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1 April 2005

Jonathan Lethem to Novelize Three Comics

by Paoli du Flippi

Famed for his long-standing interest in comics, best-selling (non-science-fiction) author Jonathan Lethem has revealed that he has signed a three-book contract with editor Robert Simpson at Dark Horse books which has the writer turning his pop-culture eye and hepcat-appealing, off-kilter talents toward three classic icons from the funny pages.

"I've long admired such seminal creators as Jack Kirby for the wonderful work they did, work which so dominated my youthful mind before I became wise enough to regard it objectively as the gaudy adolescent eye-candy it is, suitable for think-piece musings rather than whole-hearted embraces. But moving back even further in the history of the medium, leaving behind those properties still under copyright by Marvel and DC, I find myself drawn nowadays to newspaper strips, the Ur-graphics of our penciled playground. Three strips which have always appealed to me are Carl Anderson's Henry, Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy, and Dondi, by Gus Edson and Irwin Hansen."

It is this trio of properties which Lethem plans to stripmine for his next three novels.

"My typical protagonist has always been a conflicted youth, or developmentally arrested adult, and these three ‘heroes,' if you will, offer me infinite opportunities to re-tread the same literary ground. Poor mute Henry, boy with no mouth, represents an antipodal stance to my obscenity-spewing protagonist in Motherless Brooklyn. Henry's plight — how to convey his deepest frustrated urges with only pantomime — holds a perverse appeal for a loquacious type such as myself.

"With Nancy and her strong supporting cast of Sluggo and Aunt Fritzi, I get to investigate the limits of intelligence. Can sheer dumbness, flatness of affect and obviousness serve as a useful strategy for reality-intermediation? And the mysterious icon of the Three Rocks which Bushmiller was always inserting in the background of his panels will serve me well as a symbol of the ultimately unknowable nature of reality.

"Finally, the plight of winsome orphaned Dondi appeals to me for the possibilities it offers to investigate the role of missing parents in the development of a sensitive, artistic soul such as my own."

Lethem divulged that he has working titles for each of these books. The Henry novel will be called Silent Utterances of Youth. Nancy and crew will appear in The Thorny Hair of Girlhood. And Alone with My Lonely Angst will chronicle the childhood of Dondi.

Additionally, these novels will be copiously illustrated. Zippy creator Bill Griffith, a long-time Bushmiller admirer, will tackle the Nancy book. Frank Miller will bring his noir stylings to the Henry volume. And Mike Mignola of Hellboy repute will render Dondi's milieu into a tragic gothic realm.

"So long as these artists bow to the superiority of my prose, the primacy of which trumps any mere daub, all will be well," concludes Lethem with draconian fervor.

Paoli du Flippi is a frequent contributor to the website.
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