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Framed

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A week ago Saturday was “Free Comic Book Day,” a periodic promotional event in which comics stores and publishers give away teasers of their wares. One thing I found among the superheroes and manga was an almost cruel temptation: a sampler from a book that won’t exist until “Spring of 2008.”

What It Is, by Lynda Barry (Drawn and Quarterly), will evidently be a kind of self-growth manual in which the beloved alt-cartoonist helps readers trigger and nurture their creative impulses. A year is a long time to wait, but these couple-dozen exercise-filled sample pages hinted at a giddy, idiosyncratically Barry-like ride.

They also resonated with a book that’s actually in stores now. The 1000 Journals Project, assembled by “Someguy” (Chronicle), is its own sort of creativity-prodding experiment, in which 1,000 blank books were sent into the wild (mailed to strangers, left in cafés, etc.) with the instructions that the recipient should A) add to the book, B) pass it along, and C) keep in touch via the internet. The still-in-progress result, excerpted here, is a globe-sprawling work of collective art encompassing comic strips, doodles, diary entries, and naked confessions. And lots and lots of collage.

Further random-access examples of creativity:

Among the ranks of art-scavengers, DJs may surpass even comic-book collectors. Mingering Mike (Princeton Architectural Press) documents a DJ-found eureka unlike any I’ve heard of (and I’ve known world-renowned record-hounds): In a D.C. flea market, Dori Hadar found a trove of soul LPs by an artist she’d never heard of, Mingering Mike. Looking closer, she realized that the scores of albums were all fake — hand-painted sleeves housing cardboard records, made over years, in which “Mike” lived a career without ever releasing a record. You have to see the book to understand the beautiful breadth of this man’s fantasy.

If Mike is a pop star with no voice, then Elvis Road (Buenaventura Press) is a thousand comic narratives in search of a word balloon. A collaboration between X. Robel and H. Reumann, the book is a single, yards-long strip of paper, folded accordion-style, that contains one drawing big enough to depict its own reality. Sweaty and surreal, it’s a massive metropolis in which kiddie-TV heroes, Nazis, Klansmen and Rasputin-like creeps mingle together or (more often) breeze by oblivious of each other while engaged in activities the viewer must interpret for himself. Owing equally to esoteric art comix and to the hazy universe of “outsider art,” it’s like a segment of Buenaventura’s cult-favored anthology Kramer’s Ergot (currently in its sixth overstuffed, tripped-out issue) that has wriggled free of its neighbors, metastasizing into its own self-contained, enigmatically designed package.

Finally, a rummaging discovery that doesn’t require flying to D.C. flea markets or traipsing back in time to “Free Comic Book Day”: Dig through your local Half Price Books, and you’re likely to find the work of cartoonist Glen Baxter. It shouldn’t be thus: His work is so weirdly witty it should fly off shelves, with used copies as hard to find as original Jim Thompson pulps. But in over a decade of haunting the stores, I’ve rarely gone two visits without seeing one of his collections of single-panel non sequiturs. Bizarrely, they’re often as not in the clearance section. The important thing is that, lately, the chain seems to have acquired so many copies of Volumes 1 and 2 of Baxter’s collected works (aka The Unhinged World of … ) that they’re blowing them out for four bucks each. That’s an awfully cheap way to acquire five books’ worth of ’toons featuring crochet-mad cowpokes, crackpot colonialists, and housewives who forge their omelets with sledgehammer and anvil. Discover Baxter now, before his occasional appearances in the New Yorker make his dry, off-kilter genius known to your fellow secondhand book buyers. 


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