People are sometimes baffled by those of us who call ourselves poets. I’ve even seen other writers and artists look at my pursuit with bewilderment. Sometimes the rewards beyond the love of writing are so scant, it’s hard to explain our pursuit, let alone justify it. Thankfully, now we have Noah Van Sciver’s 2015 comic pamphlet collection Fante Bukowski to both inform and warn the people about us.
Cartoonist and graphic novelist Sciver is no stranger to the writerly crowds. He’s worked in an indie book store, so he knows to be wary of Charles Bukowski fanatics. He’s contributed comics to the 60’s underground throwback Mineshaft, including autobiographical musings on creating art while wondering what he does it for.
A while ago, Sciver came out with two ongoing strips about artless artists: One featured the title character Fante, an aspiring writer who couldn’t write. The other focused on a washed up musician. The latter character, Rufus Baxter, seemed less absurd, since he at least had a goal you could understand. He shallowly wanted wealth, but at least that can actually happen to musicians. Deluded writers on the other hand…
The Fante character proves to be much richer in dark comedy because his actions and motivations are so ridiculous and nonsensical (yet familiar to me), adopting a lifestyle loosely based on his literary heroes, particularly Charles Bukowski (of course), who became the inspiration to a legion of writers who adopted the drinking part of his persona with none of the work ethic or writing ability.
Fante pursues fame and financial reward without any idea as to how one goes about it as a writer. He submits largely rejected poems and short stories until an agent (not his) suggests that he write something longer. The results are what you expect, only funnier, as Sciver knows how to extend the humiliation of his clueless protagonist.
Fante inanely and hilariously adopts a vagabond existence by the end and literally stumbles into what might be his life’s first sincerely profound moment. It made me wonder if the story was done with now that this wannabe visionary received his first vision. That was until I found out there’s another Fante book in the works, with Sciver serializing the story online. There is much more rich ground to cover, believe me.
Those of us who write can say we’re not like poor ol’ Fante, but we can’t fully dismiss him like we can, say, the Mike Meyers character in So I Married An Axe Murderer (my family’s sole go-to reference to what I do). In less than 100 pages, Sciver has created a great dead-on parody of every clueless would-be writer I’ve ever met. To most, it’s a good quick read and a tragic comedy about a failure who refuses to see the shortcomings of himself or his dream. I love it a little more because at long last there’s now a poets and writers’ equivalent to the Eltingville Club. Copies of Fante Bukowski should be part of any credible college curriculum to help students think twice about spending money on English degrees. Especially if the end goal is living in dingy rooms and submitting to “magazines” with print runs equal to the number of people they’re publishing. It might not have stopped most of us from writing, but it would have been useful information to have.
Poem for Fante
Enjoy the writer’s life
while you can.
It’s going to end soon.
It’s ending now.
We’re our half-finished notebooks
thumbed through when nothing’s left
on the shelf.
Who is left to discover
our greatness after death
Your mother not even recycling
your genius rough drafts
Everything trash bagged
to unbury herself
your unread manuscripts gathered up
by a guilty feeling ex
brought to your editor
with his own unread manifestos.
In the end, we are replaced
by wannabe TV show writers
those who can’t tell stories well enough
to even be poets
computers full of dialogue
between vampires, superheroes
fairy tales and zombies
all hooked on crystal meth
jocks every single one of them.