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Bread and Wine, Samuel Delany

2 out of 5 stars

ad An Wine Liquid stunning art, forgetable stories.

 

The dawning sky is blue and grey
and blue and gray mists veil the hours,
annul the waters, hide the towers
erase the spires that crown the bay,
Infinity is blue and gray,
the undefined and incomplete
moment where sky and water meet
before the gray is ripped by day-
blades of gleaming metal gray,
Swimming gull-forms melt and float
in liquid air around the boat
that moans in blind flight on the bay ,
A gust of wind throws one more gray-
white bird across the prow. It veers
into the mist and disappears.
In a breath it will be day.
Hold me, love; I quake with day,
blind beneath the staring hours,
See the cracked , reflected towers
burning crimson on the bay.

--Chip Delany, from "Heavenly Breakfast"

 

To be frank, I can't recommend Samuel Delany’s newest graphic novel effort ‘Bread and Wine" to the casual fan of either comics or science fiction. I am unhappy because Delany is a personal hero of mine. To be candid, before Octavia Butler, Steven Barnes and I presume Jamil Nasser, his was the only face of color that I had ever seen in science fiction circles. In fact, until the cover of "Heavenly Breakfast" I didn’t know he was an African American. And the thing I really liked about Delany is that he's not a token, but that he’s really really good. He is one of the consummate stylists of our time (within science fiction and out) and his speculation is top notch and imaginative.

I suppose, when you think about it, the graphic novel takes away from his two strengths because it doesn’t lend itself to descriptive passages and this particular topic matter is not science fiction. Don’t get me wrong, there was some fine writing. Here’s one example of what a spectacular writer Delany can be even in this graphic novel:

The sad and almost weekly reiterated truth is
That I am not happy here.
Walking in the snow-blanketed morning, and wander-
Ing across the great orange rug (My mother’s) in
The study, to gaze out on the snow blurred dawn,
Wrapped around with fog, I’m confronted with
The fundamental peacefulness and serenity of
The town as a physical place. But the moment
The fog burns off, I’m confronted with its equally
Fundamental impoverishment—financial, cultural and social.

Not bad. But there really isn’t anything else that reaches his usual level of poetry. He seems to have lapsed into a conversational narrative, which might actually be better in a comic form, but takes away from his great strengths.

What it is about: Delany’s strange, olfactory shattering relationship with what sounds to be a partially deranged homeless man. By the way, this is a true story. For the record, Delany is a twofer. He is not only the most prominent black science fiction writer on Earth, he is probably the most prominent gay science fiction writer on Earth. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like women. He was once married to poet Marilyn Hacker and has a daughter, who makes a shy appearance or two in the book. Remember that movie where Martin Sheen played a gay guy and his lover had to explain it to his son…Oh, never mind…

Look, I say live and let live and there’s nothing wrong with Delany’s lifestyle choice. But, at the risk of sounding like the stereotyped Jewish mother, couldn’t he have found a nicer boy? Surely, that nice horror poet Clive Barker would be a better catch and there must be thousands of effeminate male english majors who would love to jump into bed and be tutored by such a "Legend".

This book, by the way, is full of mostly gay graphic sex. Not my cup of tea. I guess this is the way women might feel whenever they see pornography, slightly unsettled. Not only that, when I was growing up Delany was my Sean Connery. Dashing. Bold. He did things that other men simply could not do. Now, here I am, watching Delany on page 20 giving this creepy homeless guy a blowjob, with cum clearly shown. How would you feel, as a heterosexual I’m assuming, watching Sean give a blow job to Goldfinger, or perhaps more appropriately Blofelt? Dashing? Bold? I don’t think so.

It is honest. Wrenchingly so I might add. In fact, I now know more about Delany that I ever wanted to know to paraphrase Neil Gaimen's sarcastic praise in the back of the book. I know that he’s into seducing homeless men. I know that he likes his men to have big hands and feet, which is probably why a character who strongly resembled Kareem Abdul Jabbar played the lead for the first 100 pages or so of "Stars Like Grains of Sand". I now know that he spends a lot of time watching television just like everybody else.

Bread also sets a record for a series of grisly pungent descriptions. Other critics have pointed this out as well. Apparently, his homeless seductee was so dirty that he turned two tubs of water jetblack, before finally giving into a shower. Delany also describes this guy’s scent as "shit-and-vinegar sourness". Yeech.

I also don't know what to make of the ending. Apparently, he lives happily ever after with his cleaned up formerly homeless lover, his daughter and a few friends. Everything about this story suggests to me that his lover is not all there. Tomorrow, if I read Dennis stabbed Delany and his daughter in the head it wouldn't surprise me. Really wouldn't.

The other thing is I can't figure out is why Delany would have a relationship with someone who wasn't his intellectual equal. I mean, in all probability, Delany beats Dennis' IQ by about a 100 points. And I'm not kidding about that. That would not be unlike me marrying a cat and calling it a relationship. And why would your basic crazed homeless guy turn down a relationship with anyone, let alone a guy with a house? I mean, I don't like rejection--take my short fiction story "The Science Fiction Story as Life Metaphor", please--but what were the homeless guy's options? Chip probably looked like Cleopatra to this guy, or at least a pudgy male middle aged bespectacled version of Cleopatra who lived in a nice warm house. Smart guy that he is Chip probably knew it to.

Artwise I would say artist Mia Wolff does a decent job. It feels a little sketchy at times, but it works. She does a number of interesting things with her art. As grungy as the sex scenes get, she's always tasteful. I suppose she gets the work done. Her work, and essentially its timing and layout, makes me think of this as kind of Harvey Pekar in another dimension: The Black Gay Gritty Dimension. But it isn't easily comparable to anything. This is truly a unique work. There just is not a lot of interracial-gay-relationshipbetween-noted-writer-and-crazed-homeless-person comic book fiction out there. I mean I've looked at the row between the X Men and Green Lantern, but I just didn't see it.

Bottom line, if you're a Delany groupie, for example you've read "Hogg" over and over again and comprehend all his crit lit pieces (good luck) then run out to the store and grab this up. If you've never heard of Delany, then I would first suggest his novels "Triton" and the aforementioned "Stars like Grains…" And if you're the kind of person who considers books like Gravity's Rainbow and Ulysses light reads, then I wholeheartedly recommend that you pick up Delany's massive work: "Dhalgren".

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Heavy Liquid, Paul Pope Creator
4 out of 5 stars

Paul Pope, known for his sketchy, pulpy alt underground stories, jumps to Vertigo’s big label and gives us a story about a futuristic mind altering drug that does a little bit more than just get you high. It seems that it shapes the very nature of reality itself. Either that, or Paul likes showing off his more surrealistic, stream of consciousness flourishes.

Visually, its quite stunning. You would have to define it as American Manga, pure storytelling, energetic, almost like a Silent Film shot in shades of reds, blues, whites and blacks. By the way those are the only colors used, no doubt added to increase the story’s psychotropic effects.

Full of subtle science fiction ideas. Feels like Cronenberg: Everything looks the same as suburban American but then you’re confronted by a talking insect that drips with milky liquid or a television with teeth. Here we get gorgeously drawn inner city ghettoes (I think its New York), reminds me a lot of David Mazzucchelli’s city scapes from Batman Year one, full of science fictional surprise. High tech phones that splits the signal seven different ways, computer screens etched on the eye, an Imac evolved computer called "lil fucker" that’s the size of a softball with prongs and that looks like a detached heart, thin slinky stick figure droids called Kolapsos that attack like spiders and restrain you and other cool stuff that I’m sure Pope will get into in the later issues of 3 through 5.

Feels a lot like Gibson, full of grit, mixed in with lots of weird angles, colors and just the hint of Carmine Infantino. I definitely recommend it.

The most controversial thing that I’ve heard about Heavy Liquid is its implicit, or perhaps even explicit, endorsement of drug use.

I think it was written by a guy who looks like the father in King of the Hill, at least if the portrait on his web site is any indication. I think he brings up an interesting point, although I don't think its wise to attach any kind of morality to art. Clearly, our antiheroes don't seem to care. Our "heroes" look like the same kind of people who cook crack vials. But keep in mind we don't know what this drug does or why its bad, or even if its bad, plus it's set fifty or sixty years in the future. I mean, I'm open minded. Carl Sagan smoked a lot of weed. Timothy Leary saw something in LSD. Not only that our drug laws are hypocritical and stupid. Is that an endorsement of drug use? Not necessarily. I don't smoke or drink but I don't think people who do should be thrown in jail…Finally, I just don't think moralistic viewpoints should be brought into any evaluation of art works whether they're Henry Miller novels or Paul Pope comics.

Generally speaking, I think comics and science fiction fans are fiendishly open minded. I might add however that your average 700 Club fan might not get into Heavy Liquid but I don't consider that demographic to be a target.

So, run down to the corner, talk to the "man", and get yourself a hit or two of Heavy Liquid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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