And How by Gregory Corso

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And How
by Gregory Corso
Powderfinger Books

howThe common definition of insanity, as I’ve heard it, is to expect different results from predictable courses. For instance, if you have a preferred route to work, and each day it takes you to the same office, that’s predictable. If you think that by following the same route, you will reach a volcano, that’s insane. By extension, if Steve Urkel thinks that hounding Laura Winslow will somehow get him a date when she says no every time, that’s also insane. Something else must occur to evoke change; he must partake of the Cool Juice and become Stefan Urquelle. You see?

Without directly addressing the subject of insanity, And How is a perfect and eerie portrayal of it. Through use of repetitive imagery and blithe, empty expressions, Gregory Corso builds a weird and fascinating story about a boy’s search for peace, a woman’s search for unity, and a man’s search for Bigfoot.

The book’s first use of repetitious panels was surprising. I thought Corso was being lazy and that his book was just another example of an artist skimping on production time by making the most of a single panel. A close-up of a woman’s face, then her hand holding a page, then her hand holding a page, then a close-up of her face. Similar enough, but changed ever so slightly to cover his tracks. As more panels began repeating, a pattern finally emerged. Soon whole dialogs were carried over multiple pages while re-using the same drawing. The book is broken up by parts, and the last two give completely different conclusions using many of the same drawings – the final insane twist.

There are also repeating symbols and themes. Particularly bees and the geese, flying and buzzing and growing and taking over whole pages as the story unfolds. The combination of repeating elements becomes a kind of circus. In the re-read, I noticed that actually there is a repetitive use of panels on the first page, but I’d blown over it. The first two panels are identical, rectangular, and full of black ink.

Dark and light are also big themes in this book. “The only difference between day and night is what you’re able to see,” says the father to his son. In the final two parts, scenes take place simultaneously in the day and night time. The son is flying a plane over the woods in daylight to help his father search for Bigfoot, the next panel shows the same plane against a black sky with a moon hanging above the horizon, and in the next panel it’s light again. It’s not the passage of time, it’s a device. These and other details makes for the kind of expository reading experience that separate comics from mere fiction. The book plays with visual symbolism in a way that is very truly unique to narrative art.

It’s a nicely drawn book that makes equal use of expansive black space and thin jagged lines. The characters themselves are drawn with bland, cheerful expressions. Their faces are muppet-like, with nearly-triangular noses, wide split mouths, and comically large ears. Their posture is often directed out of the page, rather than into their conversations, so they cheat outward as stage actors might. Each seems to be in his own world, disconnected.

And How won a 2006 Xeric Grant.  It is available for $6 through the artist.

– Sarah Morean

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