Panel to Panel
by Nathan Patton
My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down
Best known for his contributions to anthologies like “Mome” and “Kramers Ergot,”
David Heatley delivers the most polarizing work of last year in his first full-length effort.
Taking its name from a Ramones song, “My Brain is Hanging Upside Down” is divided into five sections: Sex, Race, Mom, Dad, Kin.
In the first section, we get a reprint of Heatley’s infamous story from “Kramers Ergot #5,” aptly titled “My Sex History.” If it sounds like an overly graphic depiction of every sexual encounter in Heatley’s life, that’s exactly what it is. But Heatley, using little pink bars, has censored this version. And in doing so, he has tossed aside the only trait that could not be denied him as a cartoonist: unwavering honesty.
There’s also a brief metatextual addendum to that story where we see Heatley’s reaction to other people’s reaction to the original version. He seems baffled that anyone could have viewed him as bisexual after reading the story in which he has sexual encounters with other males. I think this coupled with the fact that he only censors the male body parts in this edited version of the story says a lot.
The next section seems to be just as comprehensive a collection of every African-American person Heatley has ever encountered. The snippets are separated by reviews of hip-hop albums and “shout-outs.” Again, it’s brave to be as open as he is about his feelings on race, but the whole section really comes across as his way of saying “I’m cool, right?” rather than any kind of legitimate self-examination.
His art is just as awkward as the stories he’s trying to tell with it. It’s amateurish and crowded, but it’s honest. It looks like the lazy scribbles of a rushed artist, but it doesn’t come across that way. It’s clear that Heatley needs to get these stories on paper and lacks the skill to make it look perfect. But there’s a lot of heart, and, yes, bravery, in that.
His use of 48 panel pages to give a lot of information in the smallest affordable space is fantastic. But while I love the tactic, but I would have preferred he filled those 48 panels with something a bit more interesting.
And this book is full of those types of contradictions. He starts every section with brief graphic transcriptions of his dreams. But since he offers no insight into what the dreams mean and instead seems to want us to do all the work of figuring how they correlate to the other stories, it’s rather pointless. And even if we wanted to psychoanalyze his dreams, we’re not given the context of the situations and settings that surround the dreams.
And that is a pretty good way to sum up the book as a whole. It’s a brave, awkward “pick and choose” memoir, but in the end, it’s a bit like a Hollywood movie with only explosions: There’s no nuance to hold it all together.
by Terri Schlichenmeyer
‘The Long Fall’: Who you know can get you killed
The buzzword for today is “networking.” Networking is easy; you’ve probably been doing it all your life and barely realized it. You tell friends about a good hairdresser, a decent mechanic, a trustworthy housecleaner. They, in turn, give you the names of a good accountant, a decent tutor, a trustworthy babysitter. You make connections. You put people in touch with others.
That “six degrees of separation” stuff is no lie.
It’s not what you know, but who you know that makes life turn. But in the new novel “The Long Fall” by Walter Mosely, who you knew could get you killed.
When a man wants to turn a new leaf and “go from crooked to only slightly bent” he tries to stay away from things that get him into trouble. But private eye Leonid (father was a Communist) McGill (grandpa’s slave name) couldn’t seem to shake the bad that followed him.
It was supposed to just be a job, nothing cloak-and-dagger. Straight-laced Ambrose Thurman, a man McGill knew only through phone calls, needed the real names of four boys who served time as juveniles more than a decade ago. Thurman’s anonymous client wanted the names, nothing else. Knowing a cop who owed him, McGill got the info. But something wasn’t right. After he handed the names over, he regretted finding those boys-now-men.
He regretted it for good reason. First one, then another of those boys was beaten to death and Thurman was found dead in a bathtub. When a behemoth broke into McGill’s office sanctuary and tried to knock the life out of him, the cops arrested the giant man but they wanted to pin everything, including the murders, on McGill. It didn’t make sense.
McGill didn’t know the giant man, and he had only met Thurman once. Maybe Tony the Suit, a small-time gangster who was pressing McGill to find a former nemesis, was angry that McGill wasn’t moving fast enough. Perhaps the most powerful man in New York City was behind the attempted assault.
And as if trying to save your own life isn’t enough, McGill knew that his son, Twill, was about to do something dumb. McGill had to save his boy from a long fall, too.
Fans of Easy Rawlins, author Walter Mosley’s most beloved, and possibly-killed-off character, can rest Easy: you will absolutely love Leonid McGill. I seriously can’t think of a better successor to Rawlins’ literary legacy than this new, very fine PI.
However, “The Long Fall” starts out with a slam-bang. Its dark-toned noir-ness lets you know you’re in for something special. Unfortunately, the story gets off-track toward the end and was, I thought, rather implausible. Suffice it to say that there are some very odd, unbelievable characters that belong more in an old Bette Davis movie than in a modern-setting mystery.
Excited Mosley fans will want to read “The Long Fall” if for no other reason than to meet McGill. If you’ve never read Mosley’s stuff, though, this isn’t the best novel to start with. Find something Easy instead.