“Once upon a time we shared in this common misconception of there being a divide between fact and fiction, but after that night our sense of the reality of events and the certainty of objects was forever deranged. How life seemed to be made up of the kind of person who controlled perception while most other kinds of people yielded to it. Even though we snuck in and inspected the body later, after everyone had had a piece, just to see if pieces were missing – and there weren’t, there were not – in all parts of our lives thereafter, both mentally and physically, Jonjay’s prank would haunt us.”
1970’s Victoria, British Colombia, Canada a young doodler and aspiring cartoonist named Wendy Auer leaves the boredom of her hometown after a loin-tingling meeting with a free-spirited and dreamy young man named Jonjay. After one incredible night together, Wendy decides to follow him and travels up the coast to the excitement of San Francisco, California to pursue her dreams and claim her place in the realms of comic strip royalty. Fast forward several years and Wendy is now twenty-five and mourning the death of her mentor Hick Elmdales. Hick had a rare form of sarcoma cancer and eventually became sick and tired of being sick and tired. Wendy spent a lot of time keeping him company and making him chocolate bar sandwiches. She had a unique relationship with Hick, Hick named her Wendy Ashbubble because, with respects to her talent as a comic artist, she was out of this world. When he passes on, at his request the crew at No Manors throw a big party with a lot of artists, weed, junk food, pens, paper, alcohol, complete with unwelcome representatives/henchmen from Disney. At a celebration of life, leave it to the people from Disney to spoil the party leading to a full-blown melee between twenty-four cartoonists and them.
Wendy’s pride and joy is her lovable, mischievous animals depicted in her comic strip called Strays. Her boss Gabrielle Scavalda works as a syndicate editor for The Trieste and has forged a relationship with a wealthy business man named Frank Fleecen who loves Strays and is interested in investing in its development through merchandising and licensing. At first his interest is harmless, but as Wendy and Frank discuss her hopes and dreams she starts to realize that Frank wants a little pleasure mixed with his business interests.
“Of the whole affair with Fleecen, Wendy had this to say: nobody on earth who gets to know me imagines I’m better than what they already have. Even if I wanted to be with Frank, that doesn’t mean I would want to spend time with him. What I do is draw. Flings are my thing.There’s no time in my life for anything but professional commitments. I’m not girlfriend, mistress, or any other kind of material. I’m this night owl with a pen in her hand. Don’t touch me, I’m not yours.”
No Manors has a rag-tag collection of artists coming in and out of the woodwork, taking up residence as they pleased with no questions asked. The mainstays in the building are Twyla Noon, Mark Bread, Patrick Poeduce, Rachael Wertmüller, and Wendy Ashbubble herself. They all had their own unique talents and quirks but together, as a team, they shook the comic strip world and ultimately changed their lives forever. The main character Wendy is a psychiatrist’s dream and a potential windfall in earned income with her grocery list of maladies. Wendy is a self-confessed phobia-ridden, compulsive, anxious, and obsessed individual with homebody tendencies. She is often afflicted with a lack of motivation, feelings of inadequacy and fatigue. She has also developed a habit of grinding her teeth and clenching her jaw as these psychological problems take hold. Not to mention she is a big proponent of the no strings attached sex, at any time, any where, just as long as you strike her fancy in one way or another, age and ill-fitting toupees are still eligible. All of these revelations are big hindrances to her goal of being rich and famous.
“Forget money. What money you get, it’s yours. What you lose, let go, keep drawing and draw for the rest of your life. Drawing’s your dream, not money. Draw every day all day until your fingers crack open like piñatas. You’re not afraid of success, are you?
Of course I’m afraid of success. Success is the worst. Because what if now that I’ve got it, I flop? Every success is kind of the same, but every failure is unique in its own terrible way.”
Take a metaphysical sprinkle of Another Roadside Attraction, a darkened whisper of All the Presidents Men, a prophetic performance arts piece of The Family Fang, and a quick dash of Around the World in 80 Days and you get a taste of Lee Henderson’s The Road Narrows as You Go.What Camp Hollywood and Highland Gardens did for actors and actresses, Bernal Heights and No Manors did for artists. As flaky, wispy and whimsical as this book presents itself, there are also plenty of weighty subjects involving the AIDS epidemic and resulting crisis of 1980’s San Francisco, suspected cannibalism, as well as sudden disappearances of various characters. There are also sections involving economic capitalism, grand scale investigations, and even Anton LaVey and his role in the Satanic culture make a few appearances. But tell me, who can say no to this face?
I must admit that this book frustrated me to no end. The writing style was confusing and at points I was bored by it, forcing me to skim in order to maintain motivation and a little bit of hope. The whole premise of the book was very encouraging and spoke to my likes and interests, but the overall length and verbosity of the book on seemingly easy talking points made it overwhelming. I don’t mind working with a book, even fighting it to an extent, but this book gave me a wedgie, a swirly, took my lunch money and shoved me in a locker. It did everything short of taking me from behind and making me call him daddy. The author does a great job in delving into the psyche of artists facing deadlines, losses in inspiration, and processes for stirring up their creative juices. There are also plenty of scenarios that will strike a chord with a reader through one avenue or another. The crew also consume a lot of weed that is routinely used as spiritual vehicle to channel their fallen friend and mentor Hick. This book had interesting topics but was very slow moving and incredibly dense. At times it seemed like it was never going to end. I would recommend this book to people that enjoy the history of comic strips and aren’t put off by a certain plodding style of writing with its own brand of versatility.
“What we remember most about Death Valley was the relativity of things, the relativity of our size compared to the desert, and our weight, how incredibly heavy we felt, how are feet sucker to the ground, and how we shrank, shrank down to pea-sized, then to the size of a grain of sand, then smaller than that, to the size of the universe itself, one chiliocosm spinning among many. The heaviest, smallest things ever to exist, that’s what the desert told us we human beings were. Like those stones on the floor of the Racetrack Playa, we were sailing across the dry seabed in the coracles of our imaginations, a mystery even to ourselves.”