Is Jon Krakauer looking for a new book?
Yesterday Artie came down from Napa and I ventured out to lunch at the cafe — outdoors, masked mostly. Arrived 12:30; closed the joint at 2:00 p.m. My social debut in post-Covid reality, Artie a veteran of several combat tours.
He was impressed by three things: (1) how you could get a good sandwich — turkey with the works on jalapeno bagel — for under $20 ($8.75, avocado extra); (2) how quiet and traffic-free Berkeley was compared to wine country; (3) how friendly the staff (Nathalie and Augustine) were. (When I passed along the compliment this morning, Jose said, “Good thing I wasn’t working.”)
I said hello to seven people I hadn’t seen in over a year (plumber, blues harmonicist, widow of former suitemate, retired MSW, his wife, anaesthesiologist, his wife (a nurse) and remembered the names of five of them.
My (“RARE”) red snakeskin Tony Lama’s (See blog of April 3) debuted and were lavishly praised (plumber).
No books sold.
But sent a Goshkin to a high school classmate in France, who offered to cover postage. Swapped another to a cartoonist in Massachusetts for a collection of his strips. And swapped an IWKYA to a cartoonist in Seattle for a book of hers.
I also set up in the café for a first time in over a year. Was there for over an hour, my books, my sign, a bottle of hand sanitizer, but no one stopped.
I’ll tell you, though, receiving my espresso from Jose in a ceramic cup, rather than a paper to-go one was enough to trigger a mini- bite-of-madeleine moment.
In other news…
1.) Received my annual-upon-request royalty statement from Fantagraphics. It showed (a) two e-books sold of Most Outrageous and (b) three e-books sold of Pirates and Mouse. This will keep me in espresso for nearly three days.
2.) I have transitioned from a period of how-did-I-get-myself-into-this-mess, through one of every-moment-is-rich-and-rewarding into one of what-the-Hell-will-I-do-next. The where-things-stand is: one article up at TCJ; one article up at FOM; one article completed and waiting to be sent to TCJ or FOM; one book-by-another fully edited, with follow-up work continuing; one article (challenging) not yet begun.
All Bob’s books are available at www.theboblevin.com.
My new piece is up at First of the Month:
When I put on my Keen sandals, I noticed a tear above the right big toe. When I took them off, I noticed a matching tear above the left. Just the month before I had worn flat the tread on my Day-Glo orange Merrills. My rule, even before I turned 79 and would seem guaranteed to be fading faster than my possessions, had been get rid of two; replace one.
I am not a sandal guy, really. I am not a lace-up shoe guy or a loafer guy and I have three pairs of sneakers (Okay, “Walking shoes”), and Carlos, the Guatamalan at Andronico’s fish counter, had, just that week, praised my “pre-owned” eel skin Montana-brand cowboy boots, the kind, based on two-seasons of Narcos viewing, I’d say nine out of ten Michoacan drug lords prefer. Since I had bought them on eBay, I returned to that bazaar, where, immediately, a pair of gold-and-black snake skin (“pre-owned”) Tony Lamas struck me. They were handsome, distinctive – certainly in Berkeley distinctive – and in the ballpark price-wise, though, with their back pressed against the centerfield wall.
My latest piece is up at http://www.tcj.com/the-personal-statement/
It begins like this:
There was this question of how I come up with the “off-the-beaten path” subjects I write about. The editor wondered if I would read a “major figure.” He wondered, for example, what I would make of John Porcellino. He thought my treatment of my major illness would interest me in Porcellino’s treatment of his, like we had pulled matching decoder rings out of the cosmic Cracker Jack box, enabling special understanding of one another.
When I put on my not-quite 8-year-old Keen sandals, I noticed a hole in the right toe. When I removed them an hour later, I noticed a hole in the left. You are entitled to a new pair of shoes, I told myself.
I am not a sandal guy really and I am not a lace-up shoe guy or a loafer guy and I have three pairs of sneakers (okay, walking shoes) and Carlos, the Guatamalan at Andronico’s fish counter, had wildly praised my “pre-owned” eelskin cowboy boots, purchased at eBay, so I decided to reshop that bazaar. Ostrich cowboy boots seemed plentiful and inexpensive, but I was struck by a pair of gold-and-black snakeskin (“pre-owned”), Tony Lamas, which, if in the ballpark, pricewise, had their back against the centerfield fence.
Also, my previous purchases at eBay (the skinned eels, a heavy bag which turned out to be a speed reflex bag, and a Harris tweed sportjacket from Latvia) had been a simple click-and-purchase. But now I was required to bid. So I offered one penny over the minimum and set back. The auction closes in three days and, so far, I am the only bidder but three people are “watching” so my confidence is shaky.
As back-up, I bid on ostriches too. (And one-minute later, I’d been overbid. By a buck.
In his recent memoir, a writer/friend tells of a 1982 visit he made with his wife to Berkeley from NYC. “We accompanied Will to the dump, had ice cream with our friends Bob and Adele Levin, did our laundry…” Damn, I thought, if that doesn’t fix my place in the literary firmament? Below the dump, but billed ahead of dirty laundry? If Ernest was recalling a catch-up pernod with Scott and Zelda, he would have featured them more prominently.
It did not help when the touted feature documentary about Dan O’Neill and The Air Pirates, for which I had been interviewed at length, aired only as a 15-minute You Tube video with me on the cutting room floor. If video cutters even have floors.
But I have had my moments. The brightest was an inquiry from a major East Coast publisher. Would I review an Afrofuturist graphic novel by a distinguished creator it was releasing. Now my knowledge of Afrofuturism stops at Sun Ra; of the (impressive) influences on this book the accompanying press release mentioned, I had first hand familiarity with 60 percent; of the (equally impressive) credits of the creator, half that. So, knowing what I knew, I would not have picked me as an obvious candidate to review this work. But I jumped from my socks at the chance. Surprisingly, the people who solicited me were excited too. They “grew up,” one said, reading “The Comics Journal” when my off beat pieces about off beat cartoonists regularly appeared there. I knew I had caught on with youngsters who had grown up to become off beat cartoonists themselves, but I had not considered some of these youngsters had grown up to work for major East Coast publishers.
I also received a request from the mother of one of these cartoonists, asking me to review a new novel by her. And, no doubt impressed by my recent credentializing in the NYT (See: “This Writing Life VI), a fellow in North Jersey, whose daughter is taking a course on UG/ALT comix has asked if he might suggest to her professor I Zoom lecture to it.
I said “Yes,” “Yes,” and “Yes”; but, as I told my friend Budd, “I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed.”
“Get past the overwhelmed,” he said, “and get to work!”
I have a new piece up at First of the Month
It begins like this: https://www.firstofthemonth.org/jonah/#more-11558
The first thing he said to me was how did I like the girl he had been with at the party, and I said, “Nice,” and the second thing he said was, “I ate her for the first time last night.”
I thought Jonah was an asshole and he – not to put too fine a spin on it – thought I – being a law student with a judge for a father – was, at best, a pussy and, at worst, a fag.
“It wasn’t what I was planning to have inscribed on my tombstone,” I said, “but I may have to go with what the universe has dealt me.”
“So how does it feel to be called ‘the underground-comics aficianado Bob Levin’?” my friend Marty had asked, referencing my designation in the NYT that morning, quoting me in its obit of the great cartoonist/artist S. Clay Wilson. “Note,” Marty’d gone on, “they said the, not an.”
Marty was not the first to have noted my celebrity. I had already heard from more people than usually acknowledge my blogs. The most surprising was a young fellow – well, not so young any more – I had not heard from in 45 years when a dog had bitten off a piece of his nose.
The Times’s pigeonhole coincided with me already stepping away from the path of my “own” books. I had accepted an invitation from the editor of the on-line Comics Journal to review Drawn and Quarterly’s publication of the collected King-Cat Comics, by John Porcelino, about which and whom I knew virtually nothing, and I had asked the same editor if I could review New York Review Classics publication of the collected “Trots and Bonnie,” by Shary Flenniken, about which and whom I knew somewhat more.
In responding, the editor let slip that I might hear from NYRC about its republishing my book about the Air Pirates, of which Flenniken had been a founding member. Now, this would be a kick – but I had heard the same thing several years ago – and not a word more – about NYRC republishing The Best Ride to New York after the Daily News had called that baby a “lost classic.” (“It’s not ‘lost,’” I’d said, “I have boxes in my basement.”)
Maybe they’ll go for a two-fer, I thought. Slip-cased. Or printed together, like those old sci-fi paperbacks. Read one; turn it over and upside-down; read the other. You can’t say I haven’t had an eclectic run.
For those who might be interested the Journal has posted my career-spanning (his) interview of Wilson here: http://www.tcj.com/the-s-clay-wilson-interview/
My latest mini- is up at First of the Month. You can read it here:
“Is that a fucking thumbtack?” Fritz said to the Skeleton-and-Roses poster behind me. Some of us regulars from the café were zooming. “It ought to be behind glass. In a vault.”
To illustrators, thumbtacks matter.
Someone had handed it to Adele on Haight Street and I had it up. Push-pin actually.
Three books sold.
The buyer of “The Pirates and the Mouse,” “Outlaws, Rebels…,” and “Most Outrageous” was a fellow in a small (pop. 40,000) town in Utah, where, I wouldn’t be surprised if, he was the only person to own any of them. When I asked what had led him to me and my books, he replied that he had recently become interested in underground comix, and had read me praised in an article by comics historian/scholar Dan Nadel.
Soon after this, I received an e-mail from an archivist in the mid-west, who, while sorting through the papers of the late below-the-UG cartoonist B.N. Duncan, had come across a booklet/zine about the equally sub-stratified Maxon Crumb, authored by Duncan and me. He wondered from when it dated.
I had profiled Duncan for “The Comics Journal,” and he, having arranged an interview of Maxon for the sidewalk outside Cody’s Books, on Telegraph, where Duncan regularly sold his self-published books but unsure if he could carry it off himself, invited me to join him. Our mostly-Duncan’s interview and my profile of Maxon appeared together in the “Journal.” Duncan photocopied and stapled together our combined pages and added the resultant booklet to his wares. “1999,” I said. (No, I did not receive royalties.)
The archivist went on to ask if I knew anyone who might be interested in seeing Duncan’s voluminous correspondence with Robert Crumb.
Indeed, I did, for Dan Nadel (See above) was engaged in writing Crumb’s bio. So when I thanked Dan for leading the fellow in Utah to me, I told him about the availability of this correspondence for which he thanked me.
It all comes around.
In other news…
1.) It does not directly concern me, but, in April, NYRB will be publishing a collection of Shary Flenniken’s “Trots and Bonnie.” When people are asked what strips they would most like to see collected, this is always among them, and Shary had previously, it seemed, resisted. I had interviewed her when I wrote my book on the Air Pirates, and she had seemed a delightful person and this seems a great – and well-deserved – honor. I’m hoping to review the book which does not yet seem available for ordering, but keep your eyes open for it.