Monday, November 9, 2009

Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron

David Clowes' Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron is what would happen if David Lynch got together with the illustrators of Mad magazine. Beyond their titular similarities, the graphic novel is reminiscent of Blue Velvet in its exploration of a strange society on the fringes of our world. The story (sort of) depicts the insanity and ultimate tragedy of the entertainment industry, not unlike Mulholland Dr. At the same time Velvet Glove shares the unrestrained nightmare imagery of Eraserhead; the main character meets a fantastic variety of people in his journey, including a dog that has no orifices on its body and also a fish-girl who is the offspring of a potentially-divine merman.

The basic premise of the plot (if it can be said to even have one) is that Clay Loudermilk recognizes a woman in a BDSM movie at his local porno-theatre. Loudermilk has had a previous relationship with this woman, and he decides to find her by tracking down the production company responsible for the film, whose address he acquires by asking the guru in the men's bathroom at the porno theatre. Loudermilk then visits a friend that is undergoing an eye treament that involves having them temporarily removed, frozen, and replaced with crustaceans that eat away the bacteria from his empty sockets. Loudermilk borrows his friend's car and then sets off to track down the woman from his past, traveling out of his unamed city and into a dinstinctly American landscape.

All that describes the first 15 pages or so, and from there it gets difficult to explain coherently. Throughout the book Loudermilk encounters a pair of sadistic cops, a Manson Family-like cult, a conspiracy theory relating to a popular consumer mascot, and the final showdown between the sexes. The only link between the random events that amke up the "plot" is Loudermilk's quest to find the woman... Sort of...

There are sparkles of poetic brilliance scattered throughout all the insanity and depravity that make up the majority of the story. I will say that as surreal as the content was a lot of it felt very primal and real. It's a difficult thing to describe, but the book describes the contemporary human condition insofar as it depicts a world that is confusing and terrifying and random. In this world are people with different values who are doing their best to exist the only way they know how, and some of them might be a little crazy. Interspersed among the book's unique surreal elements are allusions and parallels to the insanities of our reality, such as a a line which recalls Dan Rather's strange attack in 1986. Just like in a Lynch film, the whole mess of the story is one of people with strange desires and values interacting with one another in order to live. As fantastic as it all is, the struggle to live and strangeness of it all is portrayed in such a way as to seem relateable and real.

I don't know that I really liked Velvet Glove, or that I took anything from it intellectually. I'm not really sure what I think of it at all but I'm glad that I had the experience, which is often how I feel after watching a Lynch movie. If you enjoy the surreal then I highly recommend the book, it's among the more unique graphic novels I've ever encountered. Regardless I know that I enjoyed the experience of reading it, if only because the absurdity of the whole thing kept making me laugh. More than that, though, certain moments felt so crudely yet acutely human. It was an interesting and divergent perspective on contemporary human life, and if that sort of thing interests you I would highly recommend checking out the book.

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