There’s not much to know about Joey Comeau. Far from a household name, or even a professionally published writer, all we can tell you is what we picked up from a website: He was born in 1980, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. His mother was a punk rock hairdresser. He studied linguistics in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Where is he now? Only one place, really: online.
His debut novel, Lockpick Pornography, has become something of a bizarre anomaly in the publishing world, if one believes the Web hype. (Please see nomediakings.org.) Originally, the first chapter of this book was offered on the Net with a donation cup attached as a means of paying off his schooling. Even though it purportedly was unfinished, enough people stumbled upon the novel-in-the-works, prompting Comeau—also the web comic writer of A Softer World—to finish the book and pocket $1,600 in Canadian funds needed to finish university. He later found a friend willing to start small press out in Vancouver to publish it as a “real” book. (Meaning: one with a spine.) The rest, as they say, is history.
Without being made available to major online retailers like Amazon.com, the book picked up enough good word-of-mouth buzz that the first printing of 1,050 copies is now reportedly sold out. These days, and this is assuming that Comeau’s Web marketing team totally aren’t spinning a PR engine full of little more than hype, there is vague news about someone paying the young author a retainer for movie rights to the book. There’s even a Wikipedia entry on this book.
You gotta wonder if Lockpick Pornography is worth the low-key hype. Well, the good news, dear reader, is that you can go out and check it all out for yourself. The first seven chapters are available online for free at www.lockpickbook.net. If you want to read chapters eight, nine and 10, you need to order the book from the website.
Due to the generous amount of the book that is currently free, though, you can kind of make up your mind about this book without really having to finish it. From the opening paragraphs, it becomes really apparent that Lockpick is a pretty raw, visceral novel: it begins with a boot going through a TV screen. It also becomes really evident that it is a roughly written story, one that sort of still feels as though it is a draft waiting to be fleshed out by a really good editor. (One supposes this is one of the dangers of the online, punk publishing game.) As a result, you get clunky sentences like this one from chapter one: “The hetero-normative ownership paradigm is a tyrant belief system that deserves to be undermined on every front, from political protest to petty thievery.” Say wha?
That last paragraph, by the way, is a tip-off to the content of the book. It’s basically a homo-erotic, punk adventure story about a bunch of would-be terrorists/thieves who decide to do their business dressed up as Sesame Street‘s Bert and Ernie, which might partially explain the book’s Internet success. (That’s if not for the fact Bert is Evil became something of a terrorist Internet meme after 9/11, then for the fact that Bert and Ernie have gradually become unintentional queer icons.) In a world where gay and lesbian rights are up for grabs—including the right to marry just like everybody else—it goes without saying that that particular community is probably very ticked off at the moment. And there’s nothing like a bunch of good ol’ agitprop to burn down the house, if not the White House, without having to really go out and do it.
So whether or not you like the book will largely do with how passionate you feel about the subject—let alone some really explicit sex—and just how angry you are about what’s going down politically these days. This isn’t a criticism. It’s pretty much a given that members of the Young Republicans club probably aren’t going to take much of a liking to this one. Heck, members of the far-far left (ie. hippies) are probably not going to like this book, either. Whether or not you like your books to waive their politics in your face like a brandished crowbar is likely all a matter of personal taste anyway.
Politics aside, though, there is a sense of unbridled energy to this novel that is utterly charming. You’re always aware that this is a bit of a one-shot for the author, and one can’t help but be carried along with that infectiousness, that feeling you’ve stumbled upon something completely out-of-the-ordinary. You wind up rooting for this stranger and his fairly slickly marketed novel. (Well, perhaps until his main character cold cocks a girl in the stomach for being beautiful, at least.) That’s despite the fact this novel is a screed against all things straight, all things mainstream, all things that don’t have a bit of kink in them. A past reviewer of this work noted that the book is like “what would’ve happened if Kathy Acker had a dick and an attention span.” We can agree on the Kathy Acker bit, at least.
Ultimately, Lockpick Pornography is the kind of book that works best if you’re angry, confused, leftist, and, perhaps, queer (in more ways than one). It’s the type of work that a zinester in his early 20s would write: an angry screed against the world. Nothing wrong with that—this reviewer did the same thing six years ago by selling out 250 copies of a self-published chapbook titled Working in the Bowels of Hell, which is perhaps all you need to know about that project and what said writer thinks about it now. Still, Lockpick is at its best when it is angry. The sex and violence are so well done, in fact, that one reads this and kinda wishes the speechifying and manifesto-ness, particularly in the first chapter, could have been toned down somehow.
While Comeau’s work isn’t quite as satisfying yet as one might wish it were, you have to admire the guy’s chutzpah and directness, and love the fact that he’s utterly circumventing the “norms” of how one is a success in the publishing world. One can only give the guy the benefit of the doubt. Maybe in few years his storytelling just might catch up to his online salesmanship. You have to wonder: what’s Comeau gonna write when he finally turns 30?