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Bum Town and Max & Gaby’s Alphabet
posted December 29, 2005

Creator: Tony Fitzpatrick
Publishing Information: Tia Chucha Press/Museum of Contemporary Art, $16.95/$20
Ordering Numbers: 1882688252/0-933856-67-9 (ISBNs)

That Chicago-based painter and poet Tony Fitzpatrick has two books out in 2001 is a happy accident of publishing at the boutique press level. The original works that comprise the illustration portion of Bum Town sold out years ago, and the book itself was scheduled for as early as September of last year. Max & Gaby’s Alphabet, on the other hand, found a publisher with the press arm of its first major exhibitor. What should make readers happy is they get to devour two books lovely in content and presentation, both easily up to the high standards set by Fitzpatrick’s last volume, Dirty Boulevard.

In reviewing Dirty Boulevard for this magazine, I made the case for the usefulness of viewing Fitzpatrick's work as comics. That series, like many of the Haitian-influenced artist's projects, included fragmented poetry written directly into the city tableaux. This satisfied at least one traditional definition of comics. I can't make the same case with the two new books – one is purely a book of illustration, while the other is a long poem accompanied by illustrations. But Fitzpatrick is one of those painters whose work can almost always inform cartoonists in their work. In Max & Gaby's Alphabet, Fitzpatrick works with ideas provided to him by his young children, a single plate corresponding to each letter. It's a wonderful lesson in creative iconography, large figures from an octopus to the X-Man Wolverine set amidst a swirl of tinier drawings like a finely cooked meal placed squarely in the middle of a children's dentist's trinket drawer. A dedicated printmaker, Fitzpatrick utilizes a four-color process that is also reminiscent of old comics, and which is beautiful in its own right. From Bum Town, cartoonists may be able to glean something useful and vital from Fitzpatrick's compositions -- figures that bleed into backgrounds, throwaway doodles in the foreground that build significance as they're repeated. Fitzpatrick's technique is perfectly suited as a graphic accompaniment to poetry, suggesting thematic effect without a linear progression through words, like a batter of feelings surfacing all at once

Needless to say, both books have value as objects in their own right aside from any lesson they may teach across media. The poem in Bum Town, a tribute to the artist's dead father, is particularly haunting and vital in a way that very few writers can achieve without coming across as affected and crude. Read together, the love letter to one's creative children and the elegy of hard-won insight into a father's life reveal how time passes through us, past to future, without bothering to linger.

This review was written in the late 1990s as part of a then-ongoing freelance gig; I apologize if it reads oddly or seems incomplete.