Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Goodbye to All That

Despite the obvious Robert Graves reference, I’m actually thinking of a nostalgia theme here, a false past that says more about a wan present and an anxious future than Graves’s good riddance salute. I’m talking about the late days of the book-printing plant. Of course, books, especially trade books, will last a while longer, perhaps a good while longer, and printed books will continue through print-on-demand and the like, but now’s the time to visit book-printers before they join the past-fuzzy ranks of the scriptoria. I have had the pleasure of touring a couple of these clickety, fragrant buildings where the descendants of the great printers still ply their trade. Their giant Japanese, six-color separators (my last visit was to a dust jacket printer) and the smell of ink are like suet to a finch. It reminded me of sniffing the mimeographed papers of my school days, but more overwhelming. The clanking of old fashioned presses is gone, replaced by clicking and speed. And then out near the loading dock are piles of books, awaiting cartons and shipping to readers around the country, newly printed, bound, and covered by these unsung literary champions. When all is digital and we lament the loss of books as household design objects and their natural tactility, I’ll remember perfumed visits to book-printers. Like bakeries in the morning. If printed books survive, if the will of content overwhelms the imperative to convenience, these men and women will be their heroes.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Why a Johnny-Come-Lately Thinks Comics Matter to Literary Reading

I came early to comics (in my waning toddler years) and lately have come back to them (in the incipience of my dotage) and it wasn’t easy. After fifty years of reading rectangles of letters and lots of white space, reading comics, in which the writing comprised only about 5% of the page and illustration about 80% (and margins the other 15%), I had to re-train myself to assimilate the comic’s different organization.

But as I read further in the comics world, I am finding the bursting of narrative line fascinating. Sure, the traditional six- or eight-panel book still exists, but when I read I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Nimura, with undertones of superheroes in the dialogue and drawing, I was reminded that comics have the ability to “spring” narrative from its traditional linearity of the eye. I’m not talking about Félix Féneon and Tristan Tzara and Bryon Gysin and cut-up techniques, but the way that comics can re-flex the eye that solely word-based books cannot. Françoise Mouly and Art Spiegelman are experimenting with types of focus in their RAW Junior line of children’s early readers. Placing words in a bubble, they take on both increased and reduced significance, depending on one’s point of view.

I would appreciate anyone who reads this to recommend non-comics “sprung” narrative. I’m not talking, for example, about Carole Maso-style, short-paragraph work or the poetry of Ricardo Sanchez, but visual-based, not-illustrated work, which may or may not have been influenced visually by comics.