Portraits and Stories of People

by Sean Jaffe

22 July 2004



Portraits and Stories of People

(Soft Skull Press)
US: Jun 2003

Okay, I give. Your friends are cooler than mine.

I don’t really know what prompted Fly to publish this project, but it’s certainly an interesting hobby. Imagine getting all your buddies together, drawing them, and then writing some addled anecdote about them in the margins. Now imagine doing this with everyone you meet for a few years, and assembling it into a book. You would have a very interesting project with very specific appeal. This is probably going to be marketed to comic stores on account of the weird pictures and paperback format, but it’s in no way a comic. It’s more of an art book than anything.

Fly’s compilation reads like the Marvel Handbook for the corner of Bowery and Houston, or the DC Who’s Who of St. Mark’s Place. Her subjects are gutter-punks and degenerates of every variety, and that’s not a term I use with any malice. I know my element when I see it.

Their individual vignettes are usually accompanied by quick blurbs—“I met X while holding a friend’s hair back while she puked on Haight-Ashbury as he rode backwards on a motorcycle with his hair on fire. X killed 15 police officers just this morning. He has a gift for macramé rarely seen in transvestite arsonists.”

Ok, so maybe I’m exaggerating, but the book is positively dripping with that Williamsburg-Brooklyn-Casually-Majestic-Oh-So-Smug cool. This book, even down to the white-boy Ebonics title, has more hipness in its first page alone than I will ever see in my life. Suddenly, my genital piercing seems so futile.

The art is… well, bizarre, honestly. Fly has a gift, and that gift is the ability to draw the most mundane, splayed-out meth addict in such a way as to make them look like an alien fairy superhero. This is awesome. As I said before, this book will be mistaken for a comic because the subject matter appears to be some sort of alien invasion that is repelled by bike messengers and the indie-punk bands they are saving money to record with. It’s sort of impressive to create this effect when drawing page after page of people who are more inclined to just make certain that at somewhere, somehow, a Republican is drinking coffee with human urine in it. Which is sort of super-heroic in its own right.

This book isn’t going to be popular with the mainstream—well, ever—and if you’re turned off by people bragging about their friends you might want to give it a miss. On the other hand, there’s a limited, specific appeal, and that appeal is if you come from the right circles and the right area, you can thumb through it and identify people you know. Now that I consider it, I guess I think the appeal is that I’m aware that had I been drunk and on St. Marks at the right time, I may have been in there too.

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