He grew up reading the typical superhero comic book fare (which led to quite an obsession with Supergirl) before graduating to stuff like Preacher and Johnny The Homicidal Maniac.

His own book, Product of Society, is filled with absurdist humor that will certainly offend some. He’s unbelievably dedicated to his work. He has boxes of drawings he’s started years ago and never finished — like a Jihadi mutant beaver.

During the day, Lennon serves as a locksmith to pay the bills. His father, although supportive of his son’s work, still wants him to turn a profit. In one of the best scenes of the film, Lennon describes how his father pitched him an idea; locksmith superhero.

Did I mention Lennon is kind of an anarchist? He wants society to start over. But deep below all of the anti-government rhetoric, Lennon is terribly insecure.

In the most intimate scenes, in which Lennon is by himself using the camera as a diary, we find out how lonely he is. When he’s working, he usually puts on Lord of the Rings or Fight Club. He’s seen them so many times, it reminds him of an old friend.

Filmmaker Zingale simultaneously serves as impartial observer and friendly catalyst. In some scenes, he leaves the most crazy and absurd stuff spouted from Lennon unchallenged. But at Comic Con, when Lennon is skeptical about selling his f-word-laden books to a normal-looking mother, Zingale pushes his friend to explain why he’s so apprehensive. He’s self-conscious; he doesn’t want people to not totally love his work.

You’ve probably seen the fliers on campus — an enraged-looking bald dude with glasses looks like he’s about to unleash hell. Believe it or not, but you can empathize with that man.

So is Lennon insane? Probably not, but who cares? Everyone has a friend like him and from time to time, everyone is him. We are all a product of society.

Product of Society [the film] will have it’s premiere Saturday at 3 p.m. at The House Cafe, 263 E. Lincoln Highway. The showing is free to the public.

An interview with filmmaker Matthew Zingale:


Northern Star: Describe the friendship you have with Jon Lennon.

Matthew Zingale: Jon and I have known each other since middle school. Our friendship started out on a slightly rocky road with some funny stories involving a Jacksonville Jaguars hat and some fruit snacks. Since then we have been close friends and have connected with our shared love of things that seem to be slightly off and definitely not mainstream.

NS: What drew you to make a documentary about him?

MZ: Originally I had no plan on doing a documentary about Jon, but one late night at a bar I was talking to a friend about ideas for a documentary. The film that I was trying to make at the time, a documentary about the DeKalb music scene, was unraveling quickly and I had no idea what type of film to make. My friend asked if I knew any interesting people and immediately my mind went to Jon. I mean, first off his name is Jon Lennon, and most importantly, he has the most interesting view of life and expresses it in an incredibly unique way through his comics.

NS: You gave Jon his own camera to film himself when you weren’t there. Were you happy with the footage?

MZ: I couldn’t have been happier with the footage that Jon collected. The idea of video diary footage came to me after watching films like Tarnation and Grizzly Man. The intention was just to get him to talk about whatever he wanted and perhaps confide in a way that might have been difficult with the filmmaker there. I think that I got what I was looking for and more. He really didn’t hold anything back and filmed everything. He ended up recording some of the funniest stuff I have ever seen, and some really deep stuff that transformed the film into what it is, a candid look into Jon’s life. That would not have been possible in such a way without his footage.

NS: Ain’t It Cool News called Lennon’s work “not the product of a sane mind,” do you agree?

MZ: I think Jon is one of the sanest people I know. He is super educated and knows more about the world and what is happening within it than anyone else that I know. Sure, he might express his outlook on life in a way that most don’t, and yes his comedy isn’t for everyone, but he is most definitely sane. Perhaps it is the rest of us that need to change the way we look at the world.

NS: How does this film differ from your other documentary, Running on Empty?

MZ: Product of Society [the film] is different from most films not only my other film Running on Empty. Running on Empty is a film that tries to open people’s eyes on a subject that a lot of people have a negative opinion on. With that film, [NIU grad student] Matt Briggs and I attempted to give a fair and balanced look at what was happening in the dog racing industry and how it effects all involved. Product of Society [the film] is a candid look at an independent artist that wants nothing else than to do what he loves. It is meant to show you his struggles in life, the way that he lives and works.

It is a raw film that could be difficult for some to digest, much in the same way Jon’s comics may be difficult for some people to “get.” I hope it shows everyone what independent artists go through in order to succeed in their field. Its not a flashy film in any way and certainly challenges some rules of filmmaking, but hopefully people will connect with the rawness that I feel reflects the independent spirt.