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.
Sold three books.
A correspondent/pal from Comics Journal Message Board Days (I have two or three remaining) went for a “Pirates and Mouse,” “I Will Keep You Alive,” “Goshkin At Large” package.
In other news…
1.) My latest piece at tcj.com (“No Other Person Doing”), about the outsider artist/
caroonist Charles Williams, received zero comments there, a single “Like,” when linked to at FB, and two e-mailed reactions. One, while complimentary, (“Amazing Piece of Writing,” “quite an Achievement in the Mastery of Literary Illusion” did devolve into remarks (“Creepy Joe Biden” and “drug-filled orgies”) which might have troubled a recipient not accustomed to their author’s style and mindset. But the second (“Beautiful” “thank you for writing this”), from an artist whose work and writing I admire, left me unconflictedly comforted.
But still, four responses in toto? Questions of going-on, echoing Beckettishly, persist.
2.) Line-editing (See previous “Adventure”) goes well. (We are up to 1974. Forty-five years remain.) I learn from what I read. As I edit with an eye on what the author desires, as opposed to what I might, I learn from that too.
My most recent article is up at http://www.tcj.com/no-other-person-doing/
The archaeologists, in pith helmets and multi-pocketed khaki shorts, stood around the dig, decrying the spoilage of the earth represented by the clutch of rusted hub caps – Ford and Chevy mostly – they had unearthed.
“But how do you know,” Goshkin asked, “they aren’t meant to be here and, if left undisturbed, might not metamorphosize into something that will reward future generations enormously?”
The crew regarded him skeptically
“Is it any more unlikely,” he said, “than some cell or piece of cell, arising on a ball of fire in the cosmos, leading to us standing here now?”
Or so Goshkin dreamed the night after Charles Williams’s Cosmic Giggles arrived for his review.
Day residue, he presumed. Not a visitation.
But gave a “Cheesesteak” away.
Some years – 10? More? – I had a piece accepted by two women who were putting together a collection of memories about Atlantic City. Publishing didn’t happen and publishing didn’t happen and I stopped hearing from the women?
Until a week ago, when I got an e-mail from another woman saying publication of the collection was imminent and would I (a) submit a Contributor’s Note (b) forward a photo and © sign the attached rudimentary contract, acknowledging I would receive no compensation.
I did not mind not receiving compensation, but I was curious how many contributor’s copies I would receive. Oh, the woman e-mailed me back, we don’t know if the publisher will give us any copies for contributors.
I don’t mean to be a dickhead, I said, but I’ve been in a number of anthologies, some of them hardbound, and I’ve always gotten a copy. So if I don’t get one, you can’t use my piece.
We really want to include piece, the woman said. So if the publisher won’t give us extras, I’ll buy one and send it to you.
Then she checked my web site and said she would even buy some of my books herself.
So I sent her a “Cheesesteak.”
Feeling like a dickhead.
In other news…
1.) Remember that woman who asked me to review her Christmas book, even though she’d made me buy it by refusing a swap for – forget her buying – one of mine? Well, I gave her five stars and several sentences at Amazon. “THANK YOU!!! she said.
So we’re still pals.
2.) I had sent another “Cheesesteak” to a fellow with whom I’d entered e-mail correspondence over a different matter entirely. He turned out to be writing a memoir, of which he sent me a chapter. So I reacted as I usually do when someone sends me something – asked or not, welcome or not – and critiqued it, sentence-by-sentence, word-by-word. Some people thank me. Some ignore me. (And God knows what they think.) This fellow sent another chapter. So I did it again.
He offered “compensation” if I’d do the rest. We reached a deal. Below-market-rate – everybody happy. I like doing this. Plus, his book is about a niche world in which I have an interest, and he has a knowledge that few others do, and there is a likelihood his book will have significance within this world. (Plus no one is knocking on my door for a chance to read about my year in VISTA.) I feel lucky to have connected with him and he feels lucky to have connected to me.
The world spins in weird and whacky ways, I said.
1. Drndic. “Belladonna.” Had been wow-ed by “EEG” (See “Last” vi), so tried this. Also a “Wow!” – and a challenge. If you feel up to either, try this first.
2. Houllebecq. “Submission.” Someone seems to have been de-acquisitioning their Houllebecq holdings on the “Free Books” shelves at the café, for this one is the third I picked up there. Funnier than his others.
3. Meltzer. “LA is the Capitol of Kansas.” Meltzer can write like a fireball, but these seem a collection of quickly tossed off pieces that rarely burn bright.
4. Lepore. “These Truths.” A history of America unlike the one taught me 60-70 years ago. I learned some stuff, but I couldn’t help thinking that, 60 or 70 years from now they’ll probably be teaching a different one than this.
5. Dalachinsky. “The Final Note.” Decided I ought to learn to enjoy poetry and I’d liked what I’d heard him read on KCSM, so I tried this. The idea seemed good. He wrote a poem every evening he listened to a jazz musician play during a 20-year period, but there was nothing I could see in any poem that differentiated any evening. He could have written them all one night on a Nedick’s napkin as far as I could tell.
6. Tyler. “Redhead By the Side of the Road.” A gift to Adele from her sister. Anne Tyler is always fun – but Anne Tyler’s books are always the same. Nothing wrong with that, I guess, as a writer pal once told me, “if you want a career.”
7. McCarthy. “Suttree” (Third time). Since I’d read “Blood Meridian” for a second… Never read a novel with so many (English) words I didn’t know the meaning of – and didn’t mind at all. Would love to know the autobiographical facts around this one. McCarthy must have lived it – or damn close to it, but he keeps his mouth closed in the aricles I could find. Anyway, terrific.
8. “Six Macedonian Poets.” I had liked one (Gziezel, I think) quoted by Drndic in her novel – but ion this collection I liked Ivanovick more.
9. Faulkner. “Absalom, Absalom.” An amazing book – which, I imagine, could not be taught – and maybe not published – maybe even not written today. (A century from now will they be re-discovering white, male, racist writers and deciding their work has been unfairly overlooked?) Faulkner hides these, almost soap-operish plots, in smoke and dazzle and magic, as you gape in wonder.
10. Kerouac. “Big Sur.” An sad story by an ultimately sad man, who can’t help himself, and who is surrounded by people who can’t either. But he delivers wonder. How can one going mad take notes on and/or recall that madness so adeptly?
Just yesterday, I said I had three short pieces in the pipe line at First of the Month.
Here’s the first: https://www.firstofthemonth.org/we-are-all-one/#more-11284
Normally, I’d quote the first paragraph as a tease, but I’ve been reading Faulkner, and it’s all one sentence, so here’s a snippet:
FB put me in touch with a “Friend” whom I had last seen – or, maybe next-to-last – at “Lorna’s” in the mid-‘60s, when I was at Penn Law – or maybe it was “Frnak’s” – hanging with Max Garden and that crowd, and when I “shared” a post from this fellow in praise of “Cheesesteak,” the brother of a deceased UG cartoonist/tattooist, whom I’d written about a decade ago, said he believed – correctly, it turned out – that his father-in-law had dated the “friend”’s mother