This past November I was delighted to read a notice in the newspaper
that Ben Katchor was going to be appearing in Las Vegas as part of the
Las Vegas Valley Book Festival. Katchor is one of the great fiction
writers at work today, and he happens to work in the medium of the
comic strip, or picture stories as he likes to call what he makes.
signature creation is Julius Knipl, real estate photographer, who
wanders the back streets of a disappearing New York, the New York of
the small-time merchants and manufacturers and wholesalers who used to
be the life's blood of the city's economy but are now being moved out
to the fringes of things by the inexorable yuppification of the city,
or at least of Manhattan.
disappearance of the small-time manufacturers in Manhattan made
possible my own residency in the city, starting in 1972, when artists
and various other undesirables started renting (illegally) the lofts
vacated by the small enterprises that were becoming economically
unfeasible. Back then, we lived among the remnants and the ghosts of
these vanishing concerns, businesses that made flags and coat hangars,
fur coats and uniforms.
were, alas, only the pilot fish for a new influx of urban professionals
who turned the loft districts into fashionable residential areas —
eventually the yuppies would drive us out of the city as they
transformed our Bohemia into the capital of Connecticut. Fair enough.
But Katchor remembers the city we Bohemians displaced, just as someday
someone will remember the city we remade. No one will care to remember
the new city of the yuppies.
The New York I miss most these days is the New York Katchor memorializes — but I missed it even when I was living in
New York. It exists now only in dreams and in art.
spoke in a gallery at the Holsum Lofts, a converted bread factory
that is part of a valiant and almost certainly doomed effort to create a new Bohemia in Las Vegas.
It's located downtown, on Charleston Boulevard, near the few places in
the area which still retain the flavor of the dirty old city — places
like Johnny Tocco's, a classic and legendary boxing gym unchanged for
read some of his strips, with the panels projected onto a screen. It
was interesting to see how well they played with the small audience,
which was often, like myself, laughing out loud. Katchor's tone in his
strips is generally wistful and melancholy, but there's a dark humor to
them that makes his visions bearable, and a quiet anger that gives them
great energy. All this could be heard in his voice.
was kind enough to sign one of my Knipl books with an illustration of
Mr. Knipl, and to add the date and place of the inscription. Julius
Knipl in Las Vegas — now there's a surreal image. The yuppification of
Las Vegas proceeds apace, and it will soon have the smug bourgeois
vapidity of modern-day New York, but the process will leave
deep secrets buried here, secrets that would certainly reveal
themselves to a dogged,
mystical real estate photographer.
Here's a link to Katchor's site, where you can buy books and cards and prints, and see what he's up to:
Ben Katchor's Web Site
[Click on the image above for a bigger version]