FAMILY ROMANCE: word and image converge seamlessly
like a love sarong with no zipper
Cye Johan interviews Tom Bradley for HTMLGiant
by Tom Bradley
Illustrations by Nick Patterson
Jaded Ibis Press, 2012, 246 pages
Cye Johan: How did Family Romance get made?
Tom Bradley: In just the opposite way from most illustrated novels. Nick Patterson’s ninety pictures came first, and I wrote the novel around, between, underneath and through them. One day I came upon a great stack of his artwork, and was instantaneously locked in. Each image presented a climactic moment in a strange, unspoken, yet definite story.
Nick’s drawings and paintings are like the hallucinations of epileptic mystics as preserved in icons and illuminated hagiographies. They rear up in the aether before your eyes, bristling their spikes of light, needing no context but themselves. Yet they insist that a whole chronicle be imaginatively filled in, to perform the impossible task of explaining how these bizarreries came to be juxtaposed.
>CJ: One of Nick Patterson’s online fans asked him how he came up with his stuff, and he replied, “I pay attention to random thoughts.”
TB: A perfect motto for him. That single sentence gives a vivid glimpse into the head of such a visual artist. We all have dreams and daydreams that are so utterly without rational context that they vanish before we can recall anything but the most general outlines. Even those dissolve within seconds. Nick not only remembers all, but he draws it in meticulous detail. He gives a perfect anatomical rendering of something that never had anatomy in the first place, at least not on this plane of forms.
For example, in Chapter One of Family Romance, a giant moth has fastened onto the narrator’s head. In context, it seems natural and inevitable that such a drastic pathogen would cause his face to explode in a catastrophic sneeze: scarlet gore, brain matter and eye jelly everywhere. And, of course, anyone familiar with the pneumatics of a physical body will tell you that such a traumatic shock will cause the muscles, connective tissues and blood vessels of his neck and shoulders to throb, swell, writhe–all drawn here to exacting clinical perfection.
It’s a strange picture, for sure–and yet, the strangest part is not the physiology, but the fashion. Look at the garment he’s wearing. Where the fuck did that come from? The style, the fabric: our novel starts with that article of clothing. Many of Nick’s figures, the weak and strong, the beautiful as well as horrendous, wear this same peculiar kind of wrap-around sarong, pulled high or low on the torso, depending, it seems, on the moral and/or emotional condition of the wearer.
>CJ: In keeping with the mystical iconographic mood, a couple of gods appear in the book. They remind me of mutated versions of the desert deities that have been the CEOs of our own world for such a long, miserable time.
TB: Definitely, they are both the jealous monotheistic type. Hence their rivalry. There’s an Old Testament Jehovah figure, overbearing and monstrously snaggle-faced, and a species of Christ as well, who obeys the dress code. His sarong is pulled down around his pubis, to humiliate him when he’s in execution mode.
This leads to the notion of religious warfare. And, according to logic (external as well as internal), the theater of operations must be the sort of Levantine-style desert where religious pathology takes root.
A war needs innocent victims, and Nick doesn’t disappoint. The Relic Amalekites are grotesqueries with shoulder teeth, problematic crotches, and ostrich legs. Like all hallucinations, they have spontaneously generated between your skull walls. And there can be no greater proximity than inside the reptilian cortex. So we get refugees from the conflict zone, squatters in our back yard, eavesdroppers at the back window of the residence in which abides and writhes the eponymous family of this romance.
Above all is sinister, ravenous, erotic Mom, the Kali-Avatar, the Tantric Initiatrix. Her means of exerting control over her family is immune system anxiety, the constant evocations of such pathogens as the giant moth on the head that brings the Sneeze Catastrophic. Nude and protean, Mom indulges a compulsion to mount other creatures. She feeds us a jejune diet consisting solely of psychoactive mushrooms, feigning eucharistic shamanism.
I won’t spoil the plot. But Mom eventually winds up nothing more than a medical waste disposal problem. The ending is vastly and ecstatically affirmative. Nick Patterson can draw that kind of picture as well. But, like an Eleusinian initiate, you must live through the entire psychodrama and make it through to the light at the other end of our labyrinthine cave before you’ve earned the right to be edified by his sublime images.
>CJ: It must have been easy to choose a publisher. This just the sort of thing Debra Di Blasi’s Jaded Ibis Press specializes in.
TB: Yeah, according to their website, “Our intent is to facilitate the convergence of diverse media and art forms.” And you can’t get more diverse than Nick Patterson and me. Family Romance has converged word and image to the point of seamlessness, like a wrap-around sarong with no buttons or zippers.
An excerpt from Family Romance:
So, have Mom and I instilled an obsessive-compulsive fear of the Sneeze Catastrophic in you yet? Congratulations. Dry-heaving phobias temper the transversus abdominis and make you more attractive when autopsy time rolls around.
Speaking of which, there is contagion on these pages. There’s a flu to make the bubonic plague look like diaper rash. If I were Bitch Mother, I would have so many warnings for you at this late stage that you might hesitate to turn the page, to peel back the lids on this gawker. I would, for your own good, make you feel like a helpless, repugnant, small creature fastened to an eyeball with a chain more adamantine than those which transfixed the Divine Krystelle Rex’s elbows.
Depending on your state of soul-preparedness, this family romance could turn out to be like a spell in the most horrific of all torture chambers. The famous rat cage just might get muzzled to your kisser–except you’re the rodent, and you’ve been hampered with a predisposition to rabies. And a membrane has metastasized along your finger bones where the Mom-pathogens have taken control and secreted sheet tumors.
But this does not mean you need fret about having picked up a pathogen and passing it on. You don’t lack permission to commence considering this family romance with a sneeze. Go ahead and hurricane hard enough to blow back this page. Phlegm-paste it flat against the previous. Take a peek through the eyeballs you just atomized in a coarse red shpritz among the tantalizing tints.
An eight- to twelve-hour introspection is indicated at this point. You know, the kind you get sucked into after being sent to your room–not without, but, worse–with your dinner. And you’ve not been issued the usual tallow invigilator to distract the notional flooding that accompanies any unlit bedtime in such a household. It would amount to child abuse if you didn’t get there first and prefix the abuse with self-.
But first, before moving any further into this proposition that is shuffled in so many layers between your fingers, it is recommended that you pause a moment and look inside the stacked deck called yourself. There could be something far worse than a mere prettified Mom-bug mired in the inky condiments of this cellulose sandwich. It could be waiting to be picked up, not by your sinuses or extremities, but by your soul. An immaterial pathogen, so to speak.
When you’ve been persuaded to eat way too many holy eucharist shaman mush-bowls, prepared by a not so much over-anxious as sadistic mom, a hyper-religiose parent who tries to conceal her perfidy under a veneer of ‘shroom piety–you often wind up mired in those hellish eight-to-twelve-hour entheospections, those states of neuro-toxicity that make you understand why your melanin-challenged ancestors were traditional mycophobes, those moods that admit no border between what you see and what you’d give anything to unthink about what you can’t bear to look at.
Such is the permanent post-prandial mood at our house–except inside Mom’s own head, of course. Her inner pugnacity is such as to render the hugest, most crawling Relic Amalekite turd-growth to nothing more than a dandelion fluff against an eyelid. Her vitality dissolves us, embosoming entheogenicity itself, like vitriol buttering an unleavened wafer, and she’s perma-cheery, eyes, mind and, especially, mouth wide open.
Are you ready for that? Stroke your head and think deep into the tentacled core of your subcranial colloids. Are you really prepared to engage your eyeballs so deeply with what you hold in your hands at this moment, until you think all the way down to the Relic Amalekites’ personal hygiene?
I don’t want this to degenerate into a speciesist tract, but the whisper-snickered tattles about these ethno-types eating with their faces and wiping their assholes with both hands must contain a kernel, or maybe an undigested peanut, of truth.
Like the paleolithic-style wretches they were when originally condemned to total species-expungement in splatter-porno-scriptural days, they remain hunter-gatherers at core. Their proud yet squalidly nomadic culture never invented anything like an alphabet, so paper never entered their so-called “minds.” Therefore, neither did that superfluous luxuriance of civilization come near their opposite ends.
So they require handfuls of greenery to be perpetually poised at the ready, tickling up between their struthious legs, to aid in the two-fisted de-chunkification of their uniquely configured fundaments after evacuation of whatever unimaginable bowel apparatus their god, Jawhey, has bothered to plumb for them by way of a crotch-vent. Sometimes, as I ponder our foreign guests from a few paces off, I wonder if they can truly be said to have crotches any more than oral cavities.
This has resulted in the famously exotic custom, which is known abroad as The Middlingly Oriental Grass Wipe.
It has come popularly to symbolize their entire presence on the planet, just as kindergartens full of type-two diabetics stereotypify a certain other civilization which will remain nameless…
Cye Johan writes for The Advocate. He has published a major critical study of Bradley’s books (see http://www.corpse.org/archives/issue_14/poetick_kulchur/johan.html).