Ah Pook is still here
Over a year ago, I wrote an online comment on The Comics Journal website. It was underneath Rudy Rucker’s review of Malcolm Mc Neill’s The Lost Art of Ah Pook is Here and Observed While Falling: Bill Burroughs, Ah Pook, and Me. The books detail the never completed artist-writer collaboration between Mc Neill, a painter and illustrator, and writer William S. Burroughs. Observed While Falling is a memoir of Mc Neill’s time working with Burroughs, as well as the unusual legacy of the project in the artist’s later life. The Lost Art of Ah Pook is Here is a visual record of the project’s progression, and an archive of additional published artwork by Mc Neill that accompanied other writings composed by Burroughs.
This was my comment:
I just finished reading “Observed While Falling”, and am happy to report that I can’t remember the last time a book fucked me up so much–in the best sense of the expression. I bought a copy after reading this review. Without knowing any more about it, I ended up reading the bulk of the book on Dec. 21…read it and you’ll understand.
I’m imagining someone out there scanning the complete text of Ah Pook is Here and Other Texts as I write this post, in the interests of disseminating a copy freely and widely. Copyright and the Burroughs Estate be damned.
I think Bill would approve.
I never found that free copy of the text, but I did cave and buy a copy for $50 online. The last time I looked online, there were two copies on sale through Amazon for $12,974.98—but it’s possible that the value of the book has been slightly inflated by the vendor. Though reading Ah Pook is Here and Other Texts has brought a modicum of clarity to Observed While Falling (OWF) and The Lost Art of Ah Pook is Here (LAAP), the latter works stand on their own as artefacts of great interest and inquiry into the nature of reality itself.
As soon as I finished reading Observed While Falling for the first time, I started reading it again. I took notes, transcribing whole passages from the book in an attempt to unearth some deeper understanding of Burroughs’ cosmology, and why Mc Neill’s books resonated so strongly with me. Burroughs’ writing is at times almost impossible to comprehend without a guide. By contrast, Mc Neill’s account of his time with Burroughs and beyond is challenging, yet succinct and digestible—with unflinchingly honest observations thrown into the mix.
As my wife and kids are wont to do when I am compiling notes, they openly criticized the compulsiveness with which I was typing out the passages from Observed While Falling. I couldn’t explain the obsession…then one day, I came home from work and a letter had arrived…from Malcolm Mc Neill.
“What the…” I couldn’t believe it. A letter, no less! On the basis of my comment on the Comics Journal website, Mc Neill had tracked down my address and sent me a letter, since I had neglected to include a contact email address on my blog. The letter was supportive: “A book that fucks someone up in the best way is truly an encouragement.” Mc Neill mentioned that when he was growing up, he used to watch a how-to-draw television program by the artist Adrian Hill, which is what led him to noticing and reading my comment. Quelle coincidence! I was drawn in: Mc Neill inspired me to continue reading and writing. This is the culmination of that work.
Burroughs’ aesthetic “philosophy” extends beyond comics, to the relationship between words and pictures in general—their contribution to how we perceive the world, and how equally we are limited by those perceptions. What is most remarkable about Burroughs’ insights, and Mc Neill’s ability to describe and render them explicit through his art, is that these explorations were conducted over thirty years ago. Ah Pook is Here—as it was originally conceived—constitutes an early predecessor of the “graphic novel” format, and is only now being fully brought to light. Even by today’s standards, Malcolm Mc Neill’s half of the Ah Pook equation constitutes a boundary-blurring experiment in extended graphic narrative…
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This is the beginning of an as-yet unpublished essay I wrote on Mc Neill’s Observed While Falling, The Lost Art of Ah Pook is Here, and Ah Pook is Here and Other Texts.
Mc Neill’s books are currently on sale at the Fantagraphics Books website, as part of the current Burroughs @ 100 centennial celebration. I strongly recommend them.
Sample excerpts from each book provided by Fantagraphics can be found below:
- Excerpt from Observed While Falling
- Excerpt from The Lost Art of Ah Pook