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A Week in Culture: Dan Nadel, Publisher, Part 2

November 23, 2010 | by

This is the second installment of Nadel’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.

DAY THREE

I realize this journal is meant to be cultural, but I swear, a ton of my daily doings are more like the “business” of culture. Or like being the janitor of the business. Or something. That’s what I did for most of the day until I went to Penn Station to pick up Brian and Christopher. A couple sandwiches later, we were en route to a bookstore in Williamsburg, where the guys did a stock signing. This is when authors sign a stack of books so customers will, hopefully, buy them faster.

Then it was dinner with Gary Panter, his wife, Helene Silverman (designer of many of my books), and their daughter, Olive. The two dudes love Gary as a spiritual north star of sorts, and Gary has, after thirty-five years, finally found artistic progeny he can be proud of. It’s a lovefest.

We always look at stuff together. Piles of stuff. Today’s piles consisted of books and ephemera by Jack Kirby, Mike Kelley, Willy Fleckhaus, Heinz Edelmann, Irwin Hasen, Troy Brauntuch, and Moebius.

Stray thought: The problem (or, flipped, the pleasure) of being involved with a funky little subculture like comic books is that you have to deal with a level of absurdity so high that it’s like the gods are constantly fucking with you just for kicks. In other words, ninety percent of the “serious” books on the topic have introductions by TV stars or are filled with absurd claims of greatness. Rarely are comics left alone to be a medium unto itself.

DAY FOUR

I really admire good publicists. This week, oddly, I’m just a pale imitation of one, but it’s hard to both hustle these books and the authors and also, y’know, think about them, too. Or, uh, think about anything else at all.

Morning finds the guys asleep on my living-room floor. They’re both kinda tall, so they take up an absurd amount of space in the room. Over coffee and tea we have a friendly nerdfest in the morning discussing something Dan Clowes recently said to the effect of reconciling himself to the reality of comics history. Which is to say, understanding that there are few thoroughly “great” works or artists to be found, as in film or literature. There aren’t many Jim Thompsons or Philip Dicks to “rediscover” and tout as transcending their genres. Instead, we pick through the bins for a great storytelling device or wonky approach to drawing, or some freakishly good art-text combo by a hack, picking our pleasures and fascinations within a single comic book or even just an eight-page story.

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A Week in Culture: Dan Nadel, Publisher

November 23, 2010 | by

DAY ONE

Woke up in Providence, Rhode Island, but as I write this I’m zooming back to NYC on the Amtrak listening to an exquisite bootleg of Neil Young and Crazy Horse at Budokan, in Tokyo, on March 11, 1976. I arrived in Providence less than twenty-four hours ago for the local launch of Brian Chippendale and C.F.’s (a.k.a. Christopher Forgues) new books If ‘n Oof and Powr Mastrs 3 (both published by my own PictureBox) at Ada Books. The Ada event was packed and quite merry. I bought used copies of Jimmy McDonough’s Russ Meyer biography and Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett.

McDonough’s biography of Neil Young, Shakey, is one of my favorite books, and so while I have little interest in Meyer, I figure I better read whatever is on McDonough’s mind. Shakey, for the uninitiated, is about as good a book about an artist as can be imagined. There’s Nick Tosches’s Hellfire, about Jerry Lee Lewis; Lawrence Weschler’s Robert Irwin–obsessed Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees; and Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage on D. H. Lawrence. And there are more. But Shakey is the most important to me because it is as much about the field of humans and emotions around an artist as it is about Young, and this includes the author himself, who is conflicted and outraged as he tries to deal with Young on an aesthetic, intellectual, and moral (this last bit being the trickiest) level. McDonough wanted too much from his idol/subject, but in a way that is perfectly understandable. The problem, as Christopher would say, is that sometimes you have to turn your back on your life in order to make art. That doesn’t always make for nice human moments.

In any case, Shakey beats the hell out of the recent Keith Richards autobio, which is fucking brutal. I’m amazed he published it. Usually with these kinds of books, there’s some kind of arc to it, some realization or redemption after all the action. Not here. It’s mostly unremitting destruction: of himself, of the people around him, of his talent. It is, as Keith might say, a fucking bummer, man. At least Richards doesn’t really pretend there is romance there. But the level of unself-consciousness reaches staggering levels. What Richards leaves out (apologies, regrets, sadness) is as telling as what he leaves in (blow jobs, heroin, death). Then again, the descriptions of music-making are top notch and moving, in the sense that if you believe him, you believe this beast sometimes finds grace in open-tuned guitars and groovy chord sequences. But he’s a beast nonetheless.

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