BpNichol Comics

by B.P. Nichol
ISBN: 088922448X

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A Review of: bpNichol Comics
by Paul Dutton

There has long been a need for a scholarly effort as assiduous as that which Miki has applied to Nichol's critical writing to be exerted on a volume of Nichol's poetic comics, both strips and single panels. It saddens me deeply to report that that need remains unchanged by bpNichol Comics, which could almost be subtitled a Book of Abandoned Projects. While some valuable material appears within its pages-e.g., the complete Lonely Fred strips, in their first general publication-there is far too much that will interest only the most fanatical Nicholite: juvenilia, preliminary sketches, planning notes, fragmentary doodling, and other such workbook material. Much of what's here is more fit for an appendix than for a canonical resource. This is particularly galling when so much of Nichol's most accomplished, original, genre-blending, mind-bending, and artistically mature work in this field remains unavailable, widely unknown, and far too little appreciated. To anyone with a serious interest in Nichol's comics, this book should inspire the sinking feeling of a missed opportunity. Those unfamiliar with Nichol's comics should be warned away from it as a selection that does not do justice to its subject.
The expenditure of twenty-four pages on reproductions of unremarkable notebook plans for a comic-book adaptation of an unremarkable sci-fi story by one Walter M. Miller, while bpNichol's brilliant and sophisticated "Allegories" series remains out of print, is enough to make some of us gnash our teeth. There is not so much as a mention of "Fictive Funnies", a work of seasoned wit and layered play, nor of "Some Landscapes", a series distinguished by refined visual-linguistic sensibilities, which has had only one small private printing. But ten pages are squandered on Nichol's adolescent experiment Bob de Cat. Such absurd choices constitute a disservice to the artist and his audience, both committed and potential. In fact, it is likely to limit any expansion of his audience.
As well as omissions and pointless inclusions (of which there are, of course, many more than I've noted here), there is a commentary rife with solecisms, solipsisms, and unwarranted conclusions. A term that Nichol used once, and never elaborated on, "a new humanism", is tossed around by Peters as though it were a developed concept. The prepositional phrase "to and fro", appearing in an alternative title for another abandoned Nichol book, is unequivocally declared by Peters to be an invented Nichol character, To and Fro. Go figure.
But of all this book's flaws, the most egregious is the monumental blunder perpetrated in the last chapter, which bears the title "John Cannyside". This is the name of a fictitious character Nichol worked at developing, on and off, over the course of several years. In Peters's two-page introduction to this chapter (one to three pages of commentary precede each unit of the book) he writes extensively and conclusively about John Cannyside, with pronouncements on the character, and on Nichol's development of it, that are based in part on twenty-four pages, reproduced from a 1971 Nichol notebook, and which make up the substance of the chapter. The first reproduced page is headed "NOTEBOOK 2 for working on JOHN CANNYSIDE." The next page bears a drawing of Nichol's stock cartoon character Milt the Morph, who exclaims in a speech balloon, "OH MY GAWD!! It's the flip side of NOTEBOOK 2 for working on John Cannyside. Yes indeedy & this one's for working on THE LIVES & LOVES OF CAPTAIN GEORGE.(as told to bp Nichol!!" There follow eleven pages of Nichol's hand-written notes, drawn panel plans, and typed text, devoted expressly and exclusively to The Lives & Loves of Captain George, a title which is twice repeated. One panel even includes a copyright notice, " George Henderson & bp Nichol for their respective writings." All this makes it clear enough that these are notes for a book not about a fictitious character, John Cannyside (a name that reappears nowhere in the body of the notes, unlike the name George, which recurs constantly), but about an actual person, George Henderson (who was, as it happens, the proprietor, until his death, of Memory Lane, a comics and nostalgia shop on Toronto's Markham street, from the 1960s to the '80s). The bulk of the typed text is clearly Nichol's meticulous transcription of Henderson's tape-recorded memoirs, replete with personal asides to Nichol, and featuring at one point an account of Henderson's work with Robert Fulford on a CBC-TV documentary. At a few early points in this blandly conversational tape transcript Nichol has interpolated passages in a literary style-apparent attempts (soon abandoned) to contextually elevate Henderson's material above its mundane essence. None of this deters Peters from persisting in his claim that this material relates to John Cannyside. Nor does he once so much as refer to Captain George, let alone offer a rationale for the pervasive presence of George's first-person accounts.
What a pity that so careful a reader as Nichol should himself be the victim of so blinkered a reading. It's bad enough that Peters erred so spectacularly, but for the publisher to have let it get by and into print is scandalously inexcusable.
The cover of bpNichol Comics reproduces a Nichol cartoon of his Milt the Morph character driving a car. If this book were itself a car, there would have to be a recall. And there should be, at the very least, an erratum notice inserted in all copies in stock.

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