Featured Book Reviews from Issue #84: Barfing up things of genuine oddness from time to time

Copycat and a Litter of Other CatsBy David Yow, 160 pgs.

When people think of Jesus Lizard frontman David Yow, they generally think of heaving, soul-retching vocals, spasmodic stage moves, broken-bottle lyrics and, of course, groin origami. But unabashed Feline Adoration? Up till now, I would’ve guessed that the only connection between Yow and cats is that he catches them down by the railroad tracks and grinds them up, fur and all, to make his homemade bologna. And that he probably uses kitty litter as a sort of “dry” shampoo. But as this book of his cat cartoons demonstrates, behind the lead singer’s twistedly sinister persona there lies, somewhat like William Burroughs, a cat lover. That’s a twist more surprising than any of the balloon animals that he’s tied his genitals into over the years.

But if you’re imagining a collection of darkly sardonic and deeply haunting Hieronymus Bosch-like cat-populated illustrations, banish the thought. The only word that applies here is: CUTE. These are simple, one-panel color cartoon illustrations that work off of cat-themed puns and they’re simply as cute as a bug’s ear. No getting around it. It is not an exaggeration to say that each of these could seriously be used for a line of cute greeting cards for people of the cat fancier persuasion.

So now we know that the feral, naked, screaming punk rock man with the dark motives has a soft fuzzy Hallmark card side to him to rival any of the packaged tenderness that a Taylor Swift can offer up. Life just got weirder by a notch or two.

My only complaint is—probably in keeping with my Luddite leanings—the obvious “digital art” feel that the illustrations have. I would be much happier if Yow would get out of Photoshop, get some actual paints and canvases, and use real hairballs coughed up by his cats for his brushes. But I’m not going to be presumptuous enough to tell an artist how to work his magic, particularly an artist who seems capable, at any second, of suddenly lunging at me and ripping my Adam’s apple out of my throat with his sharp yellow teeth.

We are lucky to find ourselves in a universe so prone to barfing up things of genuine oddness from time to time. And Copycat is one such thing. This book is, I’m sure, bound for a hallowed spot in the Museum of the Odd, alongside GG Allin’s touching letters to his mom, Michael Jackson’s false nose, and Eleanor Roosevelt’s mummified penis collection. –Aphid Peewit (Akashic Books, akashicbooks.com)

Big Oldie: A Collection of Comic Zines

By Rick V., 89 pgs.

The digital age of autobiographical comics is here in a big, bad way. Many artists find their work trending on Tumblr and Instagram, a vast desert of fleeting digital content. Yet, most artists would agree that printed zines and bound collections are a preferable interaction between creator and reader as it develops a tactile relationship, which connects with our personal history and not simply our browser’s.

As such, I read most of Rick V.’s collection, Big Oldie, before class and in bed and between shifts at work. By holding Rick’s zine in my hands, it opened a gateway into his everyday life filtered through his nerdy predilections and goofy sense of humor. As Rick admits, the early strips are roughly drawn, yet they are chock-full of earnestness and insightful observations. But he develops as an artist throughout the collection. In fact, Rick acknowledges that years of practice have made his lines more confident, although he has not lost any of his simplistic charm. Even if you lack artistic expertise, personal expression is a muscle that anyone can flex. Rick has exercised his muscles by documenting his local punk scene and his trials and tribulations in maintaining DIY space 1919 Hemphill.

Ultimately, photocopied zines are as pertinent now as ever. They counteract slowly dissociating human interactions, which are partially a result of digital communication. Look, I’m not a Luddite, but why simply see someone’s inner self expressed when you can feel it. Rick has put himself on the printed page for us to engage with him. I, for one, treasure the spot on my shelf he now occupies as it suggests that heartfelt, independent comics are something worth cherishing. There’s nothing fleeting about Big Oldie. –Sean Arenas (Secret Sailor, PO Box 2312, Bloomington, IN 47402)

King ShitBy Brian Alan Ellis, Illustrated By Waylon Thornton, 44 pgs.
King Shit
reminds me of a few nights out at the bar that were more trouble than they were worth. That night you didn’t quite regret, but if you could have stayed at home would you? Probably not. It’s been awhile since I was a person who’s long since wanted to get into a drunken heap of trouble every week. King Shit took me back. After each chapter, I was glad to momentarily step out of the bar and away from the vomit- and piss-lined bathrooms that colored my past. The book is short and it reads like a series of short stories at first—stories that just happen to be part of the same storyline—and occur in chronological order. It doesn’t take long to get through a night mis-happenings with our main character Elvis (King Shit) Macalister. Most of the characters are enjoyable weirdos all functioning as part of the same dysfunctional world and nothing seems too far fetched to have been real—at least not after the things I’ve seen. –Simon Sotelo (House Of Vlad Productions)

Raising Hell

By Norman Spinrad, 108 pgs.
Spinrad is best-known for his science fiction. His novel The Void Captain’s Tale is great, but any summary is going to make it sound horrible. Here, I’ll try: it’s about life on a spaceship that’s powered by a woman’s orgasm. See? But the story works. And his novel The Iron Dream “purports” to be a sword-and-sorcery novel penned by Adolf Hitler—another doubtful premise, but that story works, too.

Raising Hell
is part of PM Press’s Outspoken Authors series, in which, according to the company, writers “present their most provocative work in a [format] designed to fit in your pocket and stretch your mind.”

Spinrad’s book comes reasonably close to the mind-stretching part with its essay, “The Abnormal New Normal.” The essay, while ultimately a manifesto for political and economic action, is essentially American History Since the Civil War in Twenty Pages. For me, it crystallized my understanding of how the Republican Party went from being the party of Abraham Lincoln to being the fraternity house of doorstops and arsonists.

Whether you’re someone for whom the cost of higher education is mind-stretchingly prohibitive, or you’re tired of being the person who’s always joking about your ignorance of history, “The Abnormal New Normal” would make a sturdy cornerstone for a DIY education.

The book shares its title with its opening novella, in which Hell’s damned souls organize a union and go on strike—it’s pretty good, in a ‘50s Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction kind of way. –Jim Woster (PM Press, PO Box 23912, Oakland, CA 94623, pmpress.org)