History in the Making: NEW OLD BEN KATCHOR
Ben Katchor’s Cheap Novelties is one of those rare books. I knew it the moment I plucked it off the shelf at Wordsworth bookstore in Harvard Square in 1991. I had read a few things by Ben in RAW and this book's link to that gorgeous new world of cartooning was well-known. It was like nothing else. These were hilarious, compact weekly strips featuring a most unlikely stooped saggy-suited photographer skulking through what appeared to be New York to my unseasoned Boston eyes. Even I knew that this city didn’t exactly exist but it sure seemed like it should’ve or might’ve in that kind of Pynchonian mixing of fact and fiction where even the most scholarly historian would confuse the two.
I know I already said these comics were hilarious but had anyone before Ben administered such clever and twisting wordplay in a small format like this before? Such a curious, keenly observant eye. I have no doubt that if in fifty or a hundred years, one needed to explain to someone “what cities used to be like” you could put this (fictional) book in their hands and it would do a better, quicker job than any (non-fiction) history book.
Okay, so this is an amazing comic in hardcover for the first time! What could be better? There are a lot of classic comics out there and I guarantee you’ll see more from Drawn & Quarterly in the next few years. Enjoy these interior images: