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THE CARDBOARD VALISE by Ben Katchor

THE CARDBOARD VALISE

By Ben Katchor (Author) , Ben Katchor (Illustrator)

Pub Date: Feb. 15th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-375-42114-3
Publisher: Pantheon

The book-length publication of the acclaimed visual artist’s weekly strips defies narrative convention as a graphic novel.

Katchor (Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, 2000, etc.) has been the subject of an admiring profile in New Yorker, the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (the first cartoonist so honored) and the focus of a documentary (The Pleasures of Urban Decay). So perhaps some contextual research is in order for the reader coming fresh to Katchor to avoid being bewildered, if not overwhelmed, by the sheer verbiage, multi-sensory detail and lack of narrative continuity here. The tale comes to encompass tourism (and public toilets as tourist attractions), cultural authenticity, the ever-changing nature of language, commodification and disposability, the plasticity of food, the nature of matter (both organic and non-) and the eating of ice-cream cones as performance art. The title provides an apt metaphor, for the valise is sizable, capable of accommodating such various and sundry contents, while the cardboard material suggests an impermanence. Pages could be shuffled from beginning to end and the reader wouldn’t know the difference, because the book avoids all conventional notions of narrative momentum and character development. There are three main characters, the reader belatedly discovers, whose stories intersect though perhaps exist mainly as myth. Emile Delilah is a perpetual traveler, a man without a country and one who derives his identity from no culture, and the possessor of the cardboard valise. His tenement neighbors include Boreal Rince, the regal exile from the mythical realm of Outer Canthus (one of the narrative’s settings, along with Tensint Island) and Elijah Salamis, whose first name might be confused with Emile’s and whose last name conjures the sort of food that permeates the book in its taste, texture and smell. He is some sort of post-nationalist, refusing to recognize cultural distinctions and boundaries. These characters rarely meet.

A parallel dimension that readers might find creatively charged or thematically exhausting.