Noah Van Sciver’s latest work drops us into the world of Fante Bukowski, a writer with limitless desire and nonexistent talent. Is it good?
Fante Bukowski (Fantagraphics Publishing)
That top blurb pretty much covered it, but in case it wasn’t clear: Fante Bukowski wants to be a famous author. Actually, he probably wants to be famous more than he wants to be an author. Unfortunately, the publishing world is a cold cruel place, even to the best intentioned and supremely skilled among us. For a nihilistic hipster like Bukowski, it represents a level of personal hell that’s far worse than anything Dante Alighieri ever imagined.
Is It Good?
Like Bukowski, I am an aspiring novelist… I’ll wait for you to stop laughing.
Anyway, as I was saying, I am a bit of a writer myself. I’m also a realist, which I like to think keeps me from spiraling into an existential crisis every time I receive a rejection letter. When the inevitable ‘We’re sorry, but this story isn’t for us’ email comes in, I like to remind myself about the massive pile of rejection slips Stephen King used to keep on his wall before hitting it big. It’s not for reassurance that I will get to his level one day via perseverance. Good lord—that would be so wonderful and easy. Instead, it’s a reminder that rejection is a part of the process. Of course, it’s completely within the realm of possibility that my work really did suck and the editor who read it tried to gouge their eyes out with a screwdriver. But even if I wrote the greatest thing ever, it would still have a hard time getting published. That’s a harsh reality, but it’s also strangely comforting. Maybe my work isn’t getting published simply due to matters that are completely out of my control. Huzzah!
I would be lying, however, if I said that my rejections didn’t trigger any sort of irrational response. The first few seconds after I open one those dreaded emails are my most raw and emotionally honest, filled with cursing and petulant sulking. Sometimes, when I’ve had a few rejections in a row, I let the anger flow a bit longer. I’ll never forget how I reacted after reading that JK Rowling submitted her first post-Harry Potter novel under a pseudonym and got rejected.
“HA!” I laughed (out loud). “The gatekeepers have been revealed as the elitist frauds they truly are!” (that part I said in my head, but only because was inside a Starbucks).
This was, admittedly, a stupid reaction and an even stupider sentiment. But damn did those few seconds of self-righteous anger feel good. I had let my id run wild, giving me a small bit of cathartic relief before sinking back into reality.
Fante Bukowski never does that. Oh, he may sink into depression and despair, but its never connected to anything resembling reality. Instead, it’s all id all the time. A 24/7 state of defeatist narcissism… and it’s awesome.
For anyone who has made a serious attempt at being a published author, reading this book is probably what a professional musician feels like watching This is Spinal Tap. It’s hilarious, but also occasionally accurate to the point of being uncomfortable—which makes it even funnier. While most of us trying to hack it in the word mines aren’t anywhere near as depraved and delusional as Bukowski (hopefully), we’ve all had moments—if only a few seconds—where our internal voice has sounded VERY similar to his actual one. That’s not to say you have to be a failed or successful writer to enjoy this. But if you are, then you’ll probably get more of the jokes. Or get more out of them. Either way, it’s great.
There were only a few minor things I didn’t like about Van Sciver’s masterful tale. The unpolished art fit the script perfectly, but the paneling was kind of repetitive, making the pages feel a little too static as they went by. And the ending, while poignant, felt a bit too abrupt.
Otherwise, Fante Bukowski is the voice no writer wants to admit, but we all have. It also puts that voice into a context that is simultaneously mocking and sympathetic. It allows us to laugh not just at the main character, but also at ourselves during our weakest moments. If you’re not a writer, then pick this one up for a well-written bit of satire (that may also help you understand your weird friend who’s always working on his/her novel). If you are a writer, then pick this one up for an hour of laughs and some much needed therapy.