PAVEMENT magazine

COMICS COLUMN

August / September 1999

TWO NEW BOOKS

 

The Jew of New York
Ben Katchor
(Pantheon, ISBN 0-375-40104-0)

Since 1988, Ben Katchor has drawn a weekly newspaper strip, Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, which over the years has built up a small but dedicated following. Each installment is like a short obsessive poem, constructing beauty and meaning out of the odd little details that occupy the margins of our urban and mental landscapes. In many ways Julius Knipl is the Krazy Kat of our time.

Now there is The Jew of New York - Katchor’s most ambitious work to date and the best graphic novel since Art Spiegelman’s Maus, demonstrating why The New York Times once called Katchor “the most poetic, deeply layered artist ever to draw a comic strip.”

Initially serialised in a New York Jewish newspaper, it tells the story of several loosely connected characters who converge on the New World Theatre in New York in 1830: Nathan Kishon is a disgraced kosher butcher with a penchant for wearing a bedsheet and sleeping on the grass verge outside his hotel; Moishe Ketzelbourd is a fur-trader whose guilt at the near extinction of the wild beaver leads him on a path to bestial madness; Yosl Feinbroyt is an amateur kabbalist who believes that by transcribing the sounds of eating and drinking he will uncover the original language of God; Francis Oriole is an entrepreneur who dreams of carbonating Lake Erie and piping Soda Water into every home in America. And that’s just a taste of the book’s extensive cast.

The story is structured like a narrative poem, slowly weaving together its many complex threads, until the tragicomic climax involving an anti-semitic playwright and a “pickled herring apparatus.” But this is much more than just a comedy of the bizarre. Katchor presents ‘The New World’ as a stage on which - by dreams and fantasies - society, culture and identity are reinvented, redefined or even abandoned. His book is like an elaborate metaphorical machine, and new connections and meanings emerge with each rereading. In fact, I can’t remember another comic book that has so required and so rewarded multiple rereadings.

Fred the Clown
Roger Langridge
(Les Cartoonistes Dangereux, ISBN 1-902429-05-2)

An expatriate New Zealander now living in London, Roger Langridge has been one our most successful exports. Since first making a splash here in the 1980s with a series of minicomics and the cult classic Knuckles the Malevolent Nun (co-created with Cornelius Stone), he has gone on to work for 2000AD, Dark Horse Presents and Heavy Metal (just to name a few). In collaboration with his brother Andrew, he produced two critically acclaimed series for Fantagraphics, the best of which was recently collected as a trade paperback, Zoot Suite.

Roger’s latest book introduces “the most unusual, coprophagic and bald Fred the Clown - world’s greatest dullard! A legend in his own underpants!” Ostensibly created in 1898 for a New York newspaper by a Jewish Irish immigrant called Claude Cecil O’Reilly, Fred (originally called ‘Our Villy’) has been entertaining (and disgusting) newspaper readers ever since, thanks to a series of derivative, alcoholic, and occasionally murderous cartoonists. In a hilarious mock-essay Roger guides us through the history of the strip in its various manifestations - perfectly aping the work of R. F. Outcault, Winsor McCay, George Herriman, Robert Crumb and Jack Kirby (among others). This is nothing less than a fictionalised, but utterly accurate, history of newspaper comics.

Today, thankfully, Fred is safe in the hands of Roger Langridge himself, as demonstrated by the manic, unadulterated Langridge lunacy that fills the rest of the book. If Samuel Beckett had teamed up with the Goons and learned to draw like Tex Avery, the result would have been something very like the comics of Roger Langridge.

Other Recent Releases:

1. Louis Riel by Chester Brown (Drawn & Quarterly). The true story of an eighteenth century Canadian rebel, as told by the cartoonist behind Yummy Fur and Underwater.
2. Silly Daddy: A Death in the Family by Joe Chiappetta (Joe Chiappetta). A moving, meditative work by one of America’s finest cartoonists. (ISBN 0-9644323-1-5)
3. Disgraceland by James Merritt ($3 from 67 Scanlan St, Grey Lynn, Auckland). A new collection of stories about accidental acid trips, feuding cartoonists and God by the bad boy of New Zealand comics. The strips are good; the liner notes are fucking hilarious! You don’t need to get all the in-jokes; just soak up the attitude.
4. Adam’s Apple by Adam Jamieson ($3.50 from P.O. Box 5572, Wellesley St, Auckland). Another stunning minicomic from the creator of Cataract, Blink and See-Saw. If this guy isn’t making waves overseas soon, I’ll eat my hat.
5. Rogue magazine (Analecta Publications, P.O. Box 13335, Christchurch). An ambitious new anthology from the NZ Cartoon Collective - an attempt to emulate UK’s Comics Creators Guild and the Australian Cartoonists Group. Most of the strips are well crafted, if strangely 1970s in style. They’re keen to hear from other cartoonists (email: btwright@xtra.co.nz).

Comics supplied by Gotham Comics, 131 The Mall, Onehunga, Auckland. Ph/fax: (09) 634-4399, email: gotham@comics.co.nz, website: www.comics.co.nz. Mail orders welcome.

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