Friday, May 16, 2008

In the latest issue of Arthur, there's an interview with one Rudolph Wurlitzer. His was a name I didn't know, but I learned he wrote the screenplays for both Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop and Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid, as well as writing novels acclaimed by the likes of Thomas Pynchon and Donald Bartheleme. Pynchon was quoted, about the Wurlitzer novel Nog, that it was "proof that the novel of bullshit is dead." I read this and thought to myself, great. "I know exactly what you're talking about, Thomas Pynchon." Others might say "Don't Pynchon's book have a ton of bullshit in them?" and while this might be true it's not the sort of bullshit that grabs you as immediately apparent when you open up a book.

So, I ordered Nog from interlibrary loan. And when I went down to the library, I found out that said library also had a copy of Frank Santoro's Storeyville in stock. Frank Santoro reads this blog occasionally, and is very much a good dude. Storeyville was originally a comic published in newspaper tabloid format, and then reissued as a hardcover book last year from Picturebox, bearing back-cover blurbs by the likes of Chris Ware, Brian Chippendale, and David Mazzucchelli, a hell of a triumvirate.

I walked the streets on a very nice day with these books in my hands like talismans or totems, excited to high heaven to have such reading material.

Okay so Nog starts off strong, with a great first chapter, and then sort of falls apart to be about hippies free-loving about. I'm about halfway through it. It shares with Storeyville a sense of being about a narrator searching/becoming/dealing with the influence of someone they admire. Fair enough that I should carry them both around with the assurance they had lessons to teach me.

Storeyville I feel uncomfortable talking about, because I don't feel as strongly about it as Chris Ware did upon reading it in 1995. I don't think it's bad, I think it's good, there's some great drawing in it, but something in my reading of it- a lack of engagement with it's rhythms, maybe, or not reading it in the context in which it was written- makes it hit me not as hard as it hits other people. I think I will be able to write a pretty good essay about Cold Heat once that comes out, as that's a book very much of its time, that I read as it was being made. Sequences in Storeyville stand out, but the cumulative effect doesn't strike me- maybe it was reading those reviews that spoiled the last two pages elsewhere on the internet? Maybe it's the format change- The newspaper format, with it's cheap paper folded in the middle, kind of precludes flipping through in a way a book doesn't, it kind of forces you to read it and turn its pages deliberately. There's a lot of people talking about how the original edition was a perfect match of form and content, and how the new bookshelf-ready version is just an adaptation for these times, where a comic can find a place in a bookstore or a library shelf.

I don't know what I can say about Storeyville: The drawing, in general, reminds me of Ben Katchor's, except that I think it's better, and rewards looking at it more. The way color palette frames compositions, the more expressive moments- Right now I'm looking at the bottom six panels of page nineteen, which are awesome.

I really can't work out the pacing of it, at least not for a sustained amount of time, the way that constitutes reading a comic. I kept on looking at Cold Heat in single issue form- each one worked really well as its own thing, with its own pace, in a way where I'm not sure how it'll work as a graphic novel- Storeyville can be broken down almost into strips, sunday pages, which themselves function like paintings, and it's weird for reading momentum considering it as a whole- The story feels so slight, compared to something like Jimbo: Adventures In Paradise- another comic where you let the images work like paintings, but which keeps up velocity and ends up feeling epic in scope. The figure drawings are super-inconsistent, which makes certain scenes hard to follow. Although it works well in the action sequences. There's also this stillness at work in the frequent landscape drawings. Both of these things are great, but there's this tension between them which makes it hard for me to read. Some will say that the more sketchily drawn bits are to be read faster than others- this distinguishes between the more landscape-dominated scenes, and their feeling of tranquility (for example, page 8) and the more movement-oriented scenes (page 9). This guideline makes the more populated scenes even harder to follow. (Is it Ben Jones' influence in Cold Heat that makes the character designs feel more delineated/more likable?)

I like the way the dogs are drawn, as well as the birds and horses, even if the drawings of human figures doesn't always work for me. And it keeps on getting better, the more I look at it, free from any sense of narrative pushing forward.

Picturebox gets a rep for putting out experimental books that I tend to think of as being really exciting for the way they engage with a huge tradition of comics. But: Almost every time I read one, I'm disappointed at first glance. They all work really well in anticipation, and after the fact, but they all have these learning curves- I was disappointed in Ninja at first for not being in full color, and for having a lot more to take in than I was able to absorb in a first reading, that felt pressured by the drawing and the hype to be as fast as possible. Eventually I worked it out. Then Maggots came out, and disappointed me in being even more abstract than Ninja, until I came to admire the way it depicted movement and life-as-lived. The serialization format, which was completely economically unfeasible, really flattered 1-800-Mice and Cold Heat for the way that the initial issues gave you time to acclimate to the aesthetic so you could see how the other issues furthered it. Powr Mastrs is one of the few books I understood immediately, but that was after multiple rereadings of the story in Kramers Ergot 5- Other people admitted to rereading it before really getting its greatness.

Anyway, if you are reading this in Olympia Washington, Storeyville is available at the public library and is pretty cool. If you are reading this in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and are Frank Santoro, what's up dude.

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