The Naked Artist: Comic Book Legends
The best conversations at comic conventions happen in the bars, after plenty of social lubricant has been flowing. Artist Bryan Talbot has collected many of the anecdotes and stories passed around in The Naked Artist: Comic Book Legends.
Don’t be mistaken; this isn’t a graphic novel, but a book of text stories, perfect for pick-up-and-put-down sampling. (Given some of the subjects, one is immediately tempted to suggest bathroom reading.) They’re casually presented, as though sitting around swapping tales, with occasional illustrations by Hunt Emerson. Tons of recognizable names are involved, and aside from stories about alcohol, there’s also nudity (male and female), drugs, international travel, demented fans, and lots and lots of jerky behavior (on all sides).
Talbot’s introduction explains the tendency to gossip at cons as a result of the usual comic industry working method: self-employed and alone at a drawing board or typewriter most of the day. So when like-minded folk get together, ostensibly for business and networking, they tend to let loose and get liquored up. That means they’ll tell stories they might think better of in a more sober mindset, and they’ll also act in ways that serve as fodder for stories the next season.
The book doesn’t take itself seriously, and as a result, at least one comic pro has publicly been sputtering about how wrong stories about him are and how they don’t tell his side. That’s not the point. As the subtitle says, these are legends, stories retold because they’re enjoyable or shocking or mildly scandalous. Legends get swapped around because they match how the teller and listener think the world should be (regardless of truth or falsity). As Talbot ends his thanks and dedication page, “For those of a sensitive disposition and to those who are easily offended, just bugger off.”
On that subject, there are two warnings early on in the book. The first, legalistic, on the copyright page states “This is a work of fiction. … Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead… is entirely coincidental.” They’re covering their butts, because Talbot uses names frequently and often, and some of the stories succeed because those named have certain reputations that provide necessary context. Talbot includes stories about himself, too, both ones he’s witnessed and ones where he’s the butt of the joke.
Talbot’s introductory reminder is more plausible: “They are modern myths and should be read as such. They evolve in the telling: events are exaggerated, details conveniently morph to plaster over half-remembered plot points and sometimes even the protagonists or locations are substituted for ones that just sound right at the time, sacrificing historical veracity for rhetorical effect. … It’s up to you whether or not to believe that any of them are true, but it is true that they are told, and told again.”
I’m glad they’ve been collected. Some I’ve heard before, others were fresh and funny, all were entertaining. It’s like the best parts of a convention under one set of covers, and well worth the cover charge (without the next-day hangover!).
A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher. Tim O’Shea interviewed Talbot about the book.