Round Table #1: Pim & Francie


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

[TIM: After coming to the uncomfortable realization that it has been more than a year since our last Cage Match, Dan, Frank, and I decided it was time to get back in the pen and fight it out over some recently released comic book. Unfortunately for the format, the book we chose as a topic, Al Columbia‘s Pim & Francie, turned out to be a bad subject for a no-holds-barred, drag-out fight, mostly because we all really enjoyed it. But giving up would be too easy.

So here is the first installment of a new, buttoned up, and possibly less exciting feature, the Round Table, wherein we discuss a comic without coming to blows, though with any luck, we will still find a few things to disagree about to at least somewhat interesting effect. No strict rules here, just an online discussion taking place over real time. Readers should please feel free to participate in the comments section. This is a first time thing, and we haven’t really thought it through, so maybe the event will turn out to be a joyless affair, quickly sputtering into sad banalities. But maybe it won’t! If you believe, clap your hands!

In any case, welcome to the Round Table. Dan is starting the conversation, and will take the lectern shortly.]

DAN: I suspect each of us will have a very different interest in Al Columbia’s Pim & Francie: The Golden Bear Days. Rather than attempt a comprehensive statement, I’m going to look at it from a couple of different angles.

A one line explanation of this book is: Pim & Francie is a book of drawings and stories about two cartoon children. What is resembles is a stack of fragments, sequenced to indicate a few suggestive narrative threads. But its surface is deceptive.

If I didn’t know the back story of Columbia’s career (the starts and stops, the destroyed work, etc.) I would assume that the book looks the way it does intentionally. That the artist’s intent is to convey disintegration and ennui through the physicality of the drawings themselves. Images are torn, taped together, burnt, wrinkled, and water damaged. When a character disappears into pencil lines, or is obscured by ink blots; when a scene is interrupted by white drafting tape or a massive tear, the characters seem to come to life. That is, the imperfection of the page, the process of the drawing, drives the characters. So, I don’t read these pages as “sketches” but rather as full blown drawings akin to something like Robert Rauschenberg’s “Erased De Kooning” in which absence animates the page.

The distress is so thorough and consistent that simple coincidence seems impossible. But, then, maybe it’s just unbelievably good editing. And then I got to thinking, what if Columbia is so aware of his mythology and such a good cartoonist—such a master of surface effects to indicate sub-basement meanings—that he wants us to believe the P&F is “just” a collection of scraps so that it quietly engulfs us? What if this doubt, this underestimation, is part of his intent? Then I happened on Sam Anderson’s review of Nabokov’s The Original of Laura in which he suggests much the same thing about that just published fragment. It’s wishful thinking, of course—but it speaks to the power of the author to even make us long for some over-arching master plan.

I am also reminded of a much younger cartoonist’s new book: Josh Cotter’s Driven by Lemons. Lemons is a very different animal, though it also is a brilliant, virtuosic work, and one that needs repeated reads. It as well allows a look at the marks and tones that comprise a cartoon drawing—wiping away the cleanliness of cartoon reality to foreground the process. It’s also a young man’s book by a cartoonist who still has faith in the kinetics of cartooning—in motion, enthusiasm, and outlandish physics. Cotter may be investing in process, but he’s also building his cartoon language, adding new tools and new ideas as he goes.

Columbia, however, has been through it all. This is a book only an older artist could create. His process is up front and part of it is destructive. Reading Pim & Francie is an apocalyptic experience—as if Columbia is demolishing both his own work and the idea of “cartooning” in general. I found it exhilarating and terrifying.

A word about the subject matter: A lot of cartoonists have trod the “inverted comics” general territory. Most brilliantly, Chris Ware used Quimby to convey despair, anxiety, and grief by employing the lyricism of 1920s cartoons. Other, more recent cartoonists have had a lot less success. It’s rather easy to use the form or characters and then blow their brains out. It’s much harder to create something that is empathetic. Columbia isn’t aping an old style—he’s taken the building blocks of 1920s cartoons and rearranged them entirely (in some places I am reminded of the frightening clown of Monkey Shines of Marseleen.) His static figures, sepia backgrounds and faux-happy waltzes are thoroughly redesigned and made his own. There are also no easy pratfalls here. Nothing is predictable. As I watched knives glint and faces warp into horrific grins the furthest thing from my mind was nostalgia. Instead, as with Ware, I was deeply moved by the experience.

And that’s where I’ll stop for now. Next?


TIM: Well if I knew this was going to be that kind of party…

Huh. That’s a nice idea, Dan, that Pim & Francie only looks like a collection of unfinished stories and pieces, but I don’t know if I quite buy it. (I definitely don’t buy the New York magazine Nabokov theory you linked.) But I also don’t know that it matters, because Columbia makes the “unfinishedness” work for the story, just as you and previous critics have indicated, and the resulting book has its own otherwise perhaps unattainable power. It’s difficult to know whether or not these stories would have worked better if Columbia had completed them more traditionally, just as it is to conclude whether or not David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive would have worked better as the television series he had originally intended. In the end, you have to read the book you hold in your hands.

It’s definitely interesting, and telling, that the text of the book itself draws almost no attention to its own raw state, other than in the spine’s parenthetical “Artifacts and Bone Fragments.” As you said, Dan, knowing Columbia’s career history inevitably shapes the reader’s response, and it’s fun and fruitful to (attempt to) read the book as if you aren’t aware of it.

In either case, the fact that so many of these grotesque stories and vignettes don’t really resolve contributes to the reader’s growing sense of unease. It’s almost like a 12-bar blues song (or an intensifying series of songs) that never returns to the tonic chord: your nerves get a real work out.

Of course, in another way, the fact that so many of these funny-animal-like characters are horribly mutilated only to be resurrected, seemingly unharmed, a few pages later only points back to traditional cartoon tropes of endlessly recurring death, dismemberment, and escape. As if Wile E. Coyote’s tortured existence wasn’t played for laughs. (Grant Morrison’s celebrated attempt to capture something similar looks lame and obvious compared to Columbia’s infinitely more subtle work.)

I’ve said it before in another context, but I’m really beginning to believe it: “In a way, every comic depicts a phantasmagoric dreamscape: Squint just right, and everyone from Spider-Man to Dilbert is revealed as a nightmarish figure.” When I was a child, for reasons I can’t even now articulate, I remember feeling a irrational fear looking at Minnie Mouse’s oversize high heels engulfing her strangely shaped feet. Francie wears the same shoes in this book, and now I find them scary as an adult. That’s a big part of what I get out of Al Columbia’s comics in general: they really bring out the surreal terror already buried within cartoon imagery.

That’s it for me for now. You got anything, Frank? And Dan, I guess there’s nothing stopping you (or anyone) from jumping in again at any time, either.

TIM: Also, is it my imagination, or does Cinnamon Jack remind anyone else of Alfred E. Neuman?


DAN: You’re wrong, Tim! Cinnamon Jack looks NOTHING like Alfred E. Neuman. Phew. Had to get that one bit of Cage Match energy out of my system. Sadly, yes, Hodler, you’re right, they do look alike. Which means I’ll never look at either the same way. Tim’s blues analogy is a good one: I’m reminded of John Fahey or something like that—ultra tense, repeating patterns that don’t allow for a satisfying payoff. But, I have to say, the life & death cycle of cartoon characters, as well as their lurking grotesques don’t interest me that much on their own. I almost take it for granted. It’s more like what Columbia does with subtly “off-model” versions, like his repeating Goofy/Lena the Hyena figure. It’s more than bringing out the horror in an extant design, it’s taking components of that design and refashioning them all together. The highly individual result is the scary thing. It’s not like I’m arguing, dear Tim, just expanding.

Also, one thing I forgot to mention before: P&F is also a wonderful demonstration of the cartooning and animation process: The insane amount of drawings produced that have just subtle differences or mistakes. The maddening repetition. Ironically, I have to sign off until late this evening as I have to go teach comics at SVA! I should just have a group reading of P&F, I suppose. Below: A version of the Phantom Blot?


TIM: Well, I take Robert Rauschenberg erasing de Kooning for granted, so we’re even! (It’s probably unwise of me to admit that.)

And I knew that image reminded me of something, and you’re right: The Phantom Blot! So many memories just opened up. Time Regained.


I read straight through like a narrative. Like a detective, I put the clues together and read the images attentively as they sped by. I could feel the collage of all these fragments, clues assemble and tell a very clear story to me. I’ve read this story before, have felt the same emotions. Pim and Francie’s adventure struck a chord in me that’s been dormant for a long time. A haunting wonder, perhaps? A curiosity of the unknown that, when found, rattles one to the core?

Does that all sound too heavy? Insincere? Not to me. Like Dan, I felt really moved by the book. I don’t feel the need to explain the “unfinished-ness” of the book at all because I see it as “finished.” Notes, fragments, whatever. I read it slowly, turning each page like I was watching a film that had me riveted. Does that make sense? And then I would go back to certain section I wanted to re-read and watch that unfold again and again.

I also wanted to find a way to gauge the “timing” of the author’s delivery. Columbia’s progression of two-page spreads and how the spreads folded into the next in sequence is truly beautiful. I read each spread as a pairing of the left and right pages. And as I would turn the pages I could feel the changes in tone and how it affected the “loose” narrative. I wanted to be able to feel the changes and mark them so I could return to these transitions and re-read them like chapters.

The way I did this was to determine the first spread in the book, which is this:

Spread #1

The page on the left is, technically, not the first image in the book. That would be this image which is very important:

First Image

The above image of the sun and the torn curtain is, to me, the beginning of the “play” as it were. It feels like it’s part of a proscenium stage.

I numbered the remaining spreads as “Spread #2, #3,” etc. I then would put a post-it every ten spreads to mark the “time” for me. I could see the rhythm of the images, watch how they played off each other. And most importantly it let me appreciate it as a whole even though I was inserting breaks. But these breaks were just so I could get my bearings, a sort of time code for this world outside of time.

Spread #10

Spread #20

There are 118 spreads by my count. To me, the fragments are expertly pieced together and a sort of “hyper-text” is created. I read it up, down, and sideways, using the symbols of the characters as links to other spots within the story fragments.

I would like the reader to enjoy the first twenty spreads without my description. It’s a marvelous fable, a poetic onslaught of images that will deposit you, the reader, into the rabbit hole. And you will find yourself with Pim and Francie, lost in the haunted forest.

And then Grandma appears. She finds you, and all is well. And then, at Grandma’s house, we know real fear. A succession of images terrorize our heroes, and like a nightmare, they find themselves on a dream street in a bad part of town. A cartooned detective appears chasing a killer. On the opposing page, a smiling, long-snouted, gap-toothed visage of fear with piercing eyes is depicted. Turn the page and there are severed limbs on the left hand side of the spread. And on the right hand side is an old man smoking a cigar. The words in the balloon are difficult to make out because there is tape and corrections. The one phrase that is readable is, “They enjoy killing! It makes them happy!”

When we turn to the next spread, we see Pim speaking to this older gentleman. Pim refers to him as Grandpa. This is the first time we understand within the order of the images that this character is Grandpa. The representation of Grandpa, like Pim and Francie, is reduced to a symbol, so when we encounter this symbol, we, the reader, bring so much to the table already. Just the word Grandpa and any cartooned image of a pleasant-looking gentleman, fused together, evoke a very particular feeling in me as a reader.

Spread #25

Spread #26

So when Grandpa reveals to Pim what the murderer does, it also sets up the reader to feel for Pim as he goes down the rabbit hole. On the opposing page, the grotesque, exaggerated visage of a few pages ago is replaced with it’s “flipped image” double. Only now it is hacked to pieces, dead or dying and still smiling. A haunting mad image that bears the text, “Sonny Blackfire had returned.”

When we turn the page again to spread #28 we meet “the Bloody Bloody Killer.” His face, the angle of how it is drawn, all match the “grotesque visage” of the previous spread which of course, rhymes with the original spread. It is this phrasing that interests me a great deal. Spread to spread, Columbia directs my eye to see, in succession, more than the images reveal singularly. It reminds me of how a musical chord progression is built out of single notes, played together in time.



TIM: Good one, Frank. I feel like we’ve barely begun to get anywhere, but I have to bow out for the rest of the evening, and do some stupid parenting. Maybe you and Dan will come up with more tonight—either way I’ll rejoin the conversation tomorrow morning.


DAN: Top of the morning to ya! A few responses: To the anonymous comment below: The reference to Wolverton’s MAD cover is mentioned above: Columbia merges Lena Hyena with Goofy. And, I’m not pulling art from the book, necessarily. Comics Comics HQ doesn’t have little helpers scanning books so I just grabbed stuff from the vast internet. So, you can stop searching for these images in the book (except for Frank’s spreads. Those ARE in the book). Finally, I wanted to add to Tim’s thoughts on the object-ness of, say, Minnie’s shoes. If, as in a previous post, one could make a list of invented comic strips within fictional narratives, one could also perhaps make a list of invented comics museums within stories. There is a brilliant and haunting spread of a ballroom filled with cracked cartoon visages frozen in song. P&F enter the space wearing their Mickey hats—fresh blood in a toon graveyard. It’s the only literal depiction of these old icons (Snow White, Mickey, the Ducks, et al) and it’s a great disruptive moment. Two other cartoon museums come to mind immediately (and there must be a ton more): Francis Masse’s brilliant “The Museum of Natural History” in Raw Vol. 2 #3 and Spiegelman’s own satirical museum drawn as a poster to benefit Danny Hellman.


I think Columbia’s approach points the way to a more intimate reading of the text. The fragments, the feel of the paper, grant us access to the material in a way that is more tactile than we get from most who employ this “style;” there is an almost uncomfortable intimacy. Partly because of the violent imagery but also because of the torn and shredded pieces of paper themselves. The humor and the horror and the presentation do not feel contrived at all, but authentic, sincere—REAL in every sense. The approach, the style of drawing interests me but I don’t feel repelled by the treatment. Meaning that it could be read as “cold” somehow. There’s a seduction to the drawing, the style, the pencil, the stages of development. The “behind the scenes” look can be startling.

I must sound like a broken record to those who know me but here goes: This book makes me think of Be-Bop. Notes, chords but skirting the melody. Playing up and down the scale. There’s a beat (page spreads, rhythm of turning pages, the architecture of the spread—two fixed pages—and the architecture of the page; how it’s presented as illustration, as symbol, as comic strip, as movement, as march), and there are notes, chords, but the melody line comes in and out like Charlie Parker playing a standard from The Great American Songbook.

I listen to Charlie Parker everyday on WKCR in NYC. While writing the above paragraph I heard a live recording of Parker where he riffed on the theme from Popeye. I forget the song but the band is chugging along and Parker is playing up and down and around the melody and slips in “Popeye the Sailor Man” without loss of tempo or control or anything—incredible. And to me, that’s akin to what Columbia is able to do in the way he sequences the notes and fragments together in Pim & Francie. (The above Parker video isn’t the song with the Popeye riff, FYI. Just an example of playing with intention and focus and still finding room to “play”)

Columbia’s style of drawing doesn’t evoke a nostalgia in me; I don’t feel he is drawing in an “affected” way. Hokey it ain’t. It’s very REAL. And his take on this American symbolism is strikingly elegant in its delivery. It’s through this elegant delivery that we connect to the fable, the song which somewhere we have all heard before.


TIM: Frank, your musical comparison seems pretty apt to me.

Dan, have you read Michael DeForge‘s Lose yet? Because there’s a bar in hell there that you really need to see. (I should review that issue—it’s really a great debut. Go order a copy, people.) It’s not exactly the same kind of thing you’re talking about, but it’s close enough for blogonet work.

Also, it’s funny that you began this Round Table by saying that you thought we’d all have “very different interests” in the book, but in fact, our responses seem to have been very similar. Maybe that’s indicative of the power of Columbia’s art, that a book so ostensibly “obscure” and “difficult” can provoke such strong, unified responses. (Or maybe its says more about our own limitations as critics, but that’s too depressing to contemplate.) The relationships and situations seem to shift from “story” to “story” and page to page (are Pim and Francie siblings or spouses? children or adults? dead or alive? etc.), yet always make strong emotional sense (for lack of a better phrase), even as they avoid more traditional, “logical” closures.

One other small effect I don’t think has yet been mentioned: I really enjoy the sense you get (through book covers, logos, film stills, etc.) of an alternate universe full of Pim & Francie books, cartoons, and merchandise. That so many of the characters and images mirror those from real (and often long-forgotten) commercial culture only increases the effect.

I don’t know how much more there is to say about this book, without going into the kind of close analysis that Frank began to attempt yesterday, but maybe you guys will prove me wrong. Or actually do some of that close analysis! Like, I mean, what does it mean when they poke their eyes out? Whose “revelation” is it near the end, and what causes it? And what about that final scene in the meadow? What does it mean, man? Actually, those kind of analytical questions appear to me to be largely pointless. But am I wrong? Is that just lazy thinking?


DAN: I have only flipped through Lose but am looking forward to getting my hands on it. Looks amazing. His Cold Heat special is genius. As for the rest, well, man, I think we’ve run out of steam. Those major questions of yours will have to wait until we next meet for beers. Or at least, me and Frank won’t be answering them. Perhaps some kind souls in the comments will help you through this ontological quandary. If not, you can call me up until midnight tonight. Just kidding.

I think that about does it, folks! Thanks for reading. Now back to your regularly scheduled Comics Comics programming.


TIM: Aw, you guys are chicken.

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23 Responses to “Round Table #1: Pim & Francie”
  1. Sean T. Collins says:

    I was prepared to be very disappointed in whosoever among you didn't like it.

  2. Scott says:

    Maybe it's the bald head, but Cinnamon Jack seems more like a middle-aged Yellow Kid. Perhaps Alfred E. Neuman is the teenage version.

  3. Paul Karasik says:

    "In either case, the fact that so many of these grotesque stories and vignettes don't really resolve contributes to the reader's growing sense of unease."

    Spot-on, Tim.

    As I said elswhere:

    "The comics definition of gestalt, Pim & Francie may appear to be a book of random jottings, but don't let that fool you. Treat this barbed landmine like a book and you will be richly rewarded. Treat it like a sketchbook and end up with your hands lopped off and your mind empty. You have been warned."

    Appropriately enough, Dan brings up another of my favorite books of the year, Driven By Lemons, which SHOULD be looked upon as a sketchbook (in fact it really IS a reproduction of a sketchbook), albeit a sketchbook by a very precocious fella who is intuitively working his way through some knotty problems that he creates for himself.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I browsed this @ Copacetic a few weeks back and it definitely intrigued me from just a purely illustrative angle. I haven't bought it yet (it's been lingering in my thoughts, so that's telling me something) but i tend to not want to really put a hard narrative on it, almost like looking at some dadaist cut-up, toss the pages in the air and bind them together however you retrieve them. Part of what's keeping it in my mind i'm sure.

    Just wonder if Columbia had a greater resume/context to refer this against, would we be interpreting this as openly as we are is all. But again, we can only judge what's able to be seen.

  5. blaise larmee says:

    'I see it as "finished."'

    totally. this seemed like one of the few 'complete' comics i've seen. it seemed to fold in on itself, not have the 'end' at the end. (because in comics there seems to always be a 'next installment')

    how do predict this book's reception / place in 'comics history'

  6. Frank Santoro says:

    I'd rather not predict the book's reception or place in history. But I will say that I've been reading Columbia's work for a long time and I didn't expect this book to be so enjoyable to read. I think maybe others will agree and give it a try, so who knows…?

  7. BVS says:

    where are you getting some of these images you've been posting? like the color cinnamon jack drawing and that phantom blot. the book has a non colored version of Cinnamon jack and a similar but different picture of that phantom blot looking thing. in it Pim's holding a flashlight not a cross and the blot has no mouth.
    I assume it's not just my copy and there aren't multiple versions of the book.
    a few years ago was offering prints that were completed versions of some of the drawings in the book. it's interesting to me to see that he's drawn the same images over and over. and then made decisions on what version to use.

  8. Inkstuds says:

    I have a print at home, that appears in the book, chopped up so its in different order.

    instead of a sequence of 1,2,3. the images were changed to be 3,2,1. but not in reverse, just chopped up and all colour removed. Also, the print that Floating World is selling right now, appears in the book, only devoid of colour and also chopped up.

  9. Anonymous says:

    The face on the right of "Spread #25" bears a striking resemblance to Wolverton's cover from Mad #11.

  10. Charles says:

    I haven't seen the book, but all this makes me wonder where Al stopped and Fantagraphics started. Could it be that Al picked up a bunch of art off the floor and let them put it in some kinda order? This might sound naive but, like I say, I haven't seen it.

    Al's powers are intense, whatever the case is! These drawings look like they would carry this energy no matter how he/they/you arranged them anyway.


  11. BVS says:

    here we have the "finished" looking version of the Cinnamon Jack's sweet child pie strip, as it appeared in the Seattle stranger. also a shrunken colored and finished version of the I hate the haunted forest drawing

    makes me curious about his process and the editing choice to make this book look like smudgy tattered fragments. I guess on things like the child pie strip he finishes lots of the work in photo shop.

  12. Eric Reynolds says:

    Al sequenced the book himself.

  13. BVS says:


    please not that in the above link. if you click on the link "handful of printed work" it takes you to something that's url suggests it to be an Al Columbia site. but definitely is not. it is in fact a website that is something terrible and to be avoided.

  14. looka says:

    The horrific element of cartoon characters, that you guys have pointed out a few times here, reminds me of (in a very blant way, but the only one that occurs to me in this second) transferring the cartoon physiognomies/facial structures back to the "realistic" visual setting of life action movies (for lack of better terms). A setting that, to many viewers, plays more clearly on the real world those toons were abstracted from, to give a snappy and comic look of that said world (whatever that world stands for). Where they had been created by people sitting in the same room, diverted from the outside for most of their creative process and the execution.

    Instead of being superfast and superfunny, as in the smooth, warm world of cartoons, they become slow and horrific in their movement and hurtful in their way of receving cartoon pain that is only hinted at or maybe rushed by in regular cartoons. Limbs suddenly are fleshy, skin can burn and blacken. Knifes are more then a part of the danger package someone like Coyote carries around.

    How much of the slow pace cartoon characters have to take in "life action movies", in difference to their true/original self is due to the state of special effects at the time the movies were made, I don't know. But conscious use of existing materials at hand and the consideration of their limits to create a look, only seems to help the translation of emotion they are thrown into in a film that is not drawn and where they sometimes stand as the solemn example of their kind. That said, special effects as a way of sculpting drawn concepts into shape (horror, scifi, etc…) has always had a punch on me – no matter what the rest of the movie looks like. I'd love to see that taken out of a movie as Mr. Columbia has taken drawing materials out of Comics narration in P&F.

    Back to it:
    The perverse version of REAL CARTOONS may be MEET THE FEEBLES, the lighter, all feathery one HOWARD THE DUCK.

    I guess there are other, pointier examples for this and I don't take the movie as a perfect place for making cartoon characters "real", as cartoons are real enough for me, but those are the ones I had to think of.

    ***Continued in the next comment…***

  15. looka says:


    Thinking of that as well, cartooning has always had this haptic feel of pencil and paint and a look led by these materials – which makes me think of the opening of the drawing process in P&F.

    I recently saw a cheap, follow up version of a POPEYE (imagine that name on a figure in a Columbia cartoon…) TV cartoon. At some point the zoom was on a running bear chasing Popeye, repeated backgrounds flashing by. The repro camera must have really closed in, or the animator was in a hurry drawing it, but I remember noticing the transparent pencils lines for the first time and how they only built the outline very roughly. The thing seemed to fall apart, which made it's dreading part in the episode stand out even more so and has dumped the illusion of it's slick appearance.

    Does it make a cartoon character receptive of pain when it/he/she is felshed out into their real version i.e. suddenly having a physical body that has to stand the gravity of a different surrounding? I mean the school of cartoon characters P&F stand in for, not the very pained autobio characters of younger days that are in a real setting from the beginning.

    (DROP IN: Ok, so maybe that all feels a little plasterd together and not really consistent, but it was all I could come up with in this short time…)

    I feel, P&F also have that physical body, although put back into the world of paper, pencil and ink (+ other materials that as DAN said, stand in the back in the regular cartooning process and are barred in printing. I feel they make the dreamy, hazy idea of the shifts in pace in F&P even more apparent) that's like a soft, glowy, focus that directs clearness to different aspects of the story.
    I don't know about it, but it seems like Mr. Columbia took them out of the surrounding a cartooning pantheon (yeahIknow…) would set them in another book by another author and made them feel a shifted Horror that other Cartoon characters don't experience, or not in the same weight. The Black and White and smeared related tones really help there.

    Yeah, most of the stuff I daddle into here needs more looking at, but this is a really exciting "book" that gets me going. Also, the "collected fragment" feel the great design and the book treatment give it, is wonderful.

    Without longing for that version or thinking it would make the reading experience BETTER: How would this look in classic Comic format on newsprint left in cardboard boxes in a damp warehouse for some years? Real fungus and rust applied. Just dreaming there.

    To end:
    "Comics that fold into themselves" (BLAISE, I guess) makes me think of BETOs "CHANCE in HELL": the end was maybe surreal in it's following of sequences, but made the book itself FEEL logical in it's set of ideas for me when I read it. Not that I asked for a certain logic, though. The fragmentation the time jumps added to the reading is one of my fave parts of it.
    The build of that story is perfect for me, the way it flows and cracks on the grid of Comics.

  16. looka says:

    I also like the tought of the "stage curtain" Frank has dropped on the first page.

  17. Jesse F says:

    I'm really enjoying this dialogue, and hope to read more.

  18. jimrugg says:

    I've been surprised by how complete the book and narrative feel despite the "incomplete" level of much of the artwork.

    Both the art and lettering create a great hallucinatory effect. Very dreamlike, where some details are so obscured by distance or lack of focus as to not even be drawn or partially drawn, or indicated by the faintest of loose pencil lines. Ditto the word balloons where some lettering is finished, next to words that are smudged or too light to read (brings to mind some of Clowes' recent lettering in Deathray and Mr. Wonderful, but approached from a different technique). This goes right along with the repetition of panels, the repositioning and re-cropping of panels, the similar drawings…to achieve a perfect atmosphere of nightmare.

    It's very hard to imagine this work in a more polished format.

    I haven't read any comics lately that feel more stream of conscious and surreal.

    In reference to Frank's analysis of the spreads, I found many of the spreads functioned almost like silent film title cards. This might be due to the heavy use of black and the slightly blurred edges of some of the work. Either way, it's an effect I haven't encountered much in comics, and might be an interesting path to comparing the cinematic qualities of this book with other comics that heavily reference film editing and cinematography.

    Another potential influence I'd be curious to hear you cage match over, is Chip Kidd and the work he's done with photographer Geoff Spear.

    Finally, I found myself thinking about Seth and Dave Cooper's work as well. In Seth's case, specifically It's a Good Life If You Don't Weaken, I keep imagining Al Columbia as an old animator or cartoonist, and Pim & Francie being some record of his forgotten work found in an old trunk. With Dave Cooper, I just see similar penmanship and perhaps appropriation of certain cartoon styles, but applied differently.

    Anyways, loving your analysis, and surprised by how much I'm enjoying this book. A lot more narrative that I expected to find when I first flipped through it.

  19. jimrugg says:

    One more thought. It's amazing how great print reproduction has gotten. This book is an art book of original comic art. Personally, I've been doing more and more work digitally, despite my love of original comic art. And this book makes me question that decision.

    I will be eager to see the work that draws influence from this.

  20. Sean T. Collins says:

    It's funny to hear you say that, Jim, because I think we'll be reading some comparisons of P&F and The Afrodisiac when the latter comes out.

  21. Jason Overby says:

    I'd never been the biggest fan of Al C, but I think this book is amazing. Really haunting and beautiful/scary – taking the stories out of a strictly linear context butresses the hypnagogic quality – so, yeah, awesome.

    Re: cartoon figures in the real world: Tim Hensley did a strip for one of TCJ's specials some years back where there's a panel with a simplified, iconic cartoon of a guy's head and the next panel is a close-up, more "realistic" drawing of the same head that's super-ugly with a gnarly mullet, etc. good stuff, for sure.

    And then there's that Alan Moore strip…

  22. icepick method says:

    Has anyone that ordered the special edition version gotten their copy yet?

  23. radiant says:

    I just read through the whole book. I wasn’t acquainted with Al Columbia’s history/drawings previous to this book, so I approached it as another narrative.

    It was haunting, beautiful, intriguing, strange, sick, compelling, dreamy–the style is almost reminiscent of Joseph Conrad’s literary voice. I was pulled into one story and into another without a direct link–but everything seemed cohesive in a sense that the purpose was consistent. It’s funny how uniform our reactions seem.

    I enjoyed the suggestive pages the most — the haunting drawings of crisp, white houses with ominous black windows; the barely-there gleam against dark brick walls; and the Machiavellian smiles that the pedo-looking figure/rotund creature sported.

    I was a little skeptical after I went through the first several pages of the book–everything seemed purposefully disturbing. Later, I was just too enraptured by the brokenness of the ‘spreads’ to be bothered by what seemed at first, pretentious satire of iconic childhood characters.

    I don’t understand a lot about the book. I have no idea why Francie disappeared in the end–and how it may have related to some revelation.

    But I do know that Al Columbia was successful in effecting a profound conscious (and possibly subconscious as well) response. And just in that sense–it’s brilliant.

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