Monday, June 21, 2010

The Tortas Chamber

My friend Alex Gilvarry (a painfully funny writer) has a terrific new lit mag called Tottenville Review. They're all about reviewing underexposed books and conducting interviews with emerging writers. Already they've done amazing Q&As with Rivka Galchen, Saïd Sayrafiezadeh, and Porochista Khakpour. So why they wanted to interview me is anybody's guess. My pal Jason Porter (another painfully funny writer) and I ended up talking mostly about sandwiches and Martin Amis's underpants. Then we ate sandwiches, but not underpants. Check out the results. And subscribe to Tottenville.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I Scrapbook and I Vote, vol. 1

The Unknown Knowns spawned a bunch of ancillary projects including a mini-comic, dioramas, a song, two cocktails, a pair of videos, a website, and even a t-shirt (available for barter or purchase). Lately I’ve had reason to dig through all the old computer files those projects generated. Sketches, photos, audio files, recipes, etc. I’m hoping—on a semiregular basis—to post some of these rags and bones here on the blog. Because if I don’t, well, who will?

First, there’s this rough sketch of a Nautikon skull that my wife, Margaret McCartney, made in preparation for the comic, which she also illustrated. The Nautikons were a race of aquatic humanoids who occupied the floors of the Mediterranean and Black Seas. (Duh!) Note the wide-set eyes and the sloping forehead. The ruffle on top is the sagittal crest. Like a bone mohawk, or “bohawk.” I think it has a Dürer-like, memento mori, aspect to it. (And a whole lotta Jack Kirby, too.) I love this Dürer engraving of St. Jerome in His Study.

Jerome featured prominently in my research. I fixed many of the dates in the Nautikon mythology using his Chronicon. It’s a fascinating document. Like Herodotus, Jerome freely mixed folklore with history in ways that now seem hilarious.

Check out this very reasonable note on the 17th century BC: “According the opinion of some, Prometheus lived in this time, by whom men recall that they were created. But the truth of the matter: because he was a wise man, he transformed their savagery and excessive ignorance into refinement and knowledge.”

Because, come on, Prometheus didn’t fashion humans out of clay and steal fire from the gods in a fennel stalk! That would be ridiculous!

Elsewhere, Jerome provides both the name of the man who invented the four-horse chariot and the date when Hercules took down Cerberus. In his sober-minded presentation of crazy horseshit, he’s like the Wikipedia of Constantinople.

It’s this casual blend of the real and the fantastic, the anatomical and the bohawk, that I admire in Margaret’s Nautikon skull. The sketch eventually found finished form in the title page of her beautiful comic, which can be found at the rear end of the paperback edition.