July 2006

Bill Baker

gutterslut

Can't Get No

There've been a fair amount of comics about 9/11 in the wake of that tragedy. They've appeared with any number of purposes, bearing a fairly wide range of messages delivered creatively or crudely, depending on the abilities of the authors and artists involved. And while I haven't read all of those books, I think I can say with a fair amount of certainty that there's nothing else out there quite like Rich Veitch's Can't Get No.

There are a number of obvious things that mark this trade from Vertigo as something different. Take the format, for instance. Can't Get No is a thick, squat graphic novel with black and white interiors, a real departure from the full color interiors featured in the majority of Vertigo's line. Then there's the art style, a rich blend of Jack "King" Kirby, EC Comics, and '60s Underground sensibilities intermixed with Veitch's rough-hewn realism and dead-on storytelling. But what's really distinctive about Can't Get No is Veitch's daring, even defiant approach to telling his story, and this is what truly sets this particular book apart from the others released since the fall of the towers.

In essence, what Veitch has presented readers with is a tale featuring two seemingly separate and distinct narratives -- the visual tale focuses on the life of troubled businessman Chad Roe whose fall from grace nearly coincides with the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, DC, while the script consists of an extended poetic vision of an apocalyptic apotheosis, redolent of William Blake and other visionary poets. These two narratives share the pages and panels, their individual plot courses converging and diverging thematically, symbolically and otherwise. This sets up resonances and almost forces the reader to create new and unusual associations between words and their meanings, and even words and the things they represent, creating an atmosphere which echoes the strange and awful chaos the characters are experiencing firsthand. Even more amazing, both narratives in turn are enriched and further informed by all of this interaction, gathering subtle and surprising connections and meanings which would never have been produced by a more traditional approach to storytelling.

The cumulative effect is somewhat overpowering, and certainly results in a rich reading experience that is singular and uniquely individual. While I know that every encounter and reacquaintance with a book is special and particular, this is one of those rare books which I believe will provide a totally idiosyncratic experience for each reader. Furthermore, I strongly suspect that each and every re-reading will result in a distinctive experience, as the reader’s changing moods, circumstances, etc. will affect the outcome.

But if you dig just a little deeper, concentrating on the essential arc of both of these narratives, you'll discover something even more iconoclastic about Can't Get No. Yes, this is a book about The Tragedy of 9/11, true. But in a very real sense, this is a book about how that larger event reflects and is in turn reflected by our individual tragedies and losses. It is about the journey we've all been on since then, since we've all had to embark on something analogous to a voyage of discovery to even begin understanding what has happened, much less initiate anything resembling a healing process. We're sailing uncharted waters, traversing terra incognita, scanning the horizon or the surrounding brush for sea serpents and tigers alike.

As mirrored in Can't Get No, we've entered a strangely familiar, yet terribly deformed landscape both culturally and individually. There are all manner of pitfalls, terrors, and unfounded fears, as well as real and present dangers. But we must never forget that there are also good things everywhere, and good people in those places, despite what any cynic or doom-mongering profits [yes, the spelling is intentional] would have you believe. As demonstrated throughout this phenomenal and powerful work, we have more in common with both our friends and foes -- real or imagined, global or local -- than any of us would like to admit. We are all capable of thinking, and even doing, terrible and hurtful things, just as we are also able to lend that helping hand or show of support. We are all foolish and wise in our own ways. And we all aspire to be more than we are at present; we all desire a transcendence of sorts, literal or otherwise. The fatal difference arises from the manner in which we strive for our goals, and our choices to either help, hinder, or even block those who might be reaching for something else.

We are all standing in the gutters, lusting after stars of one nature or another. Now all we have to do is find a way to stop killing each other in our desperate efforts to reach those shinning and distant dreams.

In an ideal world, Can't Get No wouldn't have been necessary. Sadly, in this world, at this time, it just might be the first comic that is necessary reading.

Can't Get No by Rick Veitch
Vertigo
ISBN: 1401210597
352 pages