The Perks Of Being A Little Fish

…I mean, holy shit, who ever knew there were any? But occasionally for some strange reason, somebody asks me to review something, and it’s something I probably wouldn’t’ve seen any other way. First, way back in the first round of the Spring Reviews, it was a little thing called Let’s Go To Utah, a pen-and-ink labour of love about a character we’ve probably all met at some time or another, meeting a character we’ve probably all been at some time or another…

…And then it was a delightfully lurid do-it-yourself Heavy Metal mash-up, and that was something called Robotika

…And now it’s Let’s Go To Utah again, just completed and available in 262 pages of handy and glorious PRINT from a website to be named in just a moment…

But first: the reviewing.

One thing both these books have in common, mind you, is probably the same thing that somehow draws them to my door: to wit, that they have a strong component of naivete I can’t help but admire. I like to say that in this world, only hacks and geniuses can do it for the money; so the rest of us must find some other, better reason to risk a bellyflop, because hey. Let’s face it.

Geniuses we ain’t.

But if genius was the only thing that was ever on offer, a reader like me would get bored pretty quick of all the damn brilliance, and besides there’s a couple of achievements geniuses are barred from, and those achievements aren’t small ones. In Robotika, the achievement is feeling, and energy: that all that those long shots and close-ups and artful frames are grappling with, and trying to capture. One feels involved with the urgency of the creative act, the assault on the learning curve, the special talents that are only really right there in your face while the artist is still being born. See that stuff early on, before it’s subsumed into repertoire, before it’s turned into just another colour on Mastery’s palette…and, well, you’ve seen something rather special, and rather important too.

Which is why I’m sort of a lousy reviewer, actually: because I won’t care about the occasional infelicity, so long as I get to see that early-advent stuff. I like it so much, you see. I’m a sucker for it.

Well…but…

Maybe that’s another part of the perks, of being such a little fish: I get to be that sucker.

However I don’t just want to be a sucker, but I want to expose my suckitude a little bit, too, let it breathe a bit. There’s no point ignoring the naivete that animates Let’s Go To Utah, for example, especially when that naivete’s so thoroughly woven into the story itself. And since it’s so great a part of the thing’s charm, it must be there for a reason — structurally, the naivete of the artist’s observations is perhaps as essential as only a naive observation can be, and the naivete of the protagonist merely reflects that. Dave Chisholm the character is obviously a stand-in for Dave Chisholm the artist — or, naturally, they would not share the same name! — but it’s not Rick Veitch we’re reading here, and none of this should be read as though it was as artistically-controlled as an experienced talent like Veitch would make it. It’s rawer than that: more purely emergent, a bucking bronco, a story personal as only a young guy starting out can make a personal story. Mr. Chisholm does indeed show us a very sharp quality of observation, but it hasn’t been tamed, and it hasn’t been trained…hasn’t been honed, because it’s not yet had the opportunity to grow dull from use. So I wonder if he’ll say he planned the thing that I noticed most of all about Utah, having finally read the whole thing straight through.

What I noticed — and I think this may be important — is that the character Leif is just about perfect, precisely because he is so massively full of shit. This is something you couldn’t miss, if a more experienced and honed talent was slicing it all up: they’d absolutely foreground the thing for you. But then, I think, some of the magic might be lost: because what’s acute about these observations is that Leif might be this, or he might be that…he might be crazy, he might be touched by the hand of fate, or he might just be really, really stupid…but whatever he is, we’re sure not told what he is, and the mystique that wraps him is therefore much more part of the everyday, much more part of something a person might really observe in the real world, than it would be if Alan Moore got his hands on it, or something. I’ve known guys like Leif my whole life: guys who shinny up drainpipes at parties so they can come in through the window instead of the door just because, guys whose cars explode with them inside and yet they somehow stay miraculously untouched, and laugh their heads off about it while waiting for the ambulance… Guys who make up bullshit Laws, and believe in bullshit Honour, and as a result basically sleep in beds made of wet dynamite every night…oh yeah, I know Leif. I’ve met him many times.

He’s a fascinating character.

But only in the real world. In fiction, he’s generally the world’s biggest bore, he’s absolutely the bluntest object a writer can wield against a reader; in fiction he’s just a superman, he’s just dangerous, and there’s nothing really to say about him except that he makes things happen to the protagonist’s worldview.

What my friend Mr. Chisholm does with him in Utah, however, isn’t like that. It may superficially be like that, but deep down it’s not superficial at…all

HA!

Hey, that was fun. But I hope I can make a point out of it, that a person could take without wincing: which is that this Leif is just as fascinating as the real Leifs of this world — why, he even has the same damn name as them! — because he’s no more authorially foredoomed than he is authorially transcendent, he’s neither real nor false, he’s just that kind of guy, amplified somewhat but still authentically observed. He’s a self-taught fool with self-made, kind of jury-rigged, human credentials…and far from being an angel or a demon, he’s an innocent instead. An explosive and violent and even murderous innocent, sure, but nevertheless…

I mean who but an innocent plays Charles Manson songs while driving through a thunderstorm, and then tries to turn the experience into some kind of Meaning Of Life?

If you’ve ever known a Leif in real life, though, you know that’s what they’re always trying to do: make meaning out of any goddamn dumb thing that happens to them. But they never can, and that’s where the contrast comes in. Because Dave isn’t an innocent, though he does look like one at first; but it’s Dave’s story, and it’s narrated by Dave, and all the achievements are Dave’s, and all the hopes and fears and judgements are Dave’s. All the marks of consequences light on Dave, and Dave’s the only one who ever finds anything out, in this story. So Leif’s just a bit player, when it comes to meaning. The contrast isn’t that he represents something that’s in Dave, the contrast isn’t that he’s Dave’s mildly Satanic teacher…because what Dave learns from Leif, he learns on his own, and not because it’s being taught, because Leif…

Leif

Leif may have something he thinks he could tell the world, teach the world, show the world…if he wanted to, or if the world would listen…but he doesn’t, really. Honestly, I tell you, I know what this guy’s favourite TV show was, growing up. I know what he did after high school. I KNOW THIS GUY. He doesn’t have a message, unless the message is “sometimes a person’s just born into a world of shit, and one pile of shit’s the same as the next after you’ve seen enough of ’em”. He’s no guru. He isn’t even a nihilist. He isn’t important, and that’s the curse of his life.

Until Dave comes along, right?

This is all through the book. Leif talks gigantic amounts of purely ridiculous self-aggrandizing shit, all the time; and it’s only Dave’s dream that makes it all stand for something. Very astute stuff, from Mr. Chisholm! Alan Moore couldn’t’a done it better, and he probably would’ve done it worse…even though you know he’s met his Leifs, too. But, he treats them differently, and that makes all the…

The…

HA!

And just as in Robotika, things turn around but FAST in this story, and if the observations are naive then the turnarounds are not: you can’t get bored, because the way the thing is crafted boredom is not an option. Anyone, I hope, can see there’s a mighty amount of craft in here — and I covered most of this in my last review of Utah, so I won’t repeat it except to say that I almost felt the India ink coming for me right through the screen as I read the scans…I looked down at my mouse-hand expecting to see it blotchy from the pages. It’s like that, Bloggers. It’s a bit of form suited to function, and after all isn’t that my point? That the story crept up out of Mr. Chisholm’s subconscious exactly as the dream crept up out of Dave’s, and the two are one, and the one is more revealing and self-knowing than it would be in the hands of an expert, and that’s where its unique value is situated? Although I suppose I am trying to, I am using this review as an excuse to, advance my pet theory about the value of naive observation: that the younger you are, the more trustworthy a describer of what you see you are, and therefore that description sometimes has something like a life of its own. And that’s just what comes out of the Hippocrene, you know: the Fountain Of Youth, am I right? Easy enough for the old and calcified to spin ideas about at a distance like plates, make great juxtapositions, reify known symbols and arrive at intriguing conclusions much as a fire-swallower does…but to the child it’s always that plate, that plate, that spinning pattern at the edge of that milk-like plate, hey what the fuck is that, anyway…? …That spins up so hard it fills your field of vision, and then you put yourself into it because you haven’t got any more “advanced” ideas about how to react. See, the old are very good at seeing the big picture, and the young are good at missing the forest for the trees — I can prove this scientifically by the way, I really can! — so the young are always pining for those grippingly cohesive stories that the old find so easy to toss in the trash six times a day…and the old are always regretting that they can no longer observe as electrically as they once did, and so every once in a while they toss out what could remind them how to…

A bitter pill!

But thankfully the draught of the Hippocrene dissolves it before it hits the stomach, and thank goodness for that…and thank goodness for me, that I occasionally get to read something very tightly-observed, with all its natural ellipses and resonances preserved, in a story somebody was desperate to grab onto somehow, and then they did…

…And turned it into something very like a dream…

Except it wasn’t a dream, was it?

Or at any rate not exactly.

So anyway, that’s what inspiration’s for, when you get a bit older. Just thought you all might like to know. It’s for getting back to this, and using it to refresh all your so-called brilliant ideas…unless of course you happen to be a genius or a hack, in which case you don’t need any Hippocrene one way or the other, because in the one way you’re assumed to have already drunk your fill, and in the other way it’s assumed you think the Hippocrene is a sports stadium. Still, neither angelic genius nor devilish hackery can bring the same sort of goods to the table as average limited human art-attracted striving can, and so if Robotika was all about feeling and energy, then we probably ought to be wondering: what’s Let’s Go To Utah about? Well, at the risk of sounding like I am reviewing Alan Moore or Rick Veitch, I think I should say it’s all about that old standard tune, so familiar by now: “the stories that we tell ourselves.”

Like any road story, I suppose. Except it gets a bit out of control, and that’s where the novelty lies!

Dude, I’m telling you!

It’s kind of all mixed up!

Not genius; neither hackery. And I liked it: so it’s as simple as that, and it doesn’t really have to be any more complicated. Because every story tells something about the person who made it up, and I think that’s where the fun resides, don’t you? Because we’re just little fish, but pound for pound we can breathe as deep as the big guys, can’t we?

Well, shit yeah we can. I know a couple of geniuses, and I know a couple of hacks, and each of these owns a species of brilliance that’s all their own…but in the middle, between heaven and hell, there’s…

Well. You know.

Robotika is available from Archaia; Utah is available here. I’m gonna buy a copy myself, as a matter of fact. But no pressure.  After all, maybe you won’t like it.

But I liked it.  And isn’t that information really what a person looks for, in a review?

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7 responses to “The Perks Of Being A Little Fish

  1. thanks, man!
    yeah, dude, leif is totally full of shit, in the funnest way possible. was it ALWAYS planned that way??? i dunno…leif is based on a friend of mine who is nicknamed (maybe self-applied?) ‘leif the lucky.’
    haha your reviews make my work sound smarter than it is!
    :-D

    • yeah, man!

      this one???

      here’s some stuff you should check out, too:


      i’m working on coloring these. should get them finished by the end of the week!

      thanks again, man!

  2. >>But I liked it. And isn’t that information really what a person looks for, in a review?<<

    Yeah, I think so — though I've also noticed that critics who post BAD reviews tend to attract many, many more comments than those who post GOOD reviews. Some people just can't resist a good fight, I guess. :-)

  3. A bit long-winded?

    You’re too kind, Leif: it was fatiguingly long-winded, overly-precious, trying too hard…all that stuff. If this wasn’t just a blog, I’d probably be mortified.

    Thanks for reading, though! Wow, a pleasure to have you.

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