So I’m sitting in the Haunted Bookshop writing this, and Michael Chabon, who wrote The Amazing Adventures of Cavelier and Clay was just standing right behind me, lookingÂ through the Literary Biography section.Â We had, of course, been talking about him not half an hour before.
This is, like, the third most surprising thing that’s happened to me today.Â It’s been a weird day. I won’t even tell you guys about the thing with the cow.
Fittingly, this is one strange book.
Is it comics?Â Is it not comics?
I dunno.Â I’ve seen reviews in both comic and art related contexts.Â And it did make Dick Hyacinth’s best comic of the year meta-list, charting in at # 60, between Army@Love and Joe Matt’s Spent.
(My favorite road-related joke “I need you to get in the car and get me right now! I’m at the corner of WALK and DON’T WALK.”)
There’s a couple different ways of looking at Elvis Road. It’s a 23 page hardcover, longer than it is wide.Â Closer in shape to a Garfield cartoon collection than a traditional comic book, although the pages are quite a bit bigger.
It’s also one panel. One panel that takes up 23 pages.
The pages unspindle (or, in my case, spill into my lap) and unfold, so that if you have sufficient space, you can actually read the book as one continuous panel.
Here’s a picture, un-accordioned.Â (With cat for scale.)
The title is basically truthful. The book is a drawing of a road.Â Specifically, a road that zigs and jags through a fantastic suburban metropolis, with a staggering variety of fantastic vehicles and pedestrians running up and down, across, under, and above it. Â Including: li’lblack blobs, fairies, gay cowboys, floods of molases, nazis, religious icons, livestock on wheels, superheroes, Nancy(s?) and Sluggo(s?), (I *think* there was more than one of each), tanks, dudes with bear heads, brains falling from the sky, robots, impossibly large eyed ice cream vendors being trailed by hundreds of eager children, a fish eating another fish who’s guts are falling out, and they’re shaped like more fish and Marvel’s AVENGERS hanging out on the very first page.Â There are signs everywhere you look, vying for the attention of the motorists Some are in Dutch (I think) – WURKCLUB – some in French – BOUCHERIE and some many in English, -ULTRA HARDCORE TEA-ROOM.Â Above the road zoom aÂ plethora of planes, dirigibles, giant locusts, and flying dog-head shaped gun boats, andsquids tugboats, memen, Chinese dragons, and sea-captains that pass under it…
And, basically, everything is in the process of going to hell, sans handbasket. Â If a vehicle isn’t being set on fire, it’s probably just collided with another vehicle and bend into a sad letter C shape.Â Or it’s exploding, or getting shot from the air, or getting smushed by a trememdous flaming meteor.Â There’s STUFF happening everywhere, and most of it is violent. Â And the road is packed.Â Taking in one individual “page” is a five or ten minute undertaking. The Gingkopress website counts 8,433 characters and 3,546 vehicles -Â But I’d think an accurate count would be beyond the means of any sane human.Â There’s too much… everything, really, to take in.
(Incidentally: Most online vendors, like the folks above, want 30 bucks, but I got it through my comic shop for 25.)
There’s no real narrative here. There’s no dialog, no sequence of time. Stuff is happening everywhere, but we never learn whatÂ happens next. The road begins with a toll-booth and ends with the entrance to the Disneyworld-esque Cute Land, where patrons theirÂ expressions modulating between anger and fear, are hugged by as vapidly grinning anthropomorphic bunnies who’s heads reach JUST to crotch levels, and the wide eyed and clown nosed Cute Police whale on already unconscious guests with billy clubs.Â So there’s a beginning and an ending, sorta, but no real narrative linking them together.
(Although Jog, reasonably, thinks the gigantic, Jesus figure strolling past Horus in a hat, a woman having sex with a panda, and a Priest and a Rabbi (who’s star of David is part swastika) deep in negotiation for a worried looking child on the second to last page constitutes a climax of sorts.)
‘Bout halfway down the road (I think) we find Elvis, balding, bobble-headed, looking slightly maniacal and already fading into intangibility driving a big ‘ol Cadillac, unscathed by the madness around him.
Although we’ve learned that one single person can find Elvis only once, and once you’ve found him you’ll never see him again – Unless you can get someone else to find him for you.
That’s just how it is.
Jog provides some background details. Apparently the book was drawn on a large roll of paper with no set length in mind, it’s two Swiss creators Helge Reumann and Xavier Robel working on it a little bit each day when they found the time, thus given the whole thing a free-wheeling, improvisatory, Calvin’s (of “and Hobbes”) fever dream feel. The art is neo-primitive, strangely two-dimensional, and a decent minority of it seems to be drawn in untouched pencil. Even if it wasn’t a huge 24 foot long panel, it would STILL be a unique piece of comic art.
There are a few unified themes. If I HAD to pigeonhole this book as being “about” something, I’d say it was the tension between “cute” and “violent.”Â But, really, the book is just too disparate and too dense to be viewed as any sorta literary work.Â It is, Popeye-like, what it is.
Here’s all 30 feet of the thing…
And front view, as much as we could get in the camera:
(With Kurt for scale.)
All of this leads to the question: What, exactly, do you DO with the thing?Â You can wind it up and flip through the pages, but with no story, you don’t read it, like a novel or a comic.
Well, you play with it.
Flip through the pages in book form and unfold them and see if they fit around your house. Or, y’know,Â stand it up next to the cat and take funny pictures.Â (Although in the above case the cat appeared via happy accident.)Â It needs to be approached with an open mind and a taste for discovery.Â Â The pure scope and density of the project means that everybody who interacts with it will come away with a unique experience-Â It’s many different things to many different people.Â Which means that, unlike most comicsÂ Elvis Road works best as a social experience – I unfurled it in a public place just to get people’s reactions.Â Comparison’s flew fast and furious: “Gary Panter” “Guernica.” “Brian Chippendale meets Hieronymus Bosch sorta-thing.” Although probably the most useful comparison (made my Daneille Leigh, among others)Â is “Where’s Wald.”Â You just hunker down and LOOK, note cool and funny stuff, try to find inter-relationships and recurring themes -Â PLAY.
It’s pretty much impossible to go recommended/not-recommended here.Â As a comic… Well, it totally fails.Â As an art object/social experiment/medium for play it works really well, although it does seem to invite absurd coincidences and odd synchronicities, possibly involving famous authors and cows.
You’ve been warned.
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