Local poetry publisher Wave Books has been kicking ass for five years now, developing a library that features way more successes than failures. (It was Wave that published Maggie Nelson's Bluets, which is one of those rare poetry books that everyone in the world should read.) CAConrad's The Book of Frank isn't a success that belongs entirely to Wave Books—it was first published last year by Chax Press before Wave took it up—but it continues the winning streak.
The Book of Frank is a biography of a normal human being, told in extraordinary language. Almost every page is a short poem about a man named Frank—being born, growing up, getting married, dying—but the story is told in over-the-top surrealist images. At a restaurant that serves dead authors, Frank eats Emily Dickinson's breast while his wife nibbles on Jack Kerouac's candied penis; Frank cuts off his thumbs and yells at his boss ("'I'm no longer primate!' he shouts/'I'm another species!'").
They amount to a series of comic sketches, usually involving everyman Frank wrestling, Charlie Chaplin–like, with a bit of poetic imagery far more powerful than he is. Like Chaplin, Frank usually loses, but he brushes himself off and prepares for the next, even weirder installment with the turn of every page. The playfulness on display here is endearing and challenging, often at the same time.
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The day before Halloween, Black Hole author/Believer cover artist Charles Burns will be making an appearance at the Fantagraphics Bookstore from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. Burns is in town celebrating the release of his new full-color comic, X'ed Out (Pantheon Books, $19.95). As you'd expect from Burns, it's a surrealistic, often horrifying book, full of lizard people and fetuses and weird eggs. Contrary to what you'd expect from Burns, it's a Tintin homage for grown-ups, keeping the tall, slender format and vivid coloration of Hergé's beloved adventure strip but slathering the original idea with sex and drugs and other art-school shenanigans.
It's a bold departure for Burns. Color always robs his art of a certain razor-sharp quality, even as it lends it a placid, David Lynch–style subtle horror. And the format is new, too: X'ed Out is the beginning of a serial story (the book ends with a caption that reads "NEXT: THE HIVE") with no foreseeable end. He wants to publish the series in quick, short bursts. It's almost, you know, like a comic book. This graphic album format of beautiful, regularly published editions combines the pleasures of the serial storytelling that comics were based on with the powerful artistry of the more conventional "graphic novels." You can feel Burns's enthusiasm on almost every page of X'ed Out; here's hoping that he can keep it going.