Readers Respond

“I finished ‘The Schiz.’ I hope the characters weren’t based on real people.”
A fellow at the café.
“Terrific. I think it would make a great graphic novel.”
My good friend Budd.

I tend to evaluate how people respond to my writings. I know this is not fair. I understand it’s hard to come up with responses that satisfy creators. I fuss and fret over responses myself. (Still I noted the café fellow said absolutely nothing which revealed what he thought of my book, and graded him downward accordingly.)

Budd’s response recalled to me that decades earlier, to perhaps the first draft of “The Schiz,” Max Garden, (See “Cheesesteak” p. 14 et seq.) said it reminded him of a comic book. He meant this as a compliment, but I felt my seriousness of purpose and complexity of thought dissed. So while I reacted more dispassionately to Budd’s assessment which, after all had praised the book directly, I noted his implication that it would be better as something else.

Then, later that day, Adele’s brother Gordie called. “The macabre and grotesque scenes and characters,” he said, “reminded me of those EC comics you showed Ken and Joey (His children) the first time we visited. It was like you’d created comic art in words.” Though Gordie, like Max and Budd, had connected “The Schiz” to comics, his comment alone unqualifiedly warmed me.

First was his utilization of the words “grotesque” and “macabre.” Though at first glance denoting less stars than “great” or “terrific,” he had individualized his response, narrowed it and sharpened it in a way to fit my book specifically and, at the same time, linked it to a recognized literary tradition. Flannery O’Connor, Mary Shelley, Poe. (In fact, Wikipedia says, no less than Thomas Mann called the grotesque the “genuine antibourgeoise style.”

Plus, Gordie was saying “The Schiz” satisfied as itself. It was not the equivalent of a comic. It need not become one. It had only incorporated elements of comics, as artists incorporate elements of whatever they come across and are nourished by. And I and loved the idea of having EC as one of my literary influences. At various times, I had heard — and welcomed — “Ernest Hemingway” and “Raymond Chandler” and “Nathanel West”; but EC, which had fallen upon me years before any of these eminent others, had never been cited to or accepted by me, and it suddenly seemed right and simply nice to welcome it aboard and not standing on the pier as I sailed away.