Friday, May 25, 2012

Comics You Could Have Picked Up At SPACE Part 2

Hunter S. Thompson has been much on my mind of late.  A couple of weeks ago, I purchased a copy of the new edition of  Will Bingley and Anthony Hope-Smith's "graphic biography" of Thompson, Gonzo, a review of which shall be forthcoming. I have long been a fan of Thompson's work, but over the years, my collection of Thompson's books had dwindled to zero, with my copies being either stolen, lost or borrowed and never returned.  Slowly, I have begun to rebuild it, first picking up a new (new to me, at least, it's an early printing that I picked up at Half Price Books) copy of Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72, and just a few days ago, inspired by Gonzo to reread some of the classic Thompson pieces referenced in the comic, I purchased The Gonzo Papers Anthology, which collects in one hefty brick of a trade paperback the three of Thompson's books that carry the "Gonzo Papers" subtitle: The Great Shark Hunt, Generation of Swine, and Song of the Doomed.  (Anyone who's looking for something to get me for my birthday in September should note that I still need a new copy of Hell's Angels.) Readers of my various blogs over the years should be able to spot when I've been re-reading Thompson, as I am overcome by a barely controllable urge to imitate his prose style.
At such times, I also tend to emulate Thompson's tendency to careen wildly off topic, thus explaining the above paragraph about my favorite writer and my book buying habits in a post that is meant to be about comics I purchased at SPACE last month.
Of course, the tangent about HST isn't entirely off-topic, as it does segue neatly into the discussion of Bill Volk's 24-Hour Comic The Dewey Decimal System Is Decadent and Depraved.   From the cover, it is apparent that Volk is as big an admirer of Thompson as I am.  Not only is the cover design and lettering reminiscent of Ralph Steadman's work on Campaign Trail and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but the very title of the comic harkens back to Thompson's seminal "gonzo" article about the Kentucky Derby.
The cover, though, is as Thompsonesque as the comic gets.  The story itself displays a style that is, I assume though I've never read anything else by him, uniquely Volk's.   It concerns Bill's experiences after he got a job shelving books at a library. He discovers that Maus gets shelved in the "History" section apart from the other graphic novels.  At first, this upsets him and he sets out to discover the reason for it, but no one he turns to can answer his questions about who assigns the Dewey Decimal numbers.  The bulk of the comic is taken up by a hallucinatory fever dream in which an astral Volk goes on a spiritual journey, confronting the specters of Melvil Dewey, Art Spiegelman and Fortuna, who seems to be a sort of personification of Fate, attempting to find the enlightenment he seeks.
In the end, Volk awakes to a conclusion that mirrors a point I've been making for years.  He realizes that there shouldn't even be a separate "graphic novel" section in libraries, or, I might add, in bookstores, for that matter.  Maus should go in the History section, fiction comics should be shelved with other fiction and literature novels. Likewise, I have long contended that Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics should sit besided Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media (speaking of potential birthday gifts, my copy of that book seems to have disappeared somewhere along the line), and American Splendor should be found in the "Biography" section. 
It doesn't seem right to talk about the art in a 24-Hour comic.  To say it seems rushed is kind of silly, as that is the very nature of the beast, and the creator may not even be an artist normally.  Still, I want to say that art has a certain simplistic charm about it and tells the tale clearly and cleanly.
You can order a copy of The Dewey Decimal System Is Decadent and Depraved at Bill Volk's web-site.
Jack C. Harris and Joe Quesada's 1991 mini-series The Ray turned out to be one of my favorite comics of that year, but due to the fact that DC barely promoted this book, I had no idea what to expect from it.  In fact, the reason I initially picked it up when I saw it at a convenience store in Conneaut Lake, Pennsylvania--where I was living at the time--is that it had my name on the cover.  This same self-centeredness also motivated my purchase at SPACE of Nathan Kissel's Cosmic Raymond.  Once again, it turned out to be a good decision.  Raymond tells the story of an ordinary office worker who recieves a message from outer space telling him that he has been "chosen" and finds himself whisked off to another planet to stand in line with others who have been "chosen" to be tested to see if they are the king of a race of odd looking aliens whose return has been foretold by prophecy.
This is an clever and amusing, well drawn comic.  I especially like the way Kissel uses pictograms to depict Raymond's thoughts. 
In an introduction, Kissel says that he wasn't able to finish the comic, at least not to his satisfaction, so he calls this a "preview edition."  Personally, I think it's just fine the way it is, but I'd like to see the "finished" edition someday.
Also at Kissel's table, I picked up Deserted Aisles, a really nice looking little twelve page comic that tells an amusing story about a chance encounter between a supermarket stockboy and an unlikely looking genie in the canned goods aisle.
The last book from this year's SPACE that I want to talk about is Morgan Pielli's Indestructible Universe Quarterly #8. Morgan described the book to me as a series of Twilight Zone inspired short stories. The first tale in the book certainly fits that description. "The Worry Tree" is an an odd, eerie and haunting tale about a man who stumbles upon a mysterious hidden cemetary at the center of which is a strange tree upon the bark of which is inscribed the secret, hidden anxieties of the people, and cats, buried there.
The second, and cover-featured, story, "A Forged Man" is also quite weird, thought provoking and a little disturbing.  It concerns a space faring super-hero on a seemingly routine mission suddenly confronted by the shocking truth not only of the nature of his mission, but his own nature.
I hope Morgan comes to SPACE next year, so I pick up some more of these.
Oh, by the way, my birthday is September 3rd.

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