Falling into Place (Part III): Conversations with a Dead Man

"Colossal Head at Izamal" by Frederick Catherwood in the Casa Catherwood in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico.

“Colossal Head at Izamal” by Frederick Catherwood

Wayfinding with Malcolm Mc Neill and William S. Burroughs—Part the Third, wherein the narrative takes a turn and concentrates on:

  • John Stephens and Frederick Catherwood’s explorations in Honduras and Guatemala (1839-40) and the Yucatan region (1843)
  • Similarities between Frederick Catherwood’s life and Malcolm Mc Neill’s own
  • Thought control in the 21st century
  • Mayan and European conceptions of time
  • The “23 phenomenon”
  • Psychic mediums and communication with the dead
  • Burroughs’ interest in the sinking of the Titanic

Above: Ah Pook is Here stop-motion animated film by Philip Hunt, 1994. Reading excerpted from William S. Burroughs’ Dead City Radio. Music by John Cale.

Transcription of reading found below:

When I become Death, Death is the seed from which I grow…

Itzama, spirit of early mist and showers.
Ixtaub, goddess of ropes and snares.
Ixchel, the spider web, catcher of morning dew.
Zooheekock, virgin fire patroness of infants.
Adziz, the master of cold.
Kockupocket, who works in fire.
Ixtahdoom, she who spits out precious stones.
Ixchunchan, the dangerous one.
Ah Pook, the destroyer.

Hiroshima, 1945, August 6, sixteen minutes past 8 AM.

Who really gave that order?

Answer: Control.

Answer: The Ugly American.

Answer: The instrument of Control.

Question: If Control’s control is absolute, why does Control need to control?

Answer: Control… needs time.

Question: Is Control controlled by its need to control?

Answer: Yes.

Why does Control need humans, as you call them?

Answer: Wait… wait! Time, a landing field. Death needs time like a junkie needs junk.

And what does Death need time for?

Answer: The answer is sooo simple. Death needs time for what it kills to grow in, for Ah Pook’s sake.

Death needs time for what it kills to grow in, for Ah Pook’s sweet sake, you stupid vulgar greedy ugly American death-sucker.

Death needs time for what it kills to grow in, for Ah Pook’s sweet sake, you stupid vulgar greedy ugly American death-sucker… Like this.

We have a new type of rule now. Not one man rule, or rule of aristocracy, or plutocracy, but of small groups elevated to positions of absolute power by random pressures and subject to political and economic factors that leave little room for decision. They are representatives of abstract forces who’ve reached power through surrender of self. The iron-willed dictator is a thing of the past. There will be no more Stalins, no more Hitlers. The rulers of this most insecure of all worlds are rulers by accident inept, frightened pilots at the controls of a vast machine they cannot understand, calling in experts to tell them which buttons to push.

briggs_burroughs

Image by Paul Briggs. http://pbcbstudios.tumblr.com

Falling into Place (Part II): Ah Pook is Here Play by Play

Image © Malcolm Mc Neill (LAAP, 91)

Image © Malcolm Mc Neill (LAAP, 91)

Part II of “Falling into Place,” an exploration of Ah Pook is Here, the word-image collaboration between artist Malcolm Mc Neill and author William S. Burroughs has now been published over at the Believer Logger. Ah Pook is Here, whose brilliance has only recently been introduced to the public imagination thanks to Fantagraphics Books, is long-form graphic narrative that was created long before the concept of the “graphic novel” was in widespread use.

OWF_Cover

Observed While Falling: Bill Burroughs, Ah Pook, and Me is author Malcolm Mc Neill’s memoir of his time working on Ah Pook is Here. It describes how the project irrevocably transformed his life.

Here’s the description of Observed While Falling from the Fantagraphics Books website:

Observed While Falling is an account of the personal and creative interaction that defined the collaboration between the writer William S. Burroughs and the artist Malcolm Mc Neill on the graphic novel Ah Pook Is Here. The memoir chronicles the events that surrounded it, the reasons it was abandoned and the unusual circumstances that brought it back to life. Mc Neill describes his growing friendship with Burroughs and how their personal relationship affected their creative partnership. The book is written with insight and humor, and is liberally sprinkled with the kind of outré anecdotes one would expect working with a writer as original and eccentric as Burroughs. It confirms Burroughs’ and Mc Neill’s prescience, the place of Ah Pook in relation to the contemporary graphic novel, and its anticipation of the events surrounding 2012. The book offers new insights into Burroughs’ working methods as well as how the two explored the possibilities of words and images working together to form the ambitious literary hybrid that they didn’t know, at the time, was a harbinger of the 21st century “graphic novel.” Mc Neill expounds on the lessons of that experience to bring Ah Pook into present time. In light of current events, Ah Pook is unquestionably Here now.

Observed While Falling presents a unique view of the creative process that will be of interest to artists, writers and general readers alike. A perspective evoked by a literary experiment that has endured for forty years and still continues to “happen.”

LAAP_Cover

Here is the Fantagraphics Books description of Mc Neill’s complementary volume of artwork from Ah Pook is Here, published as The Lost Art of Ah Pook is Here: Images from the Graphic Novel:

In 1970, William S. Burroughs and artist Malcolm Mc Neill began a small collaborative project on a comic entitled The Unspeakable Mr. Hart, which appeared in the first four issues of Cyclops, England’s first comics magazine for an adult readership. Soon after, Burroughs and Mc Neill agreed to collaborate on a book-length meditation on time, power, control, and corruption that evoked the Mayan codices and specifically, the Mayan god of death, Ah Pook. Ah Pook Is Here was to include their character Mr. Hart, but stray from the conventional comics form to explore different juxtapositions of images and words.

Ah Pook was never finished in its intended form. In a 1979 prose collection that included only the words from the collaboration, Ah Pook is Here and Other Texts (Calder, 1979), Burroughs explains in the preface that they envisioned the work to be “one that falls into neither the category of the conventional illustrated book nor that of a comix publication.” Rather, the work was to include “about a hundred pages of artwork with text (thirty in full-color) and about fifty pages of text alone.” The book was conceived as a single painting in which text and images were combined in whatever form seemed appropriate to the narrative. It was conceived as 120 continuous pages that would “fold out.” Such a book was, at the time, unprecedented, and no publisher was willing to take a chance and publish a “graphic novel.”

However, Malcolm Mc Neill created nearly a hundred paintings, illustrations, and sketches for the book, and these, finally, are seeing the light of day in The Lost Art of Ah Pook. (Burroughs’ text will not be included.) Mc Neill himself is an exemplary craftsman and visionary painter whose images have languished for over 30 years, unseen. Even in a context divorced from the words, they represent a stunning precursor to the graphic novel form to come.

Sara J. Van Ness contributes an historical essay chronicling the long history of Burroughs’ and Mc Neill’s work together, including its incomplete publishing history with Rolling Stone’s Straight Arrow Press, the excerpt that ran in Rush magazine, and the text that was published without pictures.

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

Falling into Place (Part I): Ah Pook is Still Here

Over at the Believer Logger, the first part of an extended exploration of the the never-published-in-full creative co-construction between Malcolm Mc Neill and William S. Burroughs, known as Ah Pook is Here, has just been published (October 28, 2014).

There were two smaller works that also profiled the Mc Neill- Burroughs collaboration prior to Mc Neill’s memoir, Observed While Falling: Bill Burroughs, Ah Pook and Me, and  The Lost Art of Ah Pook: Images from the Graphic Novel (Fantagraphics, 2012)The text included in both volumes was virtually identical, though the formats of each were quite different.

In 2009, the artwork designed by Mc Neill to accompany Burroughs’ text was exhibited at Track 16 Gallery in Los Angeles. This is where Gray Groth, co-founder of Fantagraphics Books, first saw Mc Neill’s art and consequently expressed an interest in publishing Mc Neill’s work in a more extensive publication. A hardcover volume called The Lost Art of Ah Pook is Here was published to accompany the show.

Lost Art of Ah Pook is Here

The Lost Artwork of Ah Pook is Here was published in a limited run of 125 copies in chapbook format by The Beat Scene Press.

The Lost Artwork of Ah Pook is Here

Here is the description of that work taken from the website:

Coventry, England: The Beat Scene Press, 2012. Limited First Edition. Staplebound. “In 1970 Malcolm McNeill [sic] received a phone call from a man who asked to meet “the guy who knows how to draw me.” The caller was William S. Burroughs. McNeill had recently illustrated a Burroughs text called “The Unspeakable Mr. Hart” for the underground paper Cyclops…(WSB & McNeill) discussed extending their collaboration into a book. McNeill was just 23, Burroughs was 56, and the project- tentatively titled Ah Puch- would last for seven more years.” (from the introduction).

In this booklet, Number 36 in the Beat Scene Press Pocket Book Series published in the UK by Kevin Ring, McNeill looks back on his experience working with WSB. The collaborative project ultimately failed, “but knowing and working with Bill Burroughs was above all characterized by its humor…he was simply the funniest guy I had ever met.” Published in August 2012 in an edition of 125 copies, this is copy #12. As new, a most important piece of the WSB puzzle for the scholar-collector. As New. [Item #1696]

Original cover art by Malcolm Mc Neill for Ah Pook is Here

Original cover art by Malcolm Mc Neill for Ah Pook is Here

Many thanks to Malcolm Mc Neill for drawing my attention to these works.

The Zen of “The Zen of Steve Jobs”

The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower. To think otherwise is to demean the Buddha—which is to demean oneself (26).

—Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values

I read Walter Isaacson’s biography Steve Jobs with one end in mind, really. I wanted to see how the influence of Zen on Jobs’ thinking was portrayed in the book. And the main reason I wanted to do that is because I wanted to write about the graphic narrative, The Zen of Steve Jobs, sponsored by Forbes and produced by the creative agency Jess3. But I felt that I needed a bit more background in order to do so.

The Zen of Steve Jobs is a “reimagining” of the friendship between Jobs and Kobun Chino Otogawa, a Zen priest and close friend and teacher to Jobs for many years. Our story begins with Jobs seeking out Otogawa after his departure from Apple in 1985, and after a ten-year absence from the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center. He arrives at Tassajara with the intent of learning about ma, one of the underlying principles informing Zen aesthetics. He explains to Otogawa that the computers he’ll be creating at his new company, NeXT, will be superior products not just because of their technological features, but also because of their perfected design—and asks Otogawa to help him understand in greater depth the relationship between objects and the complementary space they inhabit. Otogawa responds, “I cannot. You must experience ma.” He then proceeds to teach Jobs kinhin, or walking meditation. Continue reading ‘The Zen of “The Zen of Steve Jobs”’

Hignite strikes again: The Art of Jaime Hernandez

The intimacy of Todd Hignite’s In the Studio: Visits with Contemporary Cartoonists (Yale University Press, 2006) blew my mind when I first read it. Profiled within its pages are commentary by Hignite and accompanying passages from interviews with Ivan Brunetti, Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Robert Crumb, Jaime Hernandez, Gary Panter, Seth, Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware.

To “hear” all of these artists’ voices between two covers was a revelation in comics form and function, with generous and glorious full colour reproduction of many samples of the artists’ work, as well as work that influenced them.

Hignite has more recently built upon his initial treatment of Jaime Hernandez in In the Studio, and has developed a full volume consecrated to Hernandez’ art. The Art of Jaime Hernandez: the Secrets of Life and Death (Abrams, 2011) is not only exquisite because of Hernandez’ contributions, but also because it is infused with Hignite’s poetic prose. Listen to this: can you hear the music?

Hernandez’s titles are always both iconic and insinuatingly evocative. “Wigwam Bam” is taken from a 1970s pop hit by the Sweet and provides a pop culture springboard that magically evokes a deeply personal flashback. The centrepiece is an entry in Maggie’s diary that Izzy reads while searching for her—to the young Maggie and her friend Letty, the song was a metaphor regarding cultural difference and identity, and in particular the mythic proportions that such childhood experiences take on later in life, themes that Maggie will continue to question throughout her stories. While abundantly engaging, as only the most complex art can be, Hernandez’s comics are also great entertainment. His formal virtuosity is in the service of characterization, altering one’s perception of the world while the full range of humanity dances on and below the surface of the page. Continue reading ‘Hignite strikes again: The Art of Jaime Hernandez’

Holmes on Homesteading

The Artist Himself: A Rand Holmes Retrospective by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics Books, 2010)

Given that Lucky’s Comics recently hosted an exhibition of Holmes’ work as part of a book launch for The Artist HImself, and that the artist spent much of his life in familiar territory, I was curious. Before listening to the Inkstuds interview with Patrick Rosenkranz (Holmes’ authorized biographer), I knew nothing about Rand Holmes’ life or his comics. I thought I was going to read the biography of an underground cartoonist. Instead, I read an epic exploration of a complex human being, who just happened to be an underground cartoonist.

Top Quality Shit

When I walk into Legends Comics and Books in Victoria, co-owner Gareth Gaudin (with Lloyd Chesley) is reading Paul Gravett’s 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die: The Ultimate Guide to Comics, Graphic Novels and Manga (Universe, 2011) at the cash.

“Is it good?”

“It’s pretty good…there’s only one comic so far that I think should have been included in here that isn’t.”

“What’s that?”

“Harold Hedd #2.” It’s hard to find nowadays, but all of the Harold Hedd comics have been reprinted in here.” Gareth hands me a copy of The Artist Himself: A Rand Holmes Retrospective by Patrick Rosenkranz (Fantagraphics, 2010). “Look at this…” He flips to page 115. “Look at this! Where else will you find an authentic drawing of a BC transit bus in Vancouver, circa the 1970s?”

“Oh! Remember The Buzzer?” Continue reading ‘Holmes on Homesteading’

Comparing Covers

I was looking at the cover of Luke Pearson’s Hilda and the Midnight Giant (Nobrow Press, 2012) and was struck by how much the layout resembles that of Charles Burns’ X’ed Out (Pantheon, 2010).

Central figure, similar scale and depth of foreground and background, sloping terrain from right to left, tall object jutting out in top left corner.


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