PAINTED FACES // Mannibal Adams

So, eventually I moved out and went to university, and I came up with the idea for my ideal face based on everything I'd seen. I put that into effect via make-up. Clown white cream and a kid's face paint set. Cheap brushes and talcum powder to set it. The first test of these supplies was me messing around just for fun. I painted myself to look like 'Terrifier's Art the Clown, put on a silly costume, and danced around in the garage of my childhood home to the song 'Ghost' by Nelward. I recorded the whole thing and sent it to friends because I thought it was funny.

Doodle from 2019 that I did in preparation for the Art the Clown video. I think I recorded the video shortly drawing after this.

In hindsight, it probably was really funny, but a few months later, embarrassed by the whole thing, I deleted it and haven't been able to find it since. I wish I could.

Another drawing from 2019. This one after the fact.

If my memory serves me well enough- drawing from now.

So, the Art the Clown 'music video' goes down in my personal lost media canon, along with all those awful YouTube movie reviews I made and then deleted. I struggle with the idea of over-documenting myself because, yes, on the one hand, some stuff is definitely embarrassing and I would prefer that it never saw the light of day, but on the other hand, there's now no proof than any of this stuff happened, so it might as well of not have. I look back and realise that some of the most pivotal moments in my life, or some of the ones that I wish I could revisit, are now 'off-camera' moments because I thought they were cringe.

So, after that, I went to uni, and there was Mannibal Adams- again, not really. At first, there was Mannibal Erector: a kind of jokey drag/porn name play on Hannibal Lecter. I wasn't delusional enough to think that I was gonna become a drag artist or anything like that, I just liked the idea of alternate names and personalities. Even spiritualists get given a separate name when they join a church. It became Mannibal Adams because I had a character at the time who was called Asphyxia Adams. Character is probably a bad term to describe her- basically, all she had was a name, and I thought that the name was so cool that I gave it away to quite a few characters. Waste not want not. I guess that my full name is Mannibal Asphyxia Adams. If people ask, I can ascribe Adams to Envy Adams of 'Scott Pilgrim vs The World' fame, or actress Amy Adams, or even 'The Addams Family'. All of these are fairly good justifications.

I did various 'looks' as Mannibal, and he didn't have a face that was set in stone, but he had some features which were un-shiftable. If I was unbound by monetary constraints or my general lack of make-up expertise, the perfect Mannibal Adams face would have been:

I should point out that I was doing this for very little reason. I would spend 45 minutes to an hour getting ready, getting into character, and then would, like, go and do the grocery shop or something banal like that. I loved looking horrible and going to do something mundane. I did get lots of (mostly negative) attention, which wasn't exactly what I was looking for. I could have done without the stares and comments, but I can't exactly blame people, looking the way I did. I didn't necessarily hate the attention either. I could get stared at and called names and it wouldn't bother me. In a way it made my conviction to want to do it again a bit stronger. I don't understand, now, how I was ever comfortable drawing that much attention to myself and I don’t think I'll ever be in a position where I would want that again.

Recreation of a Mannibal Adams face from December, 2020

I got dressed up like this for maybe a little over a year- late 2019 to early 2021. In the examples I gave in 'headbangers' of facial self-mutilation in TV/film ('Twin Peaks', 'Titane', 'Hereditary', 'Poltegeist'- and even now more that come to mind that I didn't mention ('Talk to Me', 'Cam', 'When Evil Lurks', 'In My Skin')) the common denominator is control over identity. That the quickest way to express an identity differing to your physical appearance is just to wilfully destroy said appearance. Or that to sport or inflict a facial wound is a way to regain control over your body. It's proof of 'I'm not me', or a way to expel something inside that isn't you, or a statement about a prioritising of the internal and thus a lack of care about the external. I think that's the reason I was so confident, completely composed and able to go around with a full face of, essentially, creepy clown make-up, and not care what anyone thought.

Recreation of another Mannibal Adams face from December, 2020

Overall, my main takeaway from the Mannibal phase was that I liked playing a character a lot. When I was much younger (a pre-teen, not even in high school) my parents discussed with a doctor that they thought I might be a compulsive liar. This never amounted to a formal diagnosis with anything, but it was a pretty apt description. I lied about everything and for no good reason. Someone would ask me what I did at the weekend and if I went roller-skating and watched a movie with my brother, I would instead say that I went shopping and played at the park. Lying literally for the sake of just lying. I would also use lines and jokes I had heard in TV and movies on my friends, and pass them off as my own. If I sported a new personality trait at random points in my childhood, you can bet that it wasn't of my own invention but probably something I had picked up from the media I was consuming. This is kind of depressing, and a bit hard to admit, but I'm still sort of guilty of this. I can't really recall much of my childhood accurately because I lied so much, and kept up the front of whatever I was lying about for so long, that now sometimes I can't remember if something that happened to me really happened to me or if it was something I'd seen or read in fiction. It's like being a patchwork quilt, or a Frankenstein creature.

Recreation of two Mannibal Adams faces that incorporated plastic flies/spiders that I would super-glue to my face (from November, 2020, and January, 2021)

Naturally, when I got tired of the 'Mannibal' looks and began to think that the make-up was cringe-inducing, having deleted all the photos of it from my social media, I turned the whole thing into a work of fiction. I re-named Mannibal 'Jackdaw' and wrote him into a story where he was a character disfigured from years of improper magic usage, now retired as a witch and working in the fast-food industry. It never happened to me, because it was all part of some story I made up. Later on that year, I realised I was a trans guy and started going by he/they pronouns.

Drawing of the Jackdaw character (after he went though various re-designs) from mid-2021.

When I was fourteen, I had a conversation with my mother about the TV shows I used to watch as a child. If you grew up in the UK in the 2000s you've doubtless heard of, if not seen, CBBC's 'The Story of Tracy Beaker' (2002-2005), a loose adaptation of Jacqueline Wilson's 'Tracy Beaker' books, about kids who reside in care homes. Talking with my mum, I tried to recall the contents of a 'Tracy Beaker' episode. She told me I was getting confused and that, to her knowledge, the things I was describing never happened in 'Tracy Beaker', and that I was actually talking about something which happened to me when I was living in foster care.