Death of the author, say the students of the Big D, it’s the text, stay with the text … yet in my experience, all too often, the text is abandoned along with the author. Instead, the eager young scholar is distracted by the cultural gestalt, a mélange of multiple derivatives, the shared “is” that “everyone knows.” The sizzle that sold once and can be referenced as having sold, in order to hawk its echo. Worse, instead of critiquing it, they adopt it, so that all the verbiage and Foucaltian Hegelian Derridan whatnot add up to nothing more than its own consumerized and recondite fandom, in which academic employment and careerism have replaced anything resembling inquiry.
Ha! I managed to utilize the characteristic prose of said academic movement and spoof it at the same time. That’s a bucket list moment.
Anyway, I have a thing on my shelves which is perhaps the sole example I can find of pure text, a genuine “thing” which defies all probability in never having been picked up as product, never having achieved cool-points for anyone in fandom, and never being referenced anywhere else in line with either profit or status. I say it’s unlikely, vanishingly so, because of the creators in question are none other than Roger Zelazny and Vaughn Bode, which right there ought to catapult it to the top of SF-comics-pop recognition.
There’s not much to the story: some time Zelazny had a couple of kids’ stories in hand, or maybe some ideas for them, and Bode illustrated them, or began to, in whatever asynchrony or tandem with their final text forms, I dunno. “Kids’ stories! I have’em, you draw’em.” You can read here the bit of information (in Italian) as to why they remained unpublished, except for initial release at a science fiction convention in 1969.
In the early 90s, Bode’s work was resurrected in multiple collections, most of which I have, and I bet I wasn’t alone in my astonishment that any such thing as this collaboration could have remained obscure. And yet, its new release is surprisingly limited and over-precious. It’s not Fantagraphics, it’s some odd little obscure publishing house, and it’s all of one thousand copies, of which mine is #519.
Wait, did you read that correctly? Did I write it correctly? Yes: one thousand copies, that’s it, released, sold, done, nevermore. I mean, as opposed to being in constant print on both SF and kids’ shelves in worldwide distribution, evergreen. Or cited in any mention of either creator, casually dropped as often as “creator of the Amber series” when discussing Zelazny in any unrelated context whatsoever.
Should I try a little more of that Big D Talk for a moment? Consider maybe that both creators’ bodies of work are significantly obscured by their gestalt-type, cultural, “everyone knows” identities in pop culture. Zelazny: Amber, Amber, Amber, so great, wonderful, the best, yes, beyond that, aspiring to the SF fan’s ultimate ideal to be actually cool, to the extent that I can’t even hint at the fact that the first series is only good in spots because it lifts from the much better Lord of Light, and the second series is very bad and obviously fanfic based on playing the role-playing game, lightly converted to prose by someone who might not even be him. Never mind his really good work like Creatures of Light and Darkness, or Doorways in the Sand.
Similarly but opposite: Bode as the linchpin of pop/fun fantasy illustration, obvious inspiration for a whole generation of artists and yet unmentioned and unknown by the next, despite his undeniable presence across thousands of works. Maybe his unseemly death, maybe the mid-70s door-slam between underground and hip, who knows what, but for whatever reason, at a crucial moment when celebrity status in pop fandom actually became a possible career, it was not worth any status points to mention his name. Utter presence and almost complete silence – when I find myself obliged to explain who he was to brilliant artists whose every line sings his influence, and they say “Wizards,” “Elfquest,” “What’s New with Phil & Dixie,” “SnarfQuest.”
That’s weird: two kinds of Telephone game in pop culture, one that creates a false source overlaid on the actual one, and one that renders the source invisible.
So I’m looking at these two nicely-printed, hardbound volumes in their high-end slipcover case, which represent the intersection of real work, itself defying every step in each of those games. It’s the opposite of a stand alone complex, whatever the name for that might be. Thing, perhaps? Actual, real thing?
… which is also a strange opportunity to see if I think some … Thing, Actual Thing … is good, or more casually, whether I like it – completely absent any consequence concerning how cool, how right, how appropriate that viewpoint will be, and most significantly, how it will play in terms of social group and audience.
You should try that. Find a “pop art” Thing which, by variables you care about, has weight and consequence and interest, but which pop culture not only has bypassed, but now lacks the tools or reference points to direct interest toward it.
Do you like it? Why? Can you talk about it on, say, social media which may be dedicated to one or more of the relevant variables? Why or why not? Can you anticipate the automatic phrases that would ensue if you did (“never heard of it” first among them)?
Try it here.
Links: The Comics and Art of James V. West (my pick for today’s heir to Bode)
Posted on August 20, 2018, in Gnawing entrails and tagged deconstruction, Here Be Dragons, Roger Zelazny, stand alone complex, Telephone, Vaughn Bode, Way Up High. Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.