Sunday, December 18, 2016

La Conquête de l'espace, Atlas by Marcel Broodthaers (MoMA 2016 facsimile edition)

The great Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers was responsible for some of the most important developments in conceptual art - playfully manipulating both artistic materials and exhibition spaces, his work revolutionized how we as viewers engage with art. Often shelved alongside the Surrealists, I feel Broodthaers is more at home in the realm of philosophy and consider his work a strange sort of visual literary theory. He was a poet until his 40s, and made his debut in the art world by creating a plaster sculpture out of his unsold poetry books (a now-famous publication and sculpture called "Pense-Bête"). Despite some incredible punning sculptures using mussel shells and lumps of coal, he was a poet at heart and has a large body of work that exemplifies this devotion to writing. During his life Broodthaers made a number of wonderful artist's books - I'm particularly fond of a version of Mallarmé's Roll of the Dice he created using engraved aluminum plates, one of which is in the MoMA's permanent collection.

When the MoMA had their retrospective in the spring, they produced a edition of Broodthaers' La Conquête de l'espace - Atlas à l'usage des artistes et des militaires. This book is a "world atlas" with an incomplete selection of countries in alphabetical order, each scaled to be the same size as Belgium. There's more: the book itself is only 4 x 3 cm. It's exquisitely well produced for such a novel idea, and the original edition of 50 occasionally come up at auction for a hefty sum (in the tens of thousands of dollars). MoMA's version is much cheaper, in an edition of 500, and comes in a nice silk box with a foam lining:


Here's a detail of the book's title page (special thanks to my recently-manicured wife):

The book is still available from MoMA. While not particularly cheap, I think its a must for Broodthaers fans and for the art-inclined book collector.

Currently reading:
Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Currently listening to:

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Javier Marias, Thus Bad Begins (Knopf, 2016, signed, first edition)

This is a signed first edition of Javier Marías's new novel Thus Bad Begins, which was published recently by Knopf. Marías very rarely tours for his books but did a reading with Community Bookstore in Brooklyn where he signed a number of copies of the new novel. I think these'll be the only copies Marías signs at a formal event, and the bookshop still has a number of them in stock. Although Marías isn't quite a collector's must-have at this point, he's built quite a cult following and early review of Thus Bad Begins have been particularly glowing.

I couldn't make it to the event myself but was very quick to have a copy set aside for pickup later that week! Give them a call to get yours. Absolutely love the design of this, too - with the ominous cover and the vintage font...

Currently reading:
The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Currently listening to:
Blackout Beach, "Fuck Death"

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Free Shit by Charles Burns (compilation of issues #1-#22 published by Le Dernier Cri) and Free Shit #23

A few years ago, the late Alvin Buenaventura told me at a comic fair that I should go to Charles Burns's signing line and ask me if he's "got any free shit" - I had just bought a bunch of rare books from his table, and perhaps as bit of book-collecting lagniappe he gave me this password. I'm really not the kind to do this but as Burns was signing some old book for me I gave him Alvin's magic words. "You want some free shit?" he asked me, and dug around into his bag and found a ziploc pouch full of little blue mini-comics. Hilariously, Burns has a secret handmade series called Free Shit that he gives out at fairs to the well-informed. He gave me issue #14, with an early blue Nitnit on the cover and a sexy demon centerfold.

Now, Burns has compiled the first twenty-two issues into a single pocket-sized volume, published in an edition of 1000 by Le Dernier Cri. Each cover is silkscreened (mine's unfortunately a little scuffed). Burns had a table at Comics Arts Brooklyn last weekend where he was selling these - like the grabby fan I am, I already bought one that was sent over from France. Oops. 

But he signed my copy and gave me issue #23 of Free Shit. The front of both are above, the back of each is below (absolutely love that bouquet and don't know what's going on with "The Brainless Glob"):

Here's the signed title page of Free Shit and the cover of Issue #23:

Despite being extremely tightly bound, the book is gorgeous and it's wild to see how motifs and characters have evolved over the years. One of the hive mothers in the Last Look Nitnit trilogy even appears in an early issue: 

..and I believe these bootleg cryptic covers showed up later in a portfolio published by Galerie Martel.

It's such a great piece and while the minis are fun, they're much better produced here in this format. Check out Le Dernier Cri to buy! I'll post more Charles Burns stuff later on this year, as I've picked up a few really special pieces that I'm excited to share.

Currently reading:
Float by Anne Carson

Currently listening to:
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, "Skeleton Tree"

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days by Al Columbia (Fantagraphics, 2009, out of print first edition)

For Halloween, I thought we'd take a look at one of the more unsettling new additions to my library, Al Columbia's Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days. Al Columbia is a relatively new find for me - I'd seen him in various comics anthologies like Mome and the Best American Comics compilations, but it was the publication of Kramer's Ergot: Volume Nine earlier this year that made me frenetically want to build my library with whatever's out there. (He had an amazing full-page comic of Pim & Francie summoning demons in an old ramshackle house.) I was amazed to find out that with the exception of a few comics like Doghead and The Biologic Show from the 90s, there was only one book: Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days, and it had been out of print for years.

It's absurdly difficult to track down at a normal price, and my purchase of a copy at $100 on eBay probably didn't help the market calm down to more palatable levels. A quick check brought up one copy out there at $195 and a bunch at $599. But, wow: if you like Al Columbia's work it's kind of a must-have. His cartoons are like an alternate-universe Mickey Mouse trapped in a horror film - with thick, dreamy linework, he channels a pure vintage Disney-era aesthetic (down to the clunky, clog-like shoes) and poisons it with dreary, nightmarish vision. Here, Pim & Francie can be seen wandering through the forest, led by some kind of Jiminy Cricket-meets-Jim Jones figure, who appears to be pulling them by some sort of entrails to a cruel demise:

They knew they were going to "die out here", and began the story cowering among some anguished trees.

Terrifying, but what an incredible vision. The best thing about The Golden Bear Days is its consistent resistance to being a compilation of completed strips. While some stories gel into a few sequential frames, the book as a whole resembles more of a sketchbook, with morbid scenes floating among its pages. Pim & Francie are repeatedly maimed, murdered, and hoodwinked in a deliriously free-form manner. Zombie clowns give way to scenes of old, predatory men shaped like Goofy, and fall apart into sketches of some arcane hexes and hooded occultists. It's absolutely mesmerizing.

The book's got a great design on the outside as well, with the illusion of being a worn old picture book printed into its boards and spine.

I'm keeping an eye out for more by Al Columbia. He's done some incredible paintings, and some drawings have come up on eBay in the past few months. Occasionally some new silkscreens will crop up, too, such as the amazing "Jack Never Woke Up" that I missed over at Jordan Crane's WHAT THINGS DO shop).

Happy Halloween!

Currently reading:
Last Look by Charles Burns

Currently listening to:
"A Place Called Bad" by The Scientists

Monday, October 17, 2016

Gallowsongs by Jess (Black Sparrow Press, signed and numbered edition)

Jess Collins, renowned for his irreverent "paste-up" collages, did a few books with Black Sparrow Press in the 60s and 70s. Those readers that are new to Jess should check out O! Tricky Cad! and other Jessoterica from Siglio Press, as it's the best book on Jess out there right now. His paste-ups were these insane text-based collages, often re-appropriating strips of dialogue from comic books like Dick Tracy (hence the "Tricky Cad" anagram) into these compositions that look like equal parts Tristan Tzara and the Zodiac Killer:

In addition to his collages he's also a fantastic painter; I've seen some similarly "layered" pieces that are thick with color and function, formally, in a sort of parallel way to his cacophonous paste-ups.

I was thrilled to find a book of his pen and ink drawings published by Black Sparrow Press in 1970. This is a signed limited edition of Gallowsongs (versions of poems originally in Galgenlieder by Christian Morgenstern).

Very exciting to see a book bound like this, with three brads screwed through the spine. Inside, poems are scattered around the page, integrated beautifully with Jess's illustrations. Here's the title page (with some remnants of creatively-placed prices from other booksellers):

Here are some of my favorite samples from the inside: 

I absolutely adore this "wordless" poem, called "Fish's Nighthymn": 

And here's the limitation page. This book was published in an edition of only 175 hardcover copies, each signed and numbered by the artist. There were 600 paperbacks, and 26 lettered copies bound in full leather.

I don't understand why this signed edition is still on the secondary market for around $150. The lettered copies start at around $500, but this is such a special book, and Jess such a fantastic artist, that I think these 175 signed/numbered hardcovers should also be bumped up into the $350-750 range. If you're intrigued, I suggest you snatch up a copy before people catch on.

Lastly, just for fun, here's the original prospectus (check out that $20 price point!):

Currently reading:
Cheap Novelties by Ben Katchor

Currently listening to:
"A Place Called Bad" by The Scientists

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Fall 2016: Recent Book Reviews

It's been a busy Fall season with a lot of great books; compounded with a lot of work responsibilities in my day job, it's been tough to keep up! This week, I'll take a quick look at some recent book reviews that I've published online in the past month or so. All of these have run over at The website has been picking up speed dramatically this fall, with two new fantastic writers joining the team. If you're interested, please check in every so often. We're doing a new post every few days.

Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy

Borders by Roy Jacobsen

A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

All That Man Is by David Szalay (shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize)

Take a look! Lots of great stuff here.

Currently reading:
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

Currently listening to:
"Compassion" by Lust for Youth

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Lurker at the Threshold by H.P. Lovecraft & August Derleth (Arkham House first edition, 1945)

This is a first edition of The Lurker at the Threshold by H.P. Lovecraft & August Derleth, published in 1945 by Arkham House. Arkham House was founded by Derleth in Sauk City, Wisconsin in 1939 and primarily published works by H.P. Lovecraft and related American horror novels. One of my favorite bookstores in Hadley Massachusetts (Grey Matter Books) recently acquired a massive library of old Arkham House first editions; they're kept in a locked room with poor lighting, in my opinion the perfect way to discover bowing shelves of the Cthulhu Mythos.

These are all priced appropriately (expensive!) but I've had the pleasure of picking up a few of the many books there - including this very early Arkham House work. The Lurker at the Threshold is lesser Lovecraft, and in fact more of a Derleth book. Derleth completed the majority of the book after Lovecraft's death in 1937 by using Lovecraft's notes. It was printed in a very small run of around 3,000 copies and is one of the more rare Arkham House editions out there.

The condition isn't so hot (particularly on the jacket spine and hinges) but it's surprisingly tight in its mylar jacket. The cover is still bright for being about 75 years old. Not much in the way of tears to the cover and back cover. Back cover is below, with some previews for forthcoming titles:

Here's the colophon, for those of you interested in the publication info. Love the "In Preparation" section:

Currently reading:
Nutshell by Ian McEwan
Borders by Roy Jacobsen

Currently listening to:
Various Artists, "Los Alamos Grind!"

Sunday, September 18, 2016

William T. Vollmann, "Thirteen Stories and Thirteen Epitaphs (first edition, signed with drawing)

Following my last post on William T. Vollman's An Afghanistan Picture Show, this is a first edition of the author's 1991 collection Thirteen Stories and Thirteen Epitaphs. Similar to what happened with my copy of An Afghanistan Picture Show I bought this signed first with the intention of replacing the copy I already had. I'm in a particular phase right now trying to collect copies of Vollmann’s books with drawings in them and picked this up sight-unseen from Ken Sanders Rare Books in Utah for $25.

I'm glad I did. This copy has a profile-drawing of a large-featured, zeftig woman who looks sort of like a ghost with her long arm and the curling flourish at the base of the drawing (I think she'd fit in nicely somewhere in the author's Last Stories and Other Stories). I'm absolutely enamored with Vollmann's strange doodles and eventually will make some online photo-album with what I have and what else I've found out there.

Thirteen Stories and Thirteen Epitaphs is a strange book to read following the genius of Europe Central which I read last month on holiday. It feels like an early work - almost naively so: some stories click but others are kind of duds, to be perfectly honest. I've had a sneaking suspicion that one could connect Vollmann to Jack Kerouac if Kerouac wasn't stuck in the aw-gee 50s -- bring Kerouac through the scummy streets of late-1980s San Francisco, amidst the drugs and prostitutes, and something like Vollmann's story "The Ghost of Magnetism" might come out.

For good measure, here's a photo of the colophon, with some details about Vollmann's artist's books. Check out "The Grave of Lost Stories", illustrated "with the most poisonous inks available":

Currently reading:
Thirteen Stories and Thirteen Epitaphs by William T. Vollmann

Currently listening to:
Frankie Reyes, "Boleros Valses Y Más"

Monday, September 5, 2016

William T. Vollmann, "An Afghanistan Picture Show" (US first edition, signed with drawing)

I recently saw that Ken Sanders Rare Books out of Salt Lake City had a trove of signed first editions by William T. Vollmann that each had weird little drawings included with their signature. My Vollmann shelf was already complete and bowing, but I took the opportunity to trade up a few of my unsigned editions with some of Sanders' stock. I love An Afghanistan Picture Show, but my copy wasn't signed or decorated, but for $25, I got this copy with a star-eyed face opposite the title page. (Shadows below are from the nearby flowers in the shot). 

Sanders has a few others, and his copy of The Rainbow Stories is very tempting (as it has a multi-colored rainbow in it). I'll feature a few more signed-with-drawing Vollmanns in the next few weeks. (I recently finally read Europe Central on my vacation to Central Europe and am on a bit of a high from that masterpiece of a book.)

Currently reading:
Sleeping on Jupiter by Anuradha Roy

Currently listening to:
Warfaring Strangers: Darkscortch Canticles

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Fourteenth Secessionist Exhibition catalogue, featuring Gustav Klimt's "Beethoven" frieze (facsimile edition)

My wife and I were traveling for a good potion of August and had the pleasure of spending three days in Vienna two weeks ago. Vienna is an incredible place, full of some of the finest art, architecture and design I've ever seen in person. One of the highlights was the Secession Building, which featured Gustav Klimt's "Beethoven" frieze. The frieze was made for the Secessionist group's fourteenth exhibition; the focus of this show was Max Klinger's statue of Beethoven, which was presented in the center atrium of the building. It's strange to think of the great Klimt in a support role, but his frieze was essentially that, presented in a side foyer of the building with spaces planned throughout the frieze so that viewers could see Klinger's statue.

In the gift shop of the Secessionist Building, I found this incredible facsimile of the XIV Exhibition catalogue - it's full of gorgeous woodcuts and Secessionist designs. Here is the title page and the endpapers:

The book's entirely in German, which unfortunately is lost on me, but the text is set beautifully with illustrated dropcaps:

And here's a great spread of Secessionist members' signatures (it was a blast to see these crop up in paintings throughout the Leopold and Belvedere):

This facsimile was limited to only 300 copies -- at only something like 30 EUR I thought it was a must-buy. A beautiful souvenir from a fantastic city.

Currently reading:
Krazy by Michael Tisserand

Currently listening to:
Frank Ocean, "Blond"