Over for Rockwell By Uzodinma Okehi, 332 pgs.

Aug 25, 2016

Over for Rockwell is the story of Blue Okeye, an aspiring comic artist who leaves Iowa City for Hong Kong. Once he lands, Blue divides his time in three ways: stalking the city for inspiration, fumbling through nightclubs for a hookup, and drawing in his apartment with a poor sense of quality control. Stacks of fresh paper become piles of balled-up trash. Blue switches to his sketchbook. Then he gets so pissed he throws his sketchbook out the window, a nightly ritual, only to head downstairs, climb the dumpster, and find the book at the top of a mountain of garbage. Throw in some clunky kissing and that’s his life in Hong Kong.

So, when the international life doesn’t deliver, Blue does the logical thing: he moves to New York, where at least there’s a vibrant comic scene. His lover, Vanessa, a fellow artist, gives Blue some life advice that wakes him up and shapes the story: “‘Nobody’s going to say it,’ she says, ‘but art is about rules. The rules are the format. The rules set you free. By forcing you down to a limited number of elements, and because you can’t go anywhere else that’s how you get better. By playing within that box.’”

Blue knows about rules, he just never cared for them. Most of the book sees Blue riffing on the abstract—crafting witticisms about perseverance and preservation while his lifestyle produces no platform to persevere, no art to preserve. He’s a sort of Cometbus if only the guy never picked up a drumstick and instead of practicing zine wizardry complained on Twitter. In short, Blue’s an asshole—he befriends women just for sex, seeks faults in his peers’ art, and lets coworkers work while he espouses delusional theories. Not a guy I’d want in my life. But as far as fiction goes? It’s delicious to watch a jagoff at play, and that’s what kept me coming back.

Over for Rockwell is a bit like the Ramones’ twenty-eight song and fifty-four minute album, It’s Alive. Lots of whoas and anger and scatological humor firing past at spitfire speed. Author Uzodinma Okehi paces the book in five hundred short chapters that burst on the reader and form a nonlinear narrative that jumps between years and cities while circling around Blue’s crisis of belief in his work. After Vanessa gives Blue that comic advice, she draws on some of his panels, which causes Blue to scream, “as if she’d picked up a gun and shot [him] in the thigh.” He compares it to, “being bullied, but then I also realized how lame that sounded. I’d spent years lapsing and starting… without that real forethought that separated real art from gibberish.” And that challenge of separating art from gibberish gets us in there with Blue. Just slip out comics with bands or comics with zines—whatever—and enjoy Okehi’s quick-burning meditation on the joys and sorrows of being an artist in our overstuffed twenty-first century lives. –Jim Joyce (Short Flight/Long Drive, PO Box 1658, Ann Arbor, MI 48106, hobartpulp.com/minibooks)