The Sober Man Behind Iron Man
The Fix: That seems to be a pervasive myth concerning writers and other creative people, that when you get sober, the work isn’t as good. That seems to be very contrary to your experience.
Fraction: Yeah, drugs were getting me away from the creative process. I make this joke a lot with friends who are, if not sober, then maybe thinking about it, but the best thing about being sober are the hours—literally hours I don’t have to waste waiting for ‘the guy with the shit.' That lost time is gone to me now, I get it all back. I save a lot of time not waiting around some fucking parking lot. I never needed alcohol or drugs to make me creative or imaginative. I was never like ‘Gosh, if only I was ripped to the tits, then I could sit down and put down a couple pages.' That was never the issue. It was that I don’t know how to live. It felt like my skin had been whittled off and if maybe I could drink enough it could come back on.
The Fix: It sounds like maybe you write to keep yourself from, as you put it, “feeling like you’re on fire.”
Fraction: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. It’s all processing. It’s kind of like dream R.E.M. cycle stuff. There’s always a very shallow wall between what I’m experiencing and living and how it comes out in the comics. It might not be obvious to anyone but me,
The Fix: It sounds like you were a very high-functioning addict. You were able to hold a good job and made a good living.
Fraction: It was kind of that Don Draper thing. You can go a long time in the ad game fucked up. I could always get stuff done and I was getting away with it, but with the more sobriety I get, the more I can spot when people are fucked up. So, maybe I wasn’t getting away with it. Maybe people just didn’t know how to help. Or looked at me like I was a fucking car crash. Think about how many times you’ve seen someone and thought “Oh my God, he is so fucked up. I need to get away from this guy.” I was that guy. I wasn’t clever. I was embarrassing.
The Fix: What made you decide to get sober?
Fraction: I just kind of saw the end of the road. I had a night, it was my last night at [a job]. It was the last time I worked for somebody else. It was a going away party. The bosses showed up, so I knew they were paying. So I drank like I would normally drink. And I was fine. I was mean to these people. I was unpleasant to be around. I was a prick to these people drunk or sober.These were people that I could not hide my distaste for. So, I drank them out of hundreds of dollars on my way out the door cause fuck them. Every single one of them called to see if I was alive the next day. Every single one of them called to see if I was okay. That was like a big realization. Like, oh, I’m not well. I couldn’t force these people out of my life because when they saw me drink, everyone expressed grave concern.
The Fix: You’ve mentioned spending a spell as a “dry drunk.” What initially kept you from getting into AA?
Fraction: I hope this doesn’t offend anyone, but I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in God. And I don’t go to meetings, they’re in church basements. And churches are above church basements and that means God. So, quite simply, I let fear of religion keep me away. That was why I was a dry drunk rather than someone who was in the program. Then I was kind of a tourist for a while where I would kind of drop into meetings and get used to the idea. I was listening to things and picking things up, but I didn’t make a serious go at it. Then I had a friend who wanted to go and she asked me to stay with her to basically make sure that she didn’t leave the room. Something in that meeting made me realize that it was a journey that she and I are now on together. That was day 1 of my 90 [meetings] in 90 [days].
The Fix: How long did you spend as a dry drunk before getting into program?
Fraction: The last time I drank drank was the night that Eyes Wide Shut came out. I think it was 1999. Then I got into program in 2006. The last time I had alcohol ever was September 10th, 2001. It’s pretty easy to understand why I would remember that date. So, it was about 5 years of being a tourist to the rooms before it really took.
The Fix: Where were you living at this time?
Fraction: At that point, I was in Kansas City, MO, deep in the heart of God Country. Now I’m in Oregon, so it’s a little bit different. All kinds of meetings all over the place. In the middle of 90 in 90, I had to drive from L.A. to Kansas, and that meant having to find meetings via the Internet and that was kind of awesome.
The Fix: So, how have you been able to reconcile your issues with religion with the program?
Fraction: My higher power is a James Brown tape. It’s true, but it works. It kept me going.
The Fix: You did an interview with Mike Doughty (Soul Coughing frontman and solo singer-songwriter) in the back of one of the issues of your Casanova comic. Was that the first time you came out publicly as someone in recovery?
Fraction: Yeah. Before then, I think I had sort of been oblique about it. The first time I did Casanova, the letter column was very confessional and after awhile it felt like doing your own DVD commentary when no one had really asked. So after a while, I wanted to talk about the process. So, Mike is my sponsor. You know how they say find somebody who has what you want and ask them to be your sponsor? And Mike was a guy who had been creative while being fucked up, got clean and sober, continued to make his work. His work got better and he made a living from his work. And that was what I wanted. I wanted nothing more than to make a living from working creatively.
So yeah, Mike was the guy I asked to speak to me. I’m not sure if Mike was working on his memoir Book of Drugs yet, but it was clearly in his head. As a result, people reach out to me all the time, which feels like some sort of service work, I don’t know. I meet people at every show I do. And literally, at every single signing and every single show I do someone always takes me aside and mentions their recovery.
The Fix: Do you think it’s possible that if people didn’t know you were public about recovery, they might have sussed it from your writing? Like, from that issue of Iron Man where Tony Stark is in an AA meeting.
Fraction: Maybe. But at the same time there are a lot of people who are convinced that anyone who writes as weirdly as I write must be fucked up and I get offered a lot of drugs. I try to be polite and try to defer the offer but it inevitably comes out that I’m sober and the person inevitably feels terribly.
Maggie Serota is a regular contributor to The Fix. She last wrote about being too drunk to rock.