The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion
By Will Eisner
W.W. Norton, $19.95
The story’s well worn, of course. In the 19th century, a book appeared in Russia
called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which purported to outline a secret Jewish plan to take
over the world. The book was a fake—mostly cribbed from Maurice Joly’s Dialogue in Hell—but
that didn’t stop people from latching onto it. To this day, anti-Semites around the world still
insist it’s the real deal.
In the final decades of his life, comics legend Will Eisner’s work dealt more and more with
social and Jewish issues, so it makes perfect sense that the last thing he finished before dying
is this illustrated history of The Protocols.
The plot here mostly involves two men comparing texts in a cafe. But you rarely read Eisner for
his crackling dialogue, his nail-biter plots or his character development. It was the artwork
that was breathtaking, even if the stories weren’t. And Eisner’s artwork—which was amazing
back in the 40s when he was doing The Spirit—only improved with age. There is a subtlety
to his character’s expressions and gestures that you simply don’t see anywhere else.
Canceled Flight: 101 Tried and True Pigeon-Killin’ Methods
By A.V. Jones
Throckmorton Press, $24.95
As disease-vectoring winged rats prone to unleashing excrement on unsuspecting
foreheads, pigeons were doomed from creation. But the foul fowl are hardy urban survivors, copulating
as fruitfully as roaches. Left unchecked, reasons A.V. Jones ("the world’s foremost expert on
the subject of pigeon-killing"), pigeons will overpower humans, forcing future generations
to speak "coo." As pre-emptive strike, Jones has concocted Canceled Flight, a how-to primer on
Murderous methods are grouped by personality types (like Handymen & Lesbians) and
described in recipe-like detail, such as: "The Aboriginal Assassination: Dip several blowgun
darts in poison. Load one dart in blowgun. Aim. Blow. Repeat." More than 80 top illustrators, photographers
and artists including DALEK, Travis M. Millard and the Press‘s Aya Kakeda then depict the
bloody formulas, leaving no artery unsevered. (Like Andrew Pommier’s "The Nut Job," featuring
a heretofore benign Christmas Nutcracker ruthlessly crunching pigeon skulls.) The effect is
equal parts provocative, funny and contrived. At 101 methods, the one-note joke, like an issue
of Vice, grows tiresome. But Canceled Flight succeeds in toilet-reading chunks,
which proves, I guess, that you can give a shit about pigeons.
—Joshua M. Bernstein
Scoot Over, Skinny: The Fat Nonfiction Anthology
Edited by Donna Jarrell & Ira Sukrungruang
Most anthologies suck, reeking of favors called in, big names included for
their exploitation potential more than their mediocre contributions, and excerpts we’ve seen
before. Scoot Over, Skinny isn’t the upbeat and delusional collection of stories on how great it
is to be morbidly obese that I’d expected, however.
"Big Game Hunters," an amazing piece of journalism by Sarah Fenske, studies the phenomenon
of "hogging." As one of her research subjects explains, "Sometimes you just say, ‘Fuck it, let’s
get a pig.’" I’m pretty sure I’ve been hogged, perhaps as somebody’s "slump buster"—another
way to describe sex with a fat woman, which, some believe, can break a string of bad luck and lift morale.
Ouch. Victor Lavalle’s piece "Big Time" details the life of a 275-pound black man getting it on in
the projects with the slightly indifferent single mothers who are among the few available candidates
for free sex.
It’s not all gritty. There’s a celebratory and funny story by Steven Shaw, the cofounder of the
eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, and, unfortunately, a story from Dave Sedaris’
Me Talk Pretty One Day that’s been around the block a few times.
Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion—From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s
Columbine and Beyond
By Mark Ames
Soft Skull, $15.95 (July)
In 1989, a Louisville printing-plant worker walked into his factory with
an AK-47 and let rip. When it was all over, seven of his bosses and colleagues lay dead, dozens wounded.
For Moscow-based journalist (and Press contributor) Mark Ames, it’s no coincidence that America’s
first non–post office workplace massacre occurred at the end of Reagan’s second term. During
the 1980s the American workplace fundamentally changed. Unions were weakened or crushed and corporate
America became a much nastier place. A few of those on the receiving end of this shift went ballistic
with rage. The traditional explanation for these rage-murders holds that the perpetrators were
insane. But Ames offers an alternative explanation: that theirs were sane responses to an inhuman
system and will be vindicated by history. Much as 19th-century slave rebellions were incomprehensible
to contemporaries except as fits of madness, Ames believes we will one day see avenging workplace
assassins as the John Browns of their time. Whether or not the thesis holds up in 100 years, Going
Postal is a fascinating slice of cultural history that also offers up that rarest of things: an original
The High Cost of Free Parking
By Donald Shoup
Planners Press, $59.95
George Costanza, the quintessential New Yorker, once said, "My father didn’t
pay for parking, my mother, my brother, nobody. It’s like going to a prostitute. Why should I pay
when, if I apply myself, maybe I can get it for free?" The High Cost of Free Parking, Donald Shoup’s
733-page tour de force, has the answer. With the exception of a Monopoly board, there is no such thing
as free parking. In fact, free parking turns out to be the biggest problem you never thought about.
"We all want to park free," Shoup writes. "But we also want to reduce traffic congestion, energy
consumption and air pollution. We want affordable housing, efficient transportation, green
space, good urban design, great cities and a healthy economy. Unfortunately, ample free parking
conflicts with all these other goals."
But is this beach reading? Yes. Shoup is witty and profound. The Yoda of urban planning,
he compares the current national parking situation to the overfishing of communal waters, an outbreak
of cicadas, the Ptolemaic view of the universe, and all-you-can-eat buffets. The book inspired
me to begin building an SUV-size apartment on wheels and park it in the Manhattan neighborhood of
my choice. Call it "Alternate Side of Street Living." Why should cars be the only ones to get free,
fully subsidized housing in New York City?
Edited by Paul Buhle &Nicole Schulman
On their hundred-year anniversary, the International Workers of the World
surge anew via Wobblies!, a heady 305 pages of narrative and comics that recount some of the most
bite-your-knuckles thrilling history you’ve never heard about.
The Wobblies (the origins of whose nickname have never been nailed down) emerged in 1905
from the need for an all-inclusive labor union; the AFL had existed since 1883 but allowed only skilled
white male laborers into its ranks. Yet what began as a multiracial, multinational labor movement
of both men and women grew into a sweeping sociopolitical (and "hobohemian") underground.
Verso’s graphic history revivifies a cast of characters whose names have long since left the
common tongue: Wobbly songwriter Joe Hill, wrongfully executed after being framed for murder
in Utah; African-American Ben Fletcher, sentenced with 100 other defendants in an absurd mass
trial—the biggest in U.S. history; one-eyed, one-legged Frank Montana, who went to Butte,
Montana, on crutches to inspire exploited miners and wound up lynched from a railroad trestle.
Well-known figures such as Gertrude Stein, Margaret Sanger, Red Emma and Lucy Parsons make prominent
appearances, but the intersection of their lives and their roles in Wobblies history will be fresh
to most readers.
Wobblies! brings together some of America’s most talented graphic artists, among
them several World War 3 Illustrated contributors (Peter Kuper, Sabrina Jones, Seth Tobocman,
Mac McGill) as well as painter Sue Coe and comics legend Harvey Pekar. Though the book’s only color
is on its cover, this is one of the season’s most vivid, prismatic releases.
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
By Vitezslav Nezval
Twisted Spoon Press, $14 (June)
Gothic sleazefest, menstrual fantasy, dime-store pulp fiction—Valerie
and Her Week of Wonders is a collage of a collage of a collage, a dream of a dream, an important early-century
surrealist novel only now translated from its native Czech into English by the able David Short.
The lineaments of the story—traditional "plot" devices are mostly lacking; conventions
are often parodied, sliced and diced—follow the general guidelines of the roman noir, a
dark genre best exemplified by Matthew Lewis’ The Monk, and most radicalized by Lautremont’s Maldoror.
This genre usually involves a woman—in this instance the noctambulating, supernatural
Valerie—and the men who want to prey on her. Nezval, one of the greats of Czech surrealism
and a disciple of Lewis Carrol, Sade and von Sacher-Masoch, lays on a vampire, a lecherous priest,
androgyny achieved through incest between brother and sister and so on. Valerie’s "week" is, of
course, the period of her period. It’s bloody. In this wonderful edition by Prague’s stalwart Twisted
Spoon Press, it’s beautiful too.
Chuck Dugan Is AWOL
By Eric Chase Anderson
Chronicle Books, $19.95
Eric Chase Anderson’s graphic novel cum tale of adventure on the high
seas is complete with eye patches, a flying submersible contraption called the Popcycle, secret
passageways, underwater graffiti and an excitable octopus. Chuck Dugan—lanky, red-haired,
tattooed with his family’s crest—happily attends the Naval Academy until "one helluva
Mail Call," when he receives a treasure map drawn by his late father and an invitation to attend the
wedding of his mother and an evil mystery man named the Admiral. Simultaneously excited and enraged,
Dugan goes absent without leave to find his inheritance and stop the nuptials.
There’s an echo here of the ironic sentimentality that pervades the films of Anderson’s
older brother Wes, as well as the same meticulous attention to the smallest of details (one diagram
illustrates profile and overhead views of Navy-style coffee, while a "fight map" carefully shows
not only the combat paths taken by Chuck and one of the sons, but also the undisturbed lunch of tuna
fish and cookies that sits between them). So, make yourself a Panama Canal (illustrated recipe
on page 74), climb out onto the fire escape and pretend that’s the ocean you smell.
By Mark Moran & Mark Sceurman
Barnes & Noble, $25
If the idea of dragging the whole struggling, screaming clan off to Disney World again makes
you itch, try something different—something you’ll all remember for the rest of your lives.
How about a tour of the abandoned insane asylums of the Midwest? Or the haunted hotels of Maine? Or
fishing for one of Wisconsin’s (many) lake monsters?
It’s a big damn weird country out there, full of monsters, haunted houses, unexplained mysteries
and gateways to Hell—any one of which would make for a much better slideshow than another
trip to SeaWorld. And if one or two of the kids "disappears" along the way, well, you have a ready excuse.
Mark Morgan & Mark Sceurman have been putting out Weird N.J. magazine for a while
now, and have recently embarked on an ambitious series of Weird travel guides. While each state
will eventually get their own Weird guide, this photo-packed one-volume cornucopia of strangeness
should do quite nicely if you’re looking for a broad overview of the secret country that lurks in
the shadows behind the Wal Mart, the strip malls and the superhighways. It’s out there, and these
guys show you where to start looking for it.
An Anthology of Transsexual Memoirs
Edited by Jonathan Ames
Jonathan Ames, celebrity author and raconteur, compiled this examination
of the growing phenomenon of switching one’s gender. In San Francisco, the "binary gender system"
is widely scoffed at; one must use the term "bio boy" to make one’s birth gender clear, and gender-neutral
bathrooms are a must. People in New York aren’t quite there yet, but remember, we laughed at yoga
and hot tubs.
Ames starts the anthology with a piece from 1886 called "Psychopathia Sexualis." The tragic
story of gender dysphoria, as we must all now learn to call it, is narrated in a dated and hyper-articulate
tone that I can see Ames relishing.
Missing are contributions from the majority of pre-ops living on the margins of society, hustling
like fiends and frequently thrown in the queen tank. Ames consorted with this crew at the former
Sally’s in Times Square, where the clientele were so ghettoized that even in their own club they
had to request a strip of toilet paper on their way to the intriguing and aptly named powder room.
Thrillingly included, however, is the barfly subject of the present and future: Just exactly how
do they create an artificial dick, and does it really work?