“Now I, William Seward, will unlock my word hoard… Gentle Reader, the Word will leap on you with leopard man iron claws, it will cut off fingers and toes like an opportunistic land crab, it will hang you and catch your jissom like a scrutable dog, it will coil round your thighs like a bushmaster and inject a shot glass of rancid ectoplasm…” – Naked Lunch
The word hoard has unlocked again, as Wired announced this week that a long-unpublished graphic novel by William S. Burroughs, “Ah Pook Is Here,” will be published in the summer of 2011 by Fantagraphics. The graphic novel, a collaboration between Burroughs and artist Malcolm McNeill, was originally created in the 1970s as a comic strip for the now defunct English magazine Cyclops and developed as a full book off and on over the decade. Battered around between publishers before being abandoned in 1979, Fanta Graphics will be releasing it in a “spectacularly packaged two-volume, hinged set, along with ‘Observed While Falling,’ McNeill’s memoir documenting his collaboration with one of America’s most iconic authors.”
Per the press release:
“Ah Pook Is Here” is a consideration of time with respect to the differing perceptions of the ancient Maya and that of the current Western mindset. It was Burroughs’ contention that both of these views result in systems of control in which the elite perpetuate its agendas at the expense of the people. They make time for themselves and through increasing measures of Control attempt to prolong the process indefinitely.
John Stanley Hart is the “Ugly American” or “Instrument of Control” – a billionaire newspaper tycoon obsessed with discovering the means for achieving immortality. Based on the formulae contained in rediscovered Mayan books he attempts to create a Media Control Machine using the images of Fear and Death. By increasing Control, however, he devalues time and invokes an implacable enemy: Ah Pook, the Mayan Death God. Young mutant heroes using the same Mayan formulae travel through time bringing biologic plagues from the remote past to destroy Hart and his Judeo/Christian temporal reality.
While this is the first time the work is presented in anything approximating its original conception, “Ah Pook” has been on the radar of Burroughs fans for years. It was published in 1979 in text-only format – now out of print – and chapters were read by Burroughs at his famous live readings, excerpts peppered with wisdom such as “Nobody does more harm than people who feel bad about doing it.” The art itself was resurrected by McNeill only last year – more than 30 years after its original conception – and received showings in Santa Monica and New York City with bits and pieces of Burroughs text.
But the fact that it’s not completely unreleased doesn’t dim my pleasure at the thought of a new William S. Burroughs work seeing the light – and ever since the publication of his Jack Kerouac collaboration “And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks,” this is one of the last bits of his archive to be released. Based on the snippets and imagery, the book will likely be in the same vein as the “Cities of the Red Night” trilogy – indeed, Ah Pook himself is invoked in the dedication alongside Hassan-i-Sabbah and John Stanley Hart factors into the trilogy. But it seems the new release will really be what propels him to Benway-level depravity, if this line from an old reading is any indication:
“He found himself somewhat stonily received, and turning from the bar with his mug of beer to face the room he maladroitly snagged an old peasant in the scrotum with his fishing plug. He whipped out a switchblade with a poorly timed attempt at easy joviality, ‘Well, I guess we’ll just have to cut the whole thing off, eheh?’ Turning away, he made an ineffectual gesture at a New Yorker cartoon with his knife, inadvertently blinding the proprietor’s infant son. Seeing that all his friendly overtures had fallen admittedly flat, he saw fit to withdraw as unobtrusively and expeditiously as possible.”
Fittingly for a book concerned with a South American god of death, the novel appears to be taking the format of the Aztec and Mayan codices, conceived not as a straightforward narrative but “120 continuous pages that would ‘fold out’… a single painting in which text and images were combined in whatever form seemed appropriate to the narrative.” The existing artwork certainly gives the feeling of vastness such codices need to have (check out the “Codex Espangliensis” for a contemporary example) and the apocalyptic images are grimly surreal and evocative in a way that will pair well with the tone of Burroughs’ later writings.
I’ve talked before about how excited I get when some lost work by a well-known author is published, and that excitement is amplified tenfold when it’s by an author who sits at the top of my favored writers pantheon. “Ah Pook Is Here” has easily become one of the most anticipated releases of 2011.
- To view samples of the original artwork, visit The Lost Art of Ah Pook for a gallery of the original show prepared by McNeill. And, if you’ve got a few hundred to spare, why not pick up a limited edition print?