November 2003

Karin L. Kross

fiction

Tits, Ass and Real Estate by Eve Gilbert

Eve Gilbert has had one hell of a life, the kind that chews up and spits out most people and generally leaves them dead. So it's something of a relief, after making one's way through the adventures documented in the pages of Tits, Ass, & Real Estate, to read her interview with Gary Groth, in which we learn that she's now living in Brooklyn, working as a bartender, and generally keeping body and soul together while working on her painting and "being a 35 year old recluse."

This is raw, frequently hard-to-read stuff here. Gilbert learned her craft in the hard-knocks school of the comics and zine world (pre-Internet, when you still needed to find a copy machine to run off enough copies of your work to distribute), and her artwork is frequently messy and unpolished, spilling across the pages in a manner that might be off-putting to those who are used to razor-straight lines, tidy layouts, and computer-perfect lettering. But it works, and it's worth getting accustomed to; in a way, it's a perfect reflection of the harshness of the stories Gilbert has to tell. And the visual chaos is held together by Gilbert's storytelling talent and her mordant sense of humor, which are beyond what you might normally expect out of photocopied zine fare.

The stories in Tits, Ass, & Real Estate document Gilbert's own life, as well as stories of other down-and-outers she met during her years of being homeless and working dead-end job after dead-end job (as documented in "The Real Resume"). There are grimly funny tales like "Happy Rat," which begins with Gilbert waking up from a blackout to discover that she's just had a nightmarish one-night stand, and which ends with her failed job as a phone sex worker. There are poignant, unsettling stories like "Thru Her Cunt," a night in the life of a woman in an abusive relationship. And there are moments of outright surreality, as in "Friday Night Out With the Girls," where alien abduction from the women's room at a bar is a key plot point.

What's especially remarkable about this book (shocks of the subject matter notwithstanding) is Gilbert's seemingly effortless pacing and ease of storytelling. It's especially noteworthy in stories like "Night of the Cabbie" and "Slice o' Life," where she slips from one group of characters and their story to the next, changing narrative focus with ease and grace.

Still, there are probably some readers who are going to say, "Why should I read this?" It's true, Tits, Ass, & Real Estate is not for all tastes. A good way of determining if this is a book for you is to figure out whether you like the writing of Charles Bukowski and Kathy Acker. Or whether you're a fan of R. Crumb, who contributed an introduction to this volume (in which, one might note, he refers to Eve Gilbert's comics as "nasty, full of lurid, pornographic, disgusting images" -- and coming from Crumb, that is probably a compliment). If you are, then you should give Eve Gilbert a try.

Tits, Ass, & Real Estate by Eve Gilbert
Fantagraphics Books
ISBN 1560975040
96 pages