Tag Archives: Nonfiction – General

I Will Judge You by Your Bookshelf

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews I Will Judge You by Your Bookshelf [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Grant Snider.

Snider I Will Judge You by Your Bookshelf

The sequential art in this book is sort of structured around a preliminary “confession,” which supplies its lines as subject titles for the sections of the volume, like “I confuse fiction with reality” and “I care about punctuation — a lot.” Most of it is expressed in pages of nine to sixteen panels, with each page detailing or iterating a distinct idea in the general space of reading, writing, and book husbandry. Less often, but more enjoyably to me, a page bears a single Scarry-esque drawing with a host of minutely annotated features, such as “The National Department of Poetry” (89). The art is stylized and dynamic, with a naïve air, but obvious skill at efficient communication.

The “humor” of the affair is chiefly created through wordplay and relatably-depicted states of bibliophilia. I don’t think I had a laugh-out-loud moment in reading the book, but I was often smiling.

Lives of the Great Occultists

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Lives of the Great Occultists [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Kevin Jackson, illo Hunt Emerson.

Jackson Emerson Lives of the Great Occultists

This volume collects in full garish color and ample antic detail many dozens of short sequential art narratives about famous personalities of magic and occultism from the Middle Ages to the present. These were originally produced for Fortean Times magazine. The visual idiom is an “underground comix” sort akin to the work of Gilbert Shelton. The textual tone veers wildly between the poles of adulation and derision, and much of the humor consists of crude visual puns and anachronisms.

The organization of the book is chronological, but a bit sloppy. This sequence is apparently not that of their original magazine publication. The figures selected are well chosen on the whole, and they include a few that were new to me or surprising in this context (Cellini, Thomas Hariot, Torrentius, Evan Morgan, and Orson Welles). The work is not quite comprehensive, though. Some major occultists are notable for their absence: P. B. Randolph, Anna Kingsford, Gurdjieff (appears for a few panels in the P. L. Travers entry), Maria Naglowska, and Franz Bardon, for example.

Most of those treated get only a single entry of one to five pages in length. Robert Fludd and Gerald Gardner each get two, and Aleister Crowley gets eight, along with numerous cameos in entries for other figures.

The Crowley contents make a reasonable case study for merit when trying to estimate the other parts of the book: Crowley’s name is misspelled in a minority of instances as “Alastair” (e.g. 105). Hanni Jaeger is “Hammi Jeager” (95). Claims of fact are hedged with “alleged” and a warning about true, false, and meaningless stories accruing to Crowley (87). Writer Kevin Jackson’s summary verdict that the Beast was “a bit of a rotter” (90) is mostly counterbalanced by giving him so much attention, and Jackson does conclude his introduction to the whole book with the summary of the Law of Thelema (albeit with superfluous initial capitals).

Doubtless for purposes of visual shorthand, Crowley is almost always shown with a shaved head (and 666 on his brow), even during episodes from before he had adopted that style (88, 91). Although most of artist Hunt Emerson’s caricatures of historical persons strike a note of genuine recognizability, his work on Crowley tends to be more semiotic than representational, even in the full-page portrait that concludes the volume.

The four-page Mme. Blavatsky treatment is also rather hostile, and offers the curious error that H. P. Lovecraft “admired” her (51)–in fact, he knew of her Theosophy but found it distasteful. (Likewise, he dismissed Crowley as “a queer duck,” contrary to later misrepresentations concerning the “occult HPL.”) She also gets misspelled once as “Blavatski” (55).

Some notably helpful entries include those for Giordano Bruno, William Blake, Victoria Woodhull, [August] Strindberg, [Carl] Jung, and Charles Williams. There are also a few terrific standalone portraits illustrating the book’s introduction (8-11). Although it can be dismissive and the jokes are often shallow, I found some real merit in this book, and it kept my attention as both a comics reader and a student of esoteric history.

Jack Kirby Ripped My Flesh

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Do Anything: Thoughts on Comics and Things, Volume One: Jack Kirby Ripped My Flesh [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Warren Ellis.

Ellis Do Anything Jack Kirby ripped my flesh

Warren Ellis initially refers the title Do Anything to a quote from Harvey Pekar: “You can do anything with words and pictures.” (5) But he returns to the phrase in other quotes like a recurring motif in the fugue of his stream-of-consciousness history of comics art, writing, and publishing. He cops to aspiring to play the Lester Bangs of comics here, and he overshoots his mark with the sort of mystical cyberpunk surrealism that one might expect from such an accomplished 21st-century comics writer.

By framing this set of blogrants (subsequently edited for print publication) as a reported dialogue with a stolen Hanson Robotics ‘droid head retrofitted from the persona of PKD to Jack Kirby, Ellis places himself in the magical line of Roger Bacon, Jacques de Molay, Aleister Crowley, and Michael Valentine Smith. He also–if the catena just described didn’t make it sufficiently clear–makes himself an Extremely Unreliable Narrator. I wish most everything in this book were true, but I’m better at knowing for sure which things are consensually false than being certain which didn’t spring from Ellis’s finely twisted imagination.

Although the back cover claims that the “Do Anything” column continues at Bleeding Cool, I failed to find it there as of September 4, 2011.


Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Levitation: Physics and Psychology in the Service of Deception. A Story about Stage Magic. [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by  Jim Ottaviani and Janine Johnston.

Ottaviani Johnston Levitation

This graphic novel is the first I’ve read with an annotated bibliography. It’s a fictionalized history of a single trick of stage magic, how it was devised, and its passage through three generations of performers. Although some supporting characters are purely fictional, the three magicians and the stage technician who serves as narrator are all actual historical figures.

The technical explanations that make up much of the book are not boring, nor do they seem too digressive. The ending, factual as it evidently is, has a small and quizzical taste of tragedy to it.