Thursday, August 25, 2005

Moody, meet Kelly

Rick Moody - the man is crazy, risky, erratic, frequently maddening, occasionally persuasive... It's taken me some time, but I'm glad he's on the scene. I think The Ice Storm is terrific, The Black Veil, not so much (though I was somewhat disturbed to see an honest-to-God "Handkerchief Moody" walking the streets of Kensington Market last Saturday), and Purple America whipsaws from one extreme to the other. His recent meditation in The Believer on The Danielson Famille - a group whose music I've never heard, and don't ever want to hear - was one of those rare, truly brilliant bits of writing about music.

But yes, he is an acquired taste. Like the rest of his friends in The Polysyllabic Spree, he's prone to frequent acts of published loopiness, and his forthcoming novel, The Diviners (no relation to the Canadian "classic" of the same name) looks to be no exception to this habit. This one-ring circus of his is further enlivened, it seems, by a last-minute change-of-heart regarding the cover art:

As I consider the above artwork (click on it to enlarge, if you must), I have to wonder if the real trouble is he didn't go far enough. Dude, if you've committed yourself to phallocentric kitsch, don't just stop with a muscular he-man holding up a womb-like "dowsing rod" while propping his foot next to an eruption: include a nubile woman (or two) gripping his legs in servile gratitude.

If the pre-pub info is accurate, it looks like Moody's choice of cover reflects ironically on his story, which (it seems) plays with the sort of masculine expectations that kids like Moody and I had while growing up in the 70s. If that is the case, he should have gone directly to graphic artist Ken Kelly, and respectfully asked him for one of his best works.

During a recent visit to Bakka Books, Toronto's pre-eminent sci-fi bookstore, I perused the covers of TOR's latest Conan spin-offs. The tradition of hyper-masculine kitsch continues, but it doesn't seem as impassioned as the stuff I was exposed to as a kid. Frank Frazetta was the artist I associated with this era, so when I returned to the weathered pulp fiction of my youth, I was surprised to see that many of the covers I remembered best were actually by Kelly.

Kelly's best stuff has a dark heat to it that is muscular, violent and not a little horny. His early "Conan" work was not the only surprise - he also did two album covers for KISS that I'd previously attributed to Boris Vallejo (who I never much liked - too cold and inert), as well as a host of "Vampirella" covers. If you ever wonder why my generation of "guys" is so confused about its masculinity, you need only look at these pages (and possibly some divorce stats) for an explanation. These pages give a succinct and single-handed account for Arnold's rise to power, our religious devotion to the gym, and the increasing trend of straight men needlessly swathing tracts of body hair from their person.

These images are risible, dumb, exploitative ... fun!(?) But if you're still intent on subverting that stuff, then perhaps Moody is your man.

Moody, meet Kelly - Kelly, meet Moody.

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