Fictional and Cartoony

These'll be in "Famous Fictional" next Friday, Jan. 5. at Mad Art Gallery.
Some St. Louis artists were asked to do 2 "pieces" of the same size,
one of a fictional character (from books) and the other a cartoon character.



The other night at the signing at Quimby's I said during the Q&A session some nonsense about "you can't think yourself into writing about action, you can only think yourself into writing about thinking."

Since then I've learned that the actual saying I was referring to is "You can't think yourself into right action, you can only act yourself into right thinking."

So I was a little off. I apologize for any confusion.

How did I screw this phrase up so badly? If you have nothing better to do, listen up.

Over a year ago, while in a hospital waiting room, I picked up the Feb. 14 & 21 double issue New Yorker (with Chris Ware's sequentializing of the iconic Eustace Tilley cover).
I started reading the Mark Singer's profile of TV writer David Milch. I became fascinated with Milch and his ideas, and made plans to watch his HBO series Deadwood.

(Sidenote: I just finished Mark Singer's book Mr. Personality which collects some of his profile pieces for the New Yorker and which I enjoyed very much, though in the copy I got out of the library, the introduction ends mid-sentence and I couldn't figure out if it was a joke or a first-edition blunder. Also related: Singer wrote a profile of Ricky Jay in a different NYer which inspired me to read Mr. Jay's awesome Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women. Also, Ricky Jay plays a character on the show Deadwood.)

So in this profile of Milch he says:
"I try consciously to frustrate the impulse to think about a scene before I sit down to it, because--you know the highfalutin' expression 'You can't think your way to write action; you can only act your way to write thinking.'"

Now I've read this article 3 times since that waiting room, yet somehow this "highfalutin' expression" was transmogrified in my brain into
"You can't think your way to write action; you can only *think* your way to write thinking"
and I thought this diagnosed flaws in my own fiction writing. Yeah, I thought, that's right: I tend to overthink my stories and my stories tend to be about thinking, not action. Gotta work on that.

So the other night at Quimby's I was talking to the crowd about flaws in my work, and I mentioned the highfalutin' expression, by now totally telephoned into something else completely--no longer an expression of pithy pragmatism but dubious writing advice.

Today while inking I'm watching/listening to an interview with Milch (by now I'm a big fan) he says
"You can't think yourself into right action, you can only act yourself into right thinking."
and I clearly hear "right" instead of "write" because of the context and it suddenly clicks. That makes more sense! (And I could suddenly connect it to Milch's interest in William James.)

So I go back to the Singer profile to find the original quote thinking "how did I get that so wrong?" My only guess is that in the profile Milch is making a joke--he's punning on the "right" saying to say something about his own writing method. He doesn't think about his writing until he sits down and starts. The "write" saying works too, and makes perfect sense, though conceptually it isn't strictly symmetrical, and so that's maybe why my brain couldn't make sense of it until I distorted it to fit my own situation. Maybe for me the saying should be
"You can't read your way to right jack shit."

Trouble Sleeping Part 3.3


Signings in St. Louis and Chicago

I'll be signing books at
Star Clipper Comics
next Wednesday
December 6
at Quimby's in Chicago
on Thursday
December 7


Mr. Anders Nilsen
Ms. Gabrielle Bell

Trouble Sleeping: Part 3 Chapter 1

Press Conference

Though this goes against absolutely everything I believe in and hold dear in this sad sorry world, I'm going to insult your intelligence and try to make something clear so there's no question...

The other day I was asked whether the title of my book,"Curses," is like as in "...foiled again." No it is not. The title "Curses" refers, first of all, to the flock of starlings pictured.

In the book, the birds are curses.

In the story "The Curse," Glenn Ganges is cursed with a flock of starlings that perch in the trees outside his house, and their deafening squawking and voluminous shitting destroy Glenn's and his wife's lives.


The Great Plains

-from "The Story of the Great Plains"
which is part of a series of "the story of..." books, including "The Story of California" and "The Story of the Pennsylvania Dutch," all illustrated with lithographs by C.H. Dewitt.


My book "Curses" is going to come out in a month or so, and reprinted in it are the 3 stories that originally appeared in Drawn and Quarterly Showcase Vol. 1. (The first of those stories is reprinted here.) Back when that book was being put together, before Anders Nilsen's story (what became Dogs and Water) grew too large for the book, Kelly Link was asked to write an introduction. After the book was changed around somewhat, Nilsen and Link were left on the cutting room floor.

So, for the first anywhere, here's the last part of what she wrote:


...Lastly, there’s Kevin Huizenga’s three stories about a character named Glenn Ganges, who lives with his wife Wendy in suburban Michigan. I love Kevin Huizenga’s work, although I think those aliens would have a fair amount of trouble deciphering it [refers to something earlier in the intro obvs]. He reminds me of a deadpan, slapstick, surreal, suburban Herge. These are magical stories. “The Curse” manages to conjure up deafening noise, acrid stench -- the two senses that you wouldn’t think a graphic artist could capture. “28th Street” is one of the best fairytale retellings I’ve ever read. The third story, about lost children, says more sensible things about pictures and narrative than I’ll ever manage. “You can’t help but try to form a story in your head,” the narrator, Glenn Ganges, tells us about the pictures of missing children on advertisement fliers. “It adds up and becomes like an accidental graphic novel, whose story is mostly hidden, though sprawling landscapes and tragic scenes are hinted at. Every week two new faces and you imagine the scenes in between.”

Like the fliers, which are full of imagined transformations, helpfully depicting children who have aged -- even while missing -- listing information about parents and locations, Huizenga’s panels are signposted with words and names. There are the suggestive, diminished names of stores -- there’s Eden’s, and Paradise Bagels -- and slogans on t-shirts, newspaper stories about Sudanese refugees, historical and observational data about starlings and suburban sprawl. There are wordless transformations, too. Pictures of the missing children suddenly lift into the sky and become a murmuration of starlings. A curvy suburban road branches off and in the next panel it’s a tree full of noisy bird -- starlings again. A Mega Mart is a President’s Palace, or possibly the entrance to the feathered ogre’s subterranean cave. Squirting gasoline from the pump straight into the eyes, rather than the tank, brings on visions that change a strip mall into a scene out of Hieronymus Bosch, with Lovecraftian beasties, Native American-style totem animals with wings and hooves and staring eyes, and even those uncanny ghosts from Ms. Pacman. The panels begin to seep and drip darkness, like a kind of smog out of which appear starlings, a moon like an enormous egg, and finally, the strangest thing of all: Eden’s, the Mega Mart.

Like the other two artist/writers in this anthology, Kevin Huizenga is writing about a quest, a journey. Along the way, the narrator discovers a styrofoam take-home container is an enchanted, battery-operated doggybag of plenty. A monster explodes with rage, and breaks into dozens, hundreds, thousands of starlings, all of them croaking curses (except for one, which says “cheep”. After all, they are in the basement of the Mega Mart.) The stories are crammed with other visual jokes and references, like the guy with a moustache in the advertisement on the back of a missing children flier, paid to appear “thrilled with modernistic carpet cleaning”. He looks familiar to Glenn. He looks familiar to us as well -- maybe he’s the neighbor, Karl, from down the street in one of the other stories, “Curses”, who recommends using a bottle rocket to get rid of the starlings. And of course, maybe getting your carpet cleaned will help locate a missing child, the way praying to Baal, or stealing a feather from the ogre will break the curse so that Glenn and Wendy can have a child of their own.

Meanwhile, while Glenn is fretting about the missing children, the Sudanese refugees -- the “lost boys” -- who have been brought to America, are lost again, right under Glenn’s nose. They’re trying to navigate their way through the suburban landscape. It isn’t easy. So why do you even bother?

It all comes back to whether or not Glenn and Wendy will manage to have a baby. In the end, will everyone’s problems be solved? Sure. The waitress, the gas station attendant, the Sudanese clerk at Eden’s, Glenn and Wendy, everyone gets a piece of what they need. But even when you’ve stolen the ogre’s feather to break a curse, and you’re all set to live happily ever after in the suburbs, there are still difficulties. When you break a curse, it just breaks into smaller pieces, after all. The new baby won’t stop crying, and all the starlings (little, black curses) have come home to roost in the trees in your yard. But, as the narrator reminds us, the starlings aren’t just a curse. It isn’t just noise. They sing. They’re performance artists. They can mimic cell phones, dogs barking, car alarms, Latin and Greek and Mozart: all the same kinds of things, both magical and decidedly unmagical, that an artist/writer can draw on. In “28th Street,” it’s a starling who gets to have the last word of the story -- “The End” -- but it’s Kevin Huizenga who set him to sing.

-Kelly Link, from the unpublished introduction to Drawn and Quarterly Showcase #1.

(I highly recommend her wonderful short stories, especially the title story of her collection Magic for Beginners. Many stories from that collection made a big impression on me and have really burrowed into my head.)

Recent Miscellaneous

And Yet


Swipe File

New book

Sermons #2
(KH Book #9)
48 pages

Should have it at SPX, and will be up at the Catastrophe Shop sometime in the next couple of months.


Heroes and Villains

From Bill Blackbeard's introduction to Krazy & Ignatz 1935-1936: "A Wild Warmth of Chromatic Gravy":

"There are just over four hundred and fifty of them, and each one a masterpiece of graphic comedy. The marvelous product of the last nine years of Garge's richly fruitful life, these weekly color Krazy Kat pages, stunning as they are, almost failed to physically survive the editorial and institutional rigors of their time. We are, in fact, damned lucky to have them on hand at all as source material for this series. There were, you see, just two newspapers -- six day a week sports and crime news afternoon newspapers, throwaway rubbish -- that printed virtually all of the color Kat pages from start to finish. Neither the New York Journal nor the Chicago American, sensational Hearst papers, had any referential status at all, and most libraries in their sales areas shunned them -- two papers that virtually no one of any artistic or literary taste and judgment ever saw fro mthe the strip's 1935 start to its 1944 conclusion. Two tombs for the foremost comic strip of all time.

Luckily there was a single dedicated comic strip buff, August Derleth of Sauk City Wisconsin, founder of Arkham House in 1939, who clipped and saved every color Kat page, donating his run to the Wisconsin State Historical Society..."

This floored me! Has someone put up a statue of August Derleth!? What a hero! (See more here.)

Reading this I immediately got up from the couch and called the STL Public Library and ordered that book by Nicholson Baker, which I've always meant to read: Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper.

I'm near the end of Double Fold now. Read it if you're like me and you're a bibliophile, library lover, or if it gives you bitter yet invigorating pleasure to read histories of human folly, hubris, and tragedy. I wish there was a Library of Congress Subject Heading for these sorts of books. Marvel at how libraries threw out tons of old newspapers and books after microfilming them, and now threaten to do the same in an age of scanning and Internet. Don't you hate microfilm? I also got out Baker's Book of Matches which I finished in bed in 3 nights, and I enjoyed that very much as well. I think Glenn would like it a lot.

Anyways, in the Preface, Baker writes:

"...a man named Blackbeard told a reporter that he had a story for me...Blackbeard had a formal, slightly breathless way of talking; he was obviously intelligent, perhaps a little Ancient Marinerian in the way that lifelong collectors can be...Some of what Blackbeard told me I couldn't quite comprehend: that the Library of Congress, [esp. arch-villain Verner Clapp, pictured left -kh.] the purported library of last resort, had replaced most of its enormous collection of late-nineteenth and twentieth-century newspapers with microfilm, and that research libraries where relying on what he called "fraudulent" scientific studies when they justified the discarding of books and newspapers on the basis of diagnosed states of acidity and embrittlement.

...In 1967, filled with an ambition to write a history of the American comic strip, he'd discovered that libraries were getting rid of their newspaper collections...Unfortunately he was a private citizen--the library's charter permitted the transfer of material only to a non-profit organization. "I became a non-profit organization so fast you couldn't believe it," Blackbeard told me...He went around the country picking up newspaper volumes..."

So Blackbeard in addition to saving all those newspapers was largely the catalyst for Baker writing Double Fold. Though unfortunately library collections are still not safe from library futurists, Baker and other activists are working to preserve primary source materials--books and newspapers. Double Fold makes a very powerful case and is probably responsible for a lot of eye-opening and hesitation on the part of librarians blinded by technology.

It struck me, thinking about all this, of how much comics have meant for newspapers, back in the day when they helped sell them, and (via Blackbeard) they've helped save them, and how sad that this relationship has been left to wither as much as it has.

UPDATE: There's lots more about Double Fold all over the web, with librarians, archivists, and preservationists responding, for instance here. Like every complex problem that gets people passionate, there's a lot of missing the point going on, but it's always worth getting a wide view of things. Related to this, one of the weird sidelights in the book, a chapter on how mummies were used by the ton as fuel for trains and their wrappings used in linen paper turns out to be untrue. So reader beware.



Dan Zettwoch and I, low on sleep and high on comics, missing the STL storms because we were at the San Diego Comic-Con. Behind us is the Buenaventura Press booth.