Spring 2002

The stuff they like

The Ganzfeld #2

Designed and edited by Peter Buchanan-Smith and Daniel Nadel. <br>The Kaput Press, US$24.95<br>www.theganzfeld.com

The Fall 2000 issue of The Ganzfeld was a 152-page pocket book; the latest is bigger, broader and more obviously ‘designed’, though its concerns are much the same. Nadel and Buchanan-Smith, in compiling this collection of illustration, short stories, comic books extracts and wallpaper, have not followed any obvious editorial pattern. They just appear to be showing the stuff they like. And although it doesn’t set out to be a critical journal, there’s some very pointed writing that deals – both directly and obliquely – with the quirky contents. Timothy Hodler, who contributed a great piece about ‘irony’ to the previous issue, is given space to follow some literary hobbyhorses – including the superiority of science fiction over conventional literary novels and the revolutionary work of Henry Fielding.

Best of all, there’s a magisterial sequence of work by Peter Blegvad, with a spread of ‘Selected Letters re Amateur Enterprises’, some Leviathan strips not included in his own book (see Eye no. 38 vol. 10) and a few examples of The Pedestrian, the eerie visual essays made for The Independent on Sunday a few years ago. I’d say The Ganzfeld was worth buying for Blegvad’s extracts alone, except that it would be an unfair snub to the excellent work on show by illustrators such as Maira Kalman, Louise Fili, Paul Davis, Richard McGuire, Steven Guarnaccia and Gary Panter: it’s a pretty rich banquet. Ganzfeld founder Nadel has a nose for the more obscure byways of cartoon history. ‘Hello Gang: The Work of Frank Johnson’ uncovers an extraordinary collection of unpublished, home-made comic books with titles such as Wally’s Gang and The Juke Boys, not discovered until after Johnson’s death in 1979. ‘Completed in 1948, The Bowser Boys seems utterly unique in comic book history,’ writes Nadel of a particularly extraordinary slapstick strip, full of vomiting drunks, ‘a pre-underground underground strip.’

Nadel also interviews Eye contributor Steven Heller about his relentless productivity. An accompanying illustration by Seymour Chwast pictures Heller in the back of a yellow cab, racing through the streets of New York in the early hours of the morning, oblivious to hookers, angry dogs and muggers. A squared-off speech bubble has Heller saying: ‘Hurry, I have to finish a book!’ The editors describe The Ganzfeld as ‘an annual book of pictures and prose’, but some of the best writing is about the combination of the two. Chris Ware, in an admirably brief and lucid introduction to several pages of work from his sketchbooks, tackles the difference between seeing and reading: ‘To me, comics don’t present how something actually looks, but how it is experienced or remembered. Comics are a sort of piano roll, or sheet music, of the rhythm of life, flattened out on a page – ‘played’ with one’s eyes.’