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