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Shrek in the orgone box: William Steig’s misanthropic drawings for Wilhelm Reich


 
Cartoonist William Steig is beloved, and rightly so. Starting in the 1930s, his thousands of New Yorker panels (and over 100 covers) made him a giant in the cartooning world, and showed him to be an astute observer and renderer of human nature and the consequences of social class conditions (and a gifted ironist, to boot). His late-in-life career detour into children’s books yielded classics like CDB!, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, and the completely awesome Rotten Island. Then in 1990, he wrote a little 32 page book about an ogre named Shrek, which has been adapted into four massively successful films (so far) and more video game spinoffs than I feel like trying to count. Steig’s gifts were lost to us in 2003, when he died at age 95.

A bit of trivia: Steig was a devotee of the controversial theories of Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich.
 

Wilhelm Reich, after an apparent encounter with David Lynch’s barber
 
There is plenty to read online about Reich, both pro and con, so I will not go into great depth here. Reich was a psychotherapy pioneer, an associate of Freud’s in the 1920s, who went on to adopt some extreme positions. He was blindingly obsessed with the importance of orgasmic potency, and advocated levels of sexual permissiveness that alienated many of his contemporaries. Reich’s later career was devoted to the exploration of a cosmic energy that linked physical and mental/emotional health, “discovered” by and apparently detectable only to him, that he dubbed “orgone.” This led to his construction of supposedly therapeutic devices like the “orgone accumulator,” and “orgone cannons” (“cloudbusters”) that he claimed could be used as rainmaking devices. None of these claims have withstood scientific scrutiny, but they still have impassioned devotees.

US government medical authorities, believing Reich to be not misguided, but in fact a fraudster, won legal injunctions against the distribution of orgone accumulators as unlicensed medical devices in 1954. In 1956, Reich was imprisoned for violating that injunction, and, in one of the most notorious and singularly revolting episodes of official censorship in US history, the government supervised the burning of six tons of Reich’s books, devices, and clinical notes. Reich died in prison before he finished serving his two-year sentence, which, combined with the book burning, made a martyr of him among the types of people who think they can build perpetual motion machines in their garages and those knee-jerky “libertarian” paranoiacs who assume that anything that’s been suppressed MUST BE TRUE. However, despite Reich’s pariah status, there are ideas worth discussing in works like The Mass Psychology of Fascism and The Function of the Orgasm, among others. The title of his 1936 work The Sexual Revolution was certainly prophetic enough.
 

 
Reich and Steig’s works converged in 1949, when, frustrated that his work wasn’t being taken seriously by mainstream science (also a lil’ frustrated that he wasn’t being hailed as a savior of mankind), Reich penned an amazing and engaging screed denouncing the pettiness and stupidity of humanity, called Listen, Little Man! In it, he lambasted humanity for what he, with plentiful justification, saw as an overwhelming laziness in people, who eagerly favored their herd instincts over their greater potential, collaborating in the self-defeating destruction not just of society, but of the species itself, and so become less victim than harbinger. In the wake of WWII (ethnically a Jew, Reich fled Europe in the ‘30s), he saw little in the defeat of the Nazis to convince him that people weren’t just embracing different reasons to goose-step. The book loses some of its potency when you realize that he’s mainly so upset with people because his theories were being rejected, so ultimately you’re reading a self-mythologizing, self-pitying lashing out, a lengthy screed not unlike Bela Lugosi’s famous “I have no home” speech in Bride of the Monster. It’s still a great read if you’re in a misanthropic mood, and it contains wonderful artwork by William Steig.
 

 
Steig had skillfully handled this sort of content before, in his own books About People, The Lonely Ones, and Persistent Faces. Inspired by Picasso and Klee, he abandoned the relatively realistic brush-and-ink drawings that shaped his early fame and moved towards a more stark, abstract style, at once loopy and angular, obeisant only to the emotional truth of a character. And his assessments of wayward humanity became more and more brutal and incisive. This work was caricature as revelation. In his introduction to The Lonely Ones the great New Yorker writer Wolcott Gibbs wrote

Mr. Steig offers us a series of impressions of people set off from the rest of the world by certain private obsessions, usually, it seems, by a devotion to some particularly disastrous clichéd thought or behavior. They are not necessarily unhappy. Some of them, in fact, are obviously only too well pleased with themselves…

Righty Reich…

The illustrations in Listen, Little Man! are obviously well within this particular body of Steig’s work, and they constitute some of its most trenchant examples. It seems clear that this style of Steig’s was shaped to a degree by his therapeutic relationship and friendship with Reich—Steig even wrote the preface to Reich’s Children of the Future. Steig’s follow-up to Listen, The Agony in the Kindergarten, was absolutely a Reichian work, in which Steig BLASTED, with breathtakingly powerful pairings of pain-filled drawings and simple captions, the way Western childhood development can be pockmarked or even derailed by adult repression. Which invariably leads to the cultivation of grownups like those in Listen Little Man!, who really are just awful, awful people.
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by Ron Kretsch | Discussion
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‘F for Fake’: Orson Welles on art forgery and what’s really ‘real’


 

If you’ve seen Orson Welles’ late period quasi-documentary F for Fake, then you know about the mysterious art forger Elmyr De Hory. In his freewheeling cinematic essay, Welles explored the funhouse mirror life of de Hory, who found that he had an uncanny knack for being able to paint counterfeits of Picasso, Matisse, Modigliani and Renoir’s work. After some of his fakes were sold to museums and wealthy collectors, suspicions were raised and his legal troubles—and a life spent moving from place to place to avoid the long arm of the law—began.

At the time Welles met up with Elmyr in the early 70s, he was living in Ibiza and had been the subject of Fake! The Story of Elmyr de Hory the Greatest Art Forger of Our Time written by notorious “biographer” Clifford Irving, who himself figures prominently in the film. During the course of filming F for Fake, Irving (who was later portrayed by Richard Gere in The Hoax), was serendipitously revealed to have forged his own “autobiography” of Howard Hughes (not to mention Hughes’ signature). The resulting film, an essay on the authorship of “truth” in art, is a dazzling, intellectuality challenging masterpiece that can never quite decide if it’s a fake documentary about a fake painter of fake masterpieces who himself was the subject of a fake biographer… or what it is. (It’s no wonder that Robert Anton Wilson was such a fan of F for Fake, which figures prominently in his book, Cosmic Trigger II).

 

image
Self-portrait of Elmyr de Hory, approx. 1970, recently discovered in France.

F or Fake also calls into question the nature of “genius”: If Elmyr’s forgeries were good enough to pass off as Picasso or Modigliani’s work, or even to hang in museums under the assumption that they were the work of these masters, wouldn’t Elmyr’s genius be of equal or even nearly equal value to theirs? (Worth noting that it was ego that got in the way of Elmyr’s scam at several points in his life: He was often left apoplectic at hearing how much crooked art dealers were making from his paintings!)

De Hory’s former bodyguard and driver, Mark Forgy, has kept Elmyr’s archive since his suicide in December 1976. In recent years Mr. Forgy has been trying to make more sense of Elmyr’s odd life. From the New York Times:

“I’m so far down the rabbit hole,” Ms. Marvin said in a recent phone interview, “I’m just not going to rest until I find out who this man is.”

A few weeks ago, she and Mr. Forgy traveled to western France and unrolled a dozen de Hory paintings that had been discovered in a farmhouse’s attic. In Budapest, they found birth records, dated 1906, for Elemer Albert Hoffmann, son of Adolf and Iren. No one knows when Elemer upgraded his name, or how he financed art studies in Munich and Paris before moving to New York in 1947.

He claimed that his father was a Roman Catholic and a diplomat, but the Budapest ledgers list Adolf as a Jewish merchant. The Nazis killed his entire family, Mr. de Hory said. But a cousin named Istvan Hont visited the artist’s villa on Ibiza, where Mr. Forgy was working at various times as a chauffeur, secretary and gardener. Mr. Hont, it turns out, was the forger’s brother.

Mr. Forgy knew that his boss copied masterpieces but did not much question their life on Ibiza, in which they kept company with celebrities like Marlene Dietrich and Ursula Andress. “I accepted the amazing with a nonchalance,” Mr. Forgy said in a recent phone interview. Mr. de Hory was the focus of Orson Welles’s 1974 documentary “F for Fake,” and Clifford Irving breathlessly titled his book “Fake! The Story of Elmyr de Hory the Greatest Art Forger of Our Time.”

After Mr. de Hory’s suicide, Mr. Forgy returned to Minnesota. “I went into deep seclusion” working as a night watchman and house restorer, he said. He held onto the papers and paintings. “I have schlepped them around endlessly,” he said. “The walls here in the house look like the Pitti Palace in Florence.”

His wife, Alice Doll, encouraged him in recent years to examine the stacks of false passports, Hungarian correspondence and Swiss arrest reports. Ms. Marvin contacted him last year. She had helped organize a show about faked and stolen art at the National Museum of Crime & Punishment in Washington, including a portrait of a pensive brunette by Mr. de Hory imitating Modigliani.

The researchers are now raising money for the documentary, developing an exhibition for the Budapest Art Fair in November and preparing to interview a nonagenarian de Hory cousin in Germany. They also plan to send paintings for lab analysis. “We’re trying to create a forensics footprint of his work,” Ms. Marvin said.

They already know that Mr. de Hory tore blank pages out of old books for sketching paper and bought paintings at flea markets to scrape and recycle the canvases. His fakes have become collectibles. Last fall, at a Bonhams auction in England, a buyer paid more than $700 for a seascape of crowded sailboats, with a forged Raoul Dufy signature on the front and “Elmyr” on the back.

Elmyr website

F for Fake is on Hulu and YouTube.
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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This dental practice training calendar is THE must-have 2014 calendar
12.09.2013
10:15 am

Topics:
Amusing
Art
Unorthodox

Tags:
Teeth
Calendars


 
Okay, so these images are from the FrasacoUSA! 2013 calendar, but there has to be one for 2014, right?! I mean, I don’t think I can live without one now that I know of its existence. It’s a “good Lord, WTF am I looking at!” work of art.

Sadly, I can’t seem to locate a 2014 calendar on the FransacoUSA! site, but here’ a link to where you can contact them. Maybe if enough people demand ‘em, they’ll make ‘em? They.Just.Have.To.


 
More after the jump…
 

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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Fred Willard meets Stalking Cat
12.05.2013
12:06 pm

Topics:
Television
Unorthodox

Tags:
Fred Willard
Dennis Avner


 
On this episode of the VH1 documentary series Totally Obsessed, which I think ran in 2004, Fred Willard hosts a segment on Dennis Avner, self-styled “Stalking Cat”—he appears to have had his name legally changed—who underwent an ambitious series of body modifications (tattoos, implants, piercings) in a largely successful effort to become a feline-human hybrid. Avner passed away under mysterious circumstances in 2012. 

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Avner spent time in the Navy as a sonar technician. According to his obituary in Modblog, he “identified strongly with his feline totem animals and in what he told me was a Huron traditional of actually adopting the physical form of ones totem, he transformed himself not just into a tiger, but a female tiger at that, blurring and exploring the gender line as much as the species line.”

As the Seattle Times reported in 2005, “He has had all his teeth removed and replaced with tigerlike dentures and fangs. He has had his lip split to resemble the mouth of a cat. He has six stainless-steel mounts implanted on his forehead and 18 piercings above his lip to which he can attach whiskers. He has had nose and brow implants, and silicone cheek, chin and lip injections. The tips of his ears are pointed. And he has so many tattoos they almost cover his body.”

I confess that I find the segment difficult to watch. On the one hand, I’m glad that Avner/Stalking Cat was able to pursue the life he wanted—on the other hand, one has to wonder about the possibility of body dysmorphic disorder or some other form of mental illness and a chosen life of exclusion from most of life’s offerings. It appears that he did have close friends who supported him, including but not limited to the furry community and the body modification community. 
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Andy Kaufman punks ‘The Dating Game,’ 1978
12.02.2013
11:50 am

Topics:
Television
Unorthodox

Tags:
Andy Kaufman

Andy Kaufman
 
Andy Kaufman’s stretch as an object of cultural attention was surprisingly short, 1975 to 1984, yet he packed a remarkable number of first-rate stunts into that time, including boorishly challenging to beat any female alive at wrasslin’ and spending his off-days as a key player on the sitcom Taxi bussing tables at Jerry’s Famous Deli in Studio City, California.

One of his finest instigations came in 1978, when he somehow inveigled his way onto the set of The Dating Game as a contestant vying for the favor of comely Patrice Burke, identified in host Jim Lange’s intro as a “chronic disco dancer” who wants to know whether “the Hustle [can] really clear up the stress in the lower tract” (your guess is as good as mine). In hindsight it’s clear that Kaufman was in full-on Latka Gravas mode on this occasion, although in the guise of “Baji Kimran.”
 
Jim Lange
Bumfuzzled Jim Lange
 
It’s a pity, really, that Kaufman’s refusal to play by the games of the entertainment industry precluded a regular career as a thespian, because his acting here is truly nonpareil. Note at 3:30 his convincingly guileless inability to understand the rules of the show, responding to the prompt “I’ll do anything for you, except—“ with “Except what?” There’s no break in character, no laughing that gives the game away. At one point “Baji” even solicits assistance from his clueless fellow bachelors. At the end of the show “Baji” (somewhat implausibly) engages in a minor meltdown because of the inherent unfairness in Patrice choosing studly Bachelor #1 even though “Baji” had “answered all de questions right!”

What a brilliant way to explode the witless, salacious premises of The Dating Game—by denying their very existence.
 

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Monty Python’s Graham Chapman’s curious, courageous, poignant video op-ed, 1984
11.25.2013
12:26 pm

Topics:
Television
Unorthodox

Tags:
Graham Chapman

Graham Chapman
 
Among his other gifts, Graham Chapman may have been the Python most capable of eliciting feelings of pathos in the audience. Chapman arguably had the least range of the Python troupe but there was always something “realer” about his performances. It’s no coincidence that, even though he was the least reliable of the Python troupe due to his heavy drinking (this is well documented), he played the lead role in both of the two Monty Python narrative features, Holy Grail and Life of Brian. The world would later learn of his alcoholism and his homosexuality, and, for the millions of Python fans, his death in 1989 came as a true shock.

In 1984 Chapman participated in a Channel 4 program called Opinions in which, every week, a different person would make a case on some topic, direct to the camera like a newscaster. Chapman’s entry, which aired on November 16, 1984, is a remarkable blend of Pythonesque madness and brazenly unfiltered confessional of a type that utterly absent from, say, the Flying Circus run—nakedly autobiographical was the one thing the Circus never was. As a result, Chapman’s Opinions piece, from the viewpoint of 2013, feels distinctly modern. In tone, It’s not far off from one of Stephen Colbert’s “The Word” segments, although far more dangerous in more or less dispensing with the use of a “persona” outright.

Similar to a TED Talk in length and scope, Chapman dedicates his allotted time to a discussion of the role of peer pressure in fueling overpopulation—the subject is a clear proxy for a subject close to Chapman’s heart, the feelings of alienation that a gay man experiences; Chapman alludes to this aspect a couple of times directly, as does the voiceover intro. Watching it, you have the distinct feeling of Chapman finally getting something off his chest, and at times his actorly anger seems entirely synonymous with his own actual anger—the contempt and pain that mention of his “neighbors” elicits seems wholly unfeigned. In the years of Thatcher and AIDS, such a talk must have seemed bold indeed. Towards the end of the program, Chapman talks quite frankly about sex, links repression and substance abuse, and even addresses the proper attitude towards death.

What the show isn’t, particularly, is funny, although I’d presume it was a good deal more amusing than the other Opinions pieces. Full of a kind of enraged whimsy and complete with the engagingly “meta” device of onscreen graphics tallying his use of various tropes, it fits comfortably in the impressive Python gallery of silly talking heads on telly. It’s a fascinating, risky document—one that will definitely leave you with more insight into the “real” Graham Chapman—as much as a produced television program can, anyway.
 

 
via {feuilleton}

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Is Andy Kaufman alive? His ‘daughter’ says that he is
11.13.2013
05:37 pm

Topics:
Amusing
R.I.P.
Unorthodox

Tags:
Andy Kaufman

Andy Kaufman Awards, 2013
Michael Kaufman standing next to a woman who either is or is not Andy Kaufman’s 24-year-old daughter

Every year for the last several years, at the Gotham Comedy Club in New York, a ceremony called the Andy Kaufman Awards takes place in which the eponymous, dearly departed, and much-missed comedian is celebrated, and current performers carrying on the spirit of his baffling comedy are singled out for recognition (Kristen Schaal and Reggie Watts have been two of the comedians so honored).

On Monday evening, this year’s edition of the Andy Kaufman Awards took an unusually Kaufmanesque turn, not only when Kaufman’s brother Michael took the stage to announce that Andy is indeed still alive but even more so when a young woman took the stage, claiming to be his daughter and likewise “confirming” that Andy is alive and well.
 
Andy Kaufman
 
The woman in question did not, apparently, give her name, but she did reveal her age—24, which would put her birthdate at around 1989. The fact that intrigues is that Kaufman died in 1984 at the age of 35.

Killy Dwyer, who was part of the event as one of the potential honorees, posted the following on her Facebook page:
 

Ok. Tonight was a mindfuck. Anyone who was there will attest. Andy Kaufman’s daughter came onstage and claimed he was alive. It was. It was…I can’t tell you how it was, only that it was as real as any reality that i’ve seen. and yeah. I get that it is—could—might all be a hoax. That was the only and last thing I want to say. it was fucking fucked up. She said he is alive and that the passing of his father this July made him want to reach out via her- to Michael, Andy’s brother. She said he is watching the award entries, semi and finalists with great interest always. He just wanted to disappear. To be a father. To be an observer. As much as this seems like bullshit as I type it, it was as real as anything I’ve ever seen. There is video. It was chilling, upsetting and absolutely intriguing. I bawled my eyes out. The entire room was freaked out. It was, if nothing else, brilliant. and incredibly mindfuckng and AWESOME.

 
To supply a little background, the basic facts are these. Between roughly 1970 and his passing in 1984, Kaufman established himself as one of the most original voices in comedy, primarily through his appearances on Saturday Night Live and his status as a regular player on the cast of Taxi (1978-1983). He gave a number of live performances coinciding with his run on Taxi that are considered legendary, particularly his April 1979 show at Carnegie Hall in which, among other things, he took the entire audience out for milk and cookies (this required the use of 24 buses) and invited everyone to join him on the Staten Island Ferry the next morning.

Long accustomed to baffling and irritating his audiences, in his last years Kaufman refined what can only be called an especially provocative form of anti-comedy to its most sublime expression. Kaufman became renowned for belligerently boasting that he could beat any woman in the sport of wrestling—and several such matches were staged. He also had a scuffle and a heated exchange with Memphis wrestler Jerry Lawler on Late Night with David Letterman.

He developed an alter ego named Tony Clifton, whom Kaufman insisted be hired as a guest actor on Taxi—Kaufman’s partner in crime, a curious figure named Bob Zmuda, later continued with the Clifton persona after Kaufman’s death of lung cancer in 1984, in part to fuel speculation that Kaufman was still alive and controlling this macabre anti-comedy from offstage.

Rather brilliantly, Kaufman—alive or no—managed to set up conditions whereby almost anything that happens can be said to further corroborate either the facts of his death or the concocted nature of same. It is well known that Kaufman spoke often of faking his own death, but most reasonable observers have concluded that this is highly unlikely.

This is what makes the events of last Monday night so compelling and weird. Nobody claims to know who the young woman is or whether she is telling the truth. At the Andy Kaufman Awards on Monday, Michael Kaufman, Andy’s brother, told a story about Andy’s supposed promise to meet up with Michael on Christmas Eve of 1999, on which date Michael showed up at the appointed restaurant but Andy did not—however (according to Michael) an emissary did hand Michael an envelope that evening explaining about Andy’s faked death and his new family, including a daughter. 

So what we know is, either Andy Kaufman is alive or his brother and an unidentified woman staged a remembrance of his brilliantly perverse comedy in the most attention-getting manner imaginable.
 
Kaufman in rare form, taunting Jerry Lawler and wrestling a woman named Susan:

 
(The best account of this bizarre turn of events can be found at the Comic’s Comic.)

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Pretty—and bearded—in pink: Poster boy takes shot at pro-military attitude in gay rights movement
11.07.2013
09:55 am

Topics:
Queer
Unorthodox

Tags:
Queer
LGBTI
anti-war

poster
 
Published in 1993 by the Queer caucus of the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee, (formerly the above-ground auxiliary to the Weather Underground), this sly little bit of radical propaganda was handed out during the 1993 National Lesbian/Gay Rights March in Washington, DC. The event was far from culturally or ideologically uniform, with Sir Ian McKellen, RuPaul, Eartha Kitt and Urvashi Vaid (radical, anti-assimilation queer activist) all present.

At the time, “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was becoming a high-profile issue, and as gay rights began to seep into the mainstream, the more radical queer communities began to push back with a critique of the newly “family-friendly” direction of the movement. Of course, now queer rights are almost wholly represented in mass media as naught but marriage and military service, and those who want no part of the US military or the wars they fight are dismissed as marginal malcontents.

Given the scatter-shot state of the anti-war movement at present, maybe we can bring this guy back as a new mascot?
 
Via Bolerium Books

Posted by Amber Frost | Discussion
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This latex Woody Allen mask will be the most horrifying thing you’ll see all day


 
I turned this up completely by accident yesterday searching for something that wasn’t even Woody Allen-related. What in the name of Silence of the Lambs did I stumble upon? Apparently this latex Woody Allen mask was sold on eBay back in 2007. I-I, I have no words…

This is as hellish as it gets, m’ friends.

I can’t find much background information on it, but you can click on this link and maybe you’ll have better luck than me.

All I can say is, if you’re able to get your hands on one these for Halloween, you’ll definitely be the creepiest-creepster creeping around your burg. Ugh.

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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Whatever happened to Dzhambulat Khatokhov, the World’s Heaviest Child?
09.18.2013
10:45 am

Topics:
Unorthodox

Tags:
Children
Dzhambik
Dzhambulat Khatokhov

aaaaxcvghhbjklg.jpg
 
According to the Guinness Book of Records, Dzhambulat “Dzhambik” Khatokhov became world’s heaviest child in 2003. “Dzhambik”  was 3-feet 11-inches in height and weighed 123lbs.

He was just four-years-old.

His mother, Nelya Kabardarkova, said Dzhambik’s ambition was to become a Sumo wrestler.

When he was five, Nelya took her son to Japan to appear on the TV show Impossible. It was the start of a brief media career that led to several documentaries, and a rash of news items on the child.

Dzhambik weighed 6-lbs 6-oz at birth. As he grew, Nelya said that he ate 3-4 meals a day. He was always hungry. She has denied that she deliberately overfed him.

By the age of seven, Dzhambik was 4-ft 3-inches, and weighed 224lbs..

By the age of nine, he weighed 406lbs.

In an interview with the Guardian in 2006, Neyla told Nick Paton Walsh:

“He does not eat that much.”

Then she adds:

“He is happy that size. It is not shameful. He likes showing people how strong he is.”

So, whatever happened to Dzhambik?

Anorak recently posted a blog asking the same question. It would appear, that Dzhambik continued to grow, continued to make money, and continued to have a form of celebrity. Yet, the videos they posted only take Dzhambik up-to the age of eleven.

Where is he now? What is he doing? And is he happy doing it?

On September 24th, Dzhambik will celebrate his fourteenth birthday. It is difficult not to think of Dzhambik in terms of statistics: weight, height, age. But that sadly is perhaps how Neyla wants him to be seen. For being the world’s heaviest child can still make money.
 

 
Bonus clip, plus 2006 documentary on Dzhambik, after the jump…
 
H/T Anorak
 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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