CULTURE TO GO


PRINTED MATTER

Jessica Abel

Artbabe

self published comic

           In many mediums, you'll find women artists digging themselves into their own pigeonholes, stridently declaring their super-strengths over men while simultaneously licking the wounds created by the said pigs. Thankfully, a new generation of literate female comic book artists goes beyond the battle of the sexes toward more universal imagery and ideas; Jessica Abel, creator of the self-published (and grant-funded!) Artbabe, is one of them.

           Thus, you will not find cock-chopping chicks spewing men-are-scum rants in the pages of Artbabe. This is a world of beautiful, cool-to-the-core people. Considering Abel's immaculate figure drawing, at first glance this comic may look like alt-Barbies on parade. But she transcends her superficial tendencies with powerful vignettes that explore emotional tug-of-wars, such as dealing with a freeloading friend, or coping with a sexually charged but inherently doomed relationship.

           The story "Jack London" is best at incorporating all of Abel's talents as it contrasts the stale fluorescent chill of an office environment with the refreshing and comforting cold of a late February blizzard in Chicago. Abel's outdoor illustrations perfectly capture the purity of a low-visibility landscape, a pixelated world that alters perceptions and priorities both. In romanticizing rosy cheeks, silly wardrobes, and the camaraderie of foul weather, this story almost makes you yearn for a freak flurry at the height of summer--to create such a sentiment credits the power of Abel's pen, to say the least. $3. Jessica Abel, P.O. Box 642773, Chicago, IL 60664-2773 (Heidi Olmack)

Joel Sanders, ed.

STUD: Architectures of Masculinity

Princeton Architectural Press

           Much of academia is straining to be sexy these days, and STUD is an admirable case in point. The seven essays here, which cast a studious eye on intersections between the built environment and the construction of modern manhood, are far outnumbered by visual art and design projects from the likes of Andrea Zittel, Matthew Barney, Vito Acconci, Rem Koolhaas, Philippe Starck, and others. The plenitude of art and a seductively trendy design encourage the reader to hopscotch around the book--insofar as one can skip through the linguistic and conceptual acrobatics of academic writing.

           But STUD's contributors attempt to live up to the book's design, infusing their theoretical ponderings with a pop culture sensibility (and thankfully, there's barely a mention of the skyscraper-as-phallus). Ellen Lupton, for instance, shows how an electric carving knife--the first kitchen appliance designed for men--is not just an electric carving knife; and Lee Edelman offers an extensive analysis regarding temptation and taboo in guys' restrooms (just why are urinals always set out in the open?). Other essays show variously how Rock Hudson's bachelor pad in Pillow Talk, the U.S. Airforce Academy, and the layout of Freud's office both reflect and influence the masculine mind.

           Yet even hipster academics tend to build a near-impenetrable wall of arguments around a few good points; the adage, "it's not the length, it's the girth" applies to most of STUD's essays. The better ones also tend to hold observation or history over theory, such as Marcia Ian's discussion of the chiefly male "Apollon" gym, where she's been bodybuilding for eight years, or George Chauncey's chronicle of gays' use of New York's public spaces. Another highlight is a two-part, 1956 article from Playboy showcasing the design of a bachelor's dream penthouse--a primary source document that needs no academic embellishment. Sometimes playful and sometimes ponderous, all in all, STUD's got quite an attractive package. (Julie Caniglia)

David Wojnarowicz

The Waterfront Journals

Grove Press

           In an age of self-confession, there's something to be said for telling other people's stories--it's easier, for instance, to cut out someone else's ramblings and get to the heart of the matter. David Wojnarowicz--artist, writer, activist, and recently deceased (from AIDS, in 1992) wandering-soul-extraordinaire--plays editor in this posthumous collection of his fellow travellers' adventures. On the road throughout much of the late '70s and early '80s, Wojnarowicz accumulated stories from dozens of strangers in coffee shops, truck stops, motels, and streets around the U.S., all of which he claimed are true (says his own editor, Amy Scholder, in the preface).

           Following in the vein of his autobiographical works Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration and Memories That Smell Like Gasoline, Wojnarowicz collaborated in the early '90s with British art director Steve McLean on Postcards From America, a feature-length film based on those two works. The dreamy melancholy of Postcards is carried on with Waterfront's three dozen "monologues"--clipped, searing, and Polaroid-precise capturings of lost souls in confession. Wojnarowicz writes equally of lust and wanderlust, and the sex here is gentle and funny ("Man Drinking Coffee in Thirty-third Street Pizzeria--New York City") and terrifyingly cold ("A Kid on the Piers near the West Side Highway--New York City"); most of it is also anonymous and desperate. But Wojnarowicz also surprises us with a few moments of shelter and salvation ("The Waterfront 2:00 a.m.--New York City"). A witness to spilled guts over bottomless coffee cups, he keeps the real "authors" of Waterfront in the spotlight, but he's smart enough to add the insights of a kindred spirit. (Matt Keppel)

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