Boring: by Zach Plague, 290 pgs.,$14.95 By Keith

Aug 21, 2008

Man, there is no way I’m gonna get this right. I’m just not sure if I’ve got the ability to convey what author/designer Zach Plague’s done with this book, in both a literary and visual sense. I’ll start with this: Boring is one of the most challenging books I’ve ever read. As a design nerd, it’s also one of the most graphically stunning books I’ve ever seen; and as a reader, it’s a loose-knit novel that more than once had me laughing out loud.
Okay, I’m not sure if Plague would agree with me here, but the actual “plot” of Boring is so secondary to the book as a whole, to both its graphic elements and knife-sharp satire, that it’s best to just breeze through it so we can get on to more important things.
So, the plot: uh, there’s a mysterious journal called the “gray papers” that the main character, Ollister, wrote while he was going out with his ex, Adelaide. Turns out the “gray papers” are now actually in her possession and the overlord of the town’s art world, The Platypus, needs possession of the papers. It’s never quite explained why, though presumably, the papers are needed to destroy Ollister, who as “king of the art scene,” is The Platypus’s nemesis. In a nutshell, that’s it. Everyone wants the “gray papers.”
Yeah, I know, sounds dumb. And for the most part, it is. Luckily for all of us, the plot really isn’t the point here; Boring serves mostly as a backdrop for Plague to deliciously mock art education, art school kids, art parties, art movements, and the seeming futility of being an artist at all. This is done through scenes with Ollister and Adelaide as well as a host of other minor—and generally way more entertaining—characters. There’s Punk, a dirtbag who’s gotten hold of a “sex drug” that smells like lemons and makes him want to fuck everything in sight. There’re the preppy kids Miriam, Graham, and Dolores, and the creepy heartthrob Silas, who drives around in the VirginVan and films various girls getting deflowered in the back so he can post it on the internet. There’re Adelaide’s art school friends Zella and Matilda, who bounce back and forth between sleeping with Punk, and an entire group of art school burnouts that’ve formed an Art Terrorism group that’s ultimately aimed at fucking up the Platypus and the Art World in general, though they can never quite come to an agreement as to how they’re specifically going to do that.
Again, it may come across as convoluted, but the plot, like I said, really isn’t the point here. The inherent fun in this book is watching the plethora of characters in Boring pinballing in and out of each others’ lives amidst oodles of sex, drugs, and crappy parties, watching their actions and listening to them speak. Plague’s got an ear for dialogue that rings so true and hilariously cutting—some of the best writing in the book is just the characters speaking to each other.
As someone who’s gone to art school and spent years immersed in the cultural inanity that makes up an arts education, I can totally recognize that Plague has lampooned the art world with the precision of a fucking laser. He absolutely knows this stuff inside and out; there were sections of the book that absolutely had me laughing out loud, and that’s because I’ve been where Plague’s been and it’s obvious that he’s having a blast tearing down the foundations of this particular house.
The other element that needs mentioning is that Boring is as much a design project as it is a novel. Each character’s name, every time it’s written, is used in a particular font. Plague also uses italics and bolds repeatedly to stress certain words. So you can literally have three or four different typefaces being used in one sentence—it was bothersome until I actually got involved in the story. I’m now of the opinion that these elements, coupled with the downright stunning typesetting that’s used to begin each chapter, actually do add to overall feel of the book, rather than detract from it. Were Boring to be printed in a “straight” typeset manner, it just wouldn’t be the same.
Fuck—I’m really struggling to convey just how broad the scope of a project like this is, and just how well Plague’s succeeded with it. Consider that my failing, not his. This is one of those rare occasions where I wish I could include a photo or two to accompany this review. Instead, I’ll just say: Go to the website, check it out. Go to a bookstore, a library, somewhere. Find this book. Pick it up, pore through it. Look at it.
Half novel, half art-damage/design fuckery, and for the most part, all around awesome. –Keith Rosson (Featherproof Books, 2725 N Troy Ave., Chicago, IL 60647,