Monday, April 13, 2015

Ed vs. Yummy Fur

Ed vs. Yummy FurEd vs. Yummy Fur by Brian Evenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For years, I've listened to speculative fiction authors complain about being stuck in the "genre ghetto". There's a strong sense of underdoggery among spec-fic authors that may never go away. The chip on their shoulders seems pretty well ingrained. The same might be true of artists and writers of comic-books, though I've heard far less complaining from those I know in that end of the market. They seem to delight in the fact that they are not beholden to any sort of academic criteria for the work that they do. For the most part, they are resigned to the fact that making a living as a cartoonist is riding the razor's edge of the cost of living. And I get the feeling (anecdotal - I don't pretend to any real evidence) that most cartoonists simply don't care much about what the academic world thinks about them.

This book may change all that.

I encountered this book while attending the Heartland Fall Forum as a "regional author". I was between signings and wandered the exhibition hall lusting after many, many wonderful new books, some of which had not yet been officially published. In the midst of this dream-like paradise, I found myself at the table of Uncivilized Books. I knew something of their work, having read Incidents in the Night, vol. 1 previously. What I did not know, and what took me totally by surprise, was that Brian Evenson had done a formal analysis of Chester Brown's Ed the Happy Clown.

"This is the Brian Evenson that I know?" I asked.

"The one that translated Incidents in the Night," Tom Kaczynski, "chief" of Uncivilized Books said.

"I've published a couple of Brian's stories in anthologies I've edited."

"Oh, cool."

I pick up the book and thumb through it.

"Seriously? He's doing some serious analyses in here. What is this?"

"It's a new series we're releasing where smart people take a serious look at comics."

"Holy crap . . . No one's done this before."

"Not really, no."

"Holy crap. This is so good."

"Maybe it's something you'd be interested in? Here's my card" (he draws his business card right before my eyes with a cartoon likeness of himself that is extremely accurate). "Why don't you propose an idea sometime, if you'd like to give it a shot."

"Holy crap."

And I'm still holy crapping. How appropriate then, that Chapter 1 of Evenson's analysis should be entitled "Scatology," while Chapter 2 is entitled "Sacrilege"? This is the sort of thing you would expect from an independent, pseudo-underground comic in the tradition of Crumb, et al. But an academic analysis of scatology and sacrilege?

Oh, yes!

It's not for the squeamish, to be sure. It's stunning, in both the best and worst senses of the word, throughout. But the fecal and penile humor, mixed with blasphemy, is only half the story.

What we have here is an outstanding structural analysis of how Yummy Fur, the mini-comic, turned into the serial comic, which eventually turned into the graphic novel (there's that "n" word, screaming for legitimacy!) Ed the Happy Clown, not by accretion, but by a process of elimination, one that I won't elucidate here, but one that Evenson delineates with such precision that it seems to be statistically perfect, yet without any numbers other than page numbers and panels.

Furthermore, there is a brilliant Marxist analysis of how the means of production, including format, deadlines, etc., informed Chester Brown's decisions regarding what should be cut, kept, or added to as the comic progressed through its various forms and as Brown himself moved from a hobbyist to a professional comic artist. The beauty of it is that, unlike most Marxist analyses of literature, the analysis does not draw attention to itself and avoids all the hackneyed Marxist terminology that, frankly, bores me to tears.

This really is a groundbreaking book.

The more I think about it, the more inadequate I feel to rise to the challenge of the invitation the publishers gave me. This type of work would take me years, though I suspect it took Brian a matter of months. He's just that smart. I'm not. I have to work a lot harder to sound as intelligent as Brian Evenson.

I best get to work!

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