REVIEW BY MATT CARNEY
Green Apple Books (San Francisco)
The Nancy Book revolves around Joe Brainard’s fascination with and appropriation of Nancy, the iconic newspaper cartoon character first introduced in the 1930’s. The book contains single-page works, a collection of his longer collaborations with other poets, and essays by Ann Lauterbach and Ron Padgett (some of these collaborations—with poets like Ted Berrigan, Bill Berkson, Robert Creeley, and Frank O’Hara— were notoriously difficult to track down). Together, these works are testament to create a great memory to Brainard’s shining personality and prestigious output.
In I Remember, likely Brainard’s best-known work, he starts every sentence with the titular phrase to create a sort of biography traced by memories and history, both large and small. Here Nancy remains the constant, or at least some combination of her most recognizable elements (hair, eyes, mouth), while her the circumstances of her existence vary wildly. Sometimes Brainard plays by putting her in other known works of art, or sometimes in famous American landscapes. Other times he taps into an innate existential dread lurking behind her large eyes. The common denominator—and this is especially true in the more “blue” (read: overtly sexual) comics—is Nancy’s incongruity within the space or circumstance of the frame.
But why Nancy? Ann Lauterbach in her essays posits, “Nancy is Joe’s transitional object, in the sense that through her, what is exceptional about him, specifically but not only his gayness, is rendered common, ordinary.” There is a playfulness and joy that is impossible to deny in these pieces, and a deep satisfaction in watching Brainard create his personal iconography from elements at hand
$39.95 HB 144 with 46 color & 32 bw illustrations ISBN: 978-0-9799562-0-1 Pub date: April 2008