Posts Tagged 'julius knipl'

Homage to Julius Knipl

Several years ago, I attended a local college workshop titled “drawing and story-telling.” I was drawn, no pun, to the event because the visiting instructor was Ben Katchor, the creator of what Michael Chabon has called the last great American comic strip, “Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer.”

A decade or so before, I had stumbled upon Katchor’s strip featuring a real estate photographer, who despite always appearing with a camera case hanging around his neck, never seems to take a photograph. The weekly strip was appearing in a throw-away paper that I would pick up on my lunch hour. Rendered idiosyncratically in ink and ink washes, and set in a nameless city in an unstated year that could only be a long-lost New York City in an imagined nineteen forties, the flow of each cryptic episode is carried by a combination of omniscient narrative text boxes positioned above the dialogue balloons of the characters. And the characters, whose ethnicity, like their time and place also goes unnoted, could never be anything but Jewish. Katchor’s own context, as he put it, was a childhood spent in a Yiddish speaking household with communist parents.

The Wikipedia entry for the strip describes the title character as a “downtrodden schlep who wanders the streets taking pictures (I don’t know about that) and being sidetracked into surreal escapades. Strips often depict Knipl’s chance encounters with obscure, marginal businesses (e.g. a company that distributes newspaper weights to newsstands), eccentric hobbyists, and enigmatic details of the urban landscape. There is rarely continuity between the strips, and Knipl is the only recurring character.”

In an affectionate introduction the 1996 collection of the Julius Knipl Stories, Michael Chabon catches the gentle sadness of the Knipl project. Chabon writes that “Katchor carefully devises a seemingly endless series of regrets in the heart of Knipl, for things not only gone and rapidly disappearing, such as paper straws and television aerials, but also wholly imaginary: the Vitaloper, the Directory of the Alimentary Canal, and tapeworm sanctuaries.” My own favorites include: “public mustard fountains and the Stasis Day Parades.” And there’s Mr. Knipl’s daily paper, the “Eternal Edition of The Evening Combinator,” with headlines like “Nudist Colony Discovered in Synagogue” and ads for “Mortal Coil Mattresses.” Continue reading ‘Homage to Julius Knipl’