Monday, January 25, 2021

The Complete Work of Fante Bukowski by Noah Van Sciver

(Fantagraphics, 2020) This masterful comic book novel presents the non-rise and series of surprisingly steep falls (considering he never reaches the corresponding altitude) of Fante Bukowski, a young man who looks like a rough-living fifty year old due to his embrace of a romantic ideal and his affliction of deep, deep stupidity. Like Tim and Gregg's yin and yang of unearned arrogance on On Cinema, and Donald Trump's everything, Bukowski's is a tale for our era: a profoundly mediocre White man believes his delusions of self-importance so much that he aggressively demands recognition of his specialness. Oh wait a minute, that's every era! Anyhow, Van Sciver's viciously funny narrative, and the straightforwardness of storytelling necessitated of any tale centered around such a simpleton, makes this a brisk read and a delight. Bukowski is a man who has embraced his fantasy of being a "true" writer, refusing to work a straight job, oblivious to any gates kept by gatekeepers, and enamored with the self-destructive lifestyle of his namesake. Van Sciver is pretty merciless to his protagonist (and not kind to himself during a cameo) but is not merely making fun of him as a 2-Dimensional post-beat poet version of Comic Book Guy. We actually get to care for him a bit by seeing Fante through the eyes of three women, none of them fooled by his facade (well, maybe one of them a little), but all amused enough by his shenanigans to try to figure out how to find value in his worthlessness. They (and we) realize that his passion for art, or at least for being an artist, kinda means something. That the agents, critics, and publishers he encounters are no less pathetic and weak and ethically stumbling than this sorry man (who we know to be genuinely awful at handling artistry, adulthood, or human being-ness) means that perhaps he has not chosen the wrong field. The book is meticulously designed to look like a Library of America anthology, but at 450 pages it's actually bigger and more important looking than many of those titles (and if you take it out from the library as I did the whole elevated shebang goes up a notch). In addition to the complete saga, this edition includes portraits of Fante by twenty of our finest cartoonists, including Anya Davidson, Simon Hanselmann, and John  P. (whom makes an unflattering cameo in the narrative), and more importantly, a replica of Fante's Xeroxed six-poem chapbook, featuring an epic ultimate poem with a twist that would make O.Henry blush (and flush). 

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