The Cardboard Valise

Overview

 Ben Katchor (“The creator of the last great American comic strip.”—Michael Chabon) gives us his first book in more than ten years: the story of the fantastical nation of Outer Canthus and the three people who, in some way or another, in­habit its shores.
 
Emile Delilah is a young xenophile (lover of foreign nations) so addicted to traveling to the exotic regions of Outer Canthus that the government pays him a monthly stipend just so...
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Overview

 Ben Katchor (“The creator of the last great American comic strip.”—Michael Chabon) gives us his first book in more than ten years: the story of the fantastical nation of Outer Canthus and the three people who, in some way or another, in­habit its shores.
 
Emile Delilah is a young xenophile (lover of foreign nations) so addicted to traveling to the exotic regions of Outer Canthus that the government pays him a monthly stipend just so he can continue his visits. Liv­ing in the same tenement as Emile are Boreal Rince, the exiled king of Outer Canthus, and Elijah Salamis, a supranationalist determined to erase the cultural and geographic boundaries that separate the citizens of the Earth. Although they rarely meet, their lives in­tertwine through the elaborate fictions they construct and inhabit: a vast panorama of humane hamburger stands, exquisitely ethereal ethnic restaurants, ancient restroom ruins, and wild tracts of land that fit neatly next to high-rise hotels. The Cardboard Valise is a graphic novel as travelogue; a canvas of semi-surrealism; and a poetic, whimsical, beguiling work of Ben Katchor’s dazzling imagination.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this winsomely haunting graphic novel from Katchor—whose weekly strips have been collected into The Jew of New York and Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, among others—an overstuffed suitcase becomes a ripe, comic metaphor for modern life. Set in a world tilted about 45 degrees away from reality, Katchor's story follows a number of characters through their quirky obsessions, each of which highlights a uniquely curious take on modernity. A hunt in the "Saccharine Mountains" turns a BLT into a tongue-in-cheek metaphor ("the lettuce symbolizes the cost of living"), while the citizens of "Outer Canthus" each undergo a symbolic funeral at the age of 47, after which they are "allowed to shed the burden of responsibility." In this slurry of sketchy and gray-tinged surrealism, the titular valise stands out with a certain haunting magic: a cheap and disposable thing (Katchor tracks its construction and sale with a curiously socioeconomic exactitude) that can contain multitudes. Once its contents are unleashed upon the hopelessly modernized island nation of Tensint (Katchor relentlessly skewers affected bourgeois quests for "authenticity"), things go downhill fast—it's the end of the world writ small. Rarely have books that made this little sense made so much sense. (Feb.)
From the Publisher
“Wonderful…a pleasantly flimsy repository for an inexhaustible imagination. Open to any page and you'll be surprised anew.” –The Washington Post

“It’s in those spaces where understanding eludes the reader and where meaning nonetheless makes itself felt, that Katchor’s signature poetry lies.” –Publishers Weekly Comics Weekly
 
“Defies narrative convention…creatively charged.” –Kirkus

“Winsomely haunting…rarely have books that made this little sense made so much sense.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review

Gloriously eccentric…the reader is befuddled, though in the most enjoyable manner.” –Booklist, starred review

“Artist and storyteller Katchor has achieved the goal Borges only imagined. Exiting this oneiric, shamanic, yet utterly naturalistic and sensual masterpiece, the reader steps out into a revitalized continuum richer and more exotic than the one he or she inhabited prior to the reading, a realm full of strange, alluring and bewildering lands, populated by oddball folks with odder customs.  Never again will our common globe seem like a small, homogenous, boring place…The Cardboard Valise is worldbuilding on the order of Jan Morris's Hav, Austin Tappan Wright's Islandia, Brian Aldiss's Malacia, and Ursula Le Guin's Orsinia: places that are attached to our world by extradimensional roads, down which only the sharpest and most sensitive of literary guides can lead one.  Get your ticket immediately!” –Barnes and Noble Review   

“A surreal travelogue…a vast panorama of humane hamburger stands, exquisitely ethereal ethnic restaurants, ancient restroom ruins and wilds tracts of land that fit neatly next to high-rise hotels.” –Brooklyn Daily Eagle

“History, humor, and a generous dose of surrealness combine to make you think you’re walking down the back streets of Oz…Katchor is plainly steeped in the tropes of his craft, but ultimately he is uncategorizable, a man apart.”–Culture Books

“Katchor is the best world-builder in comics today…The Cardboard Valise feels like something you can open up, fall into, and stroll around in. It’s fascinating and funny and endlessly enveloping to look at, but its delights and distortions alike are ultimately a reflection of ourselves.” –The Comics Journal

“Anyone familiar with [Katchor’s] work will recognize his grotesque eccentrics (or maybe his eccentric grotesques), the off-kilter angles and depths of field in every panel, not to mention the banal objects granted strange value and the wonderful prose…There is an exhilaration and freedom here—a license to invent and destroy.” –Tablet Magazine

“Katchor’s work has the unusual distinction of being known…for its startling poetry, dreamily familiar urban landscapes, and revelations about the arcane systems and inner workings of city life…provocative, moving work.” –CriticalMob.com   

“Katchor has made an entire world out of his narrow domain, and it’s as rich and vast (and sad and hilarious) a world as any writer or artist working today has concocted.” –Shelfari

“The appearance of a new Katchor collection is always reason to celebrate… Katchor is a true, rare, untarnished New York treasure — the kind of artist who can concoct a fantastical made-up world, but one that ensures you’ll never see the real world in quite the same way again.” –The 6th Floor blog

“His whimsical, mournful metaphysical verbal gags and scratchy visual poems are at once the most conceptual and conversational comics being made, and for my taste the best ever made…it’s only March, but surely Katchor is the automatic writer-artist of the year.” –ComicCritique Blog 

“Katchor's magically whimsical vision is sui generis… a collection of richly imagined, lovingly detailed individual strips. Each is best lingered over one at a time, an invitingly exotic world unto itself.” –Philadelphia Inquirer

“The Cardboard Valise begins in typically batty fashion…memorable.” –The New York Times Comics Roundup     

“Katchor is the Joseph Mitchell of contemporary comics…He remains the master of the ineffable, an artist who can bring to life ideas and experiences that exist at the sub-atomic level of consciousness. The Cardboard Valise is a worthy addition to Katchor’s already distinguished oeuvre, but it’s also a sign of an accomplished artist deepening and developing his core themes.” –Jeet Heer, The Ceiling Worker  

“Katchor is one of America’s great prose stylists, a writer possessed of an almost unequalled mastery of word choice and the rhythm and pacing of the American language…What finally elevates Katchor above not only all cartoonists, but above most prose writers, is the sheer beauty of his prose. In his finest tales, each panel, removed from its context, creates its own context, a world of its own; each is so evocative that the single panel, removed from its fellows, explodes with melancholy. The texts are gems, and when combined with Katchor’s drawings, with their washed shadows, their chiaroscuro streets, the result is a body of work of an almost unbearable sadness, of an almost unbearable beauty.” –Jewish Currents 

“[Katchor] could have not one by two MacArthur grants, given all the value he produces…Your gullet strangles in irrepressible laughter before you are halfway through one of his riffs, and you can barely make it to the end, only to find there is another on the next page, or the next panel,” –Boston Review

“Part surrealistic travelogue and part satirical treatise on the very notion of culture, The Cardboard Valise is a book about imaginary places with enough heart to make its very real social commentary easily digestible.” –Straight.com’s best graphic novels of 2011

Kirkus Reviews

The book-length publication of the acclaimed visual artist's weekly strips defies narrative convention as a graphic novel.

Katchor (Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer,2000, etc.)has been the subject of an admiring profile inNew Yorker,the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (the first cartoonist so honored) and the focus of a documentary(The Pleasures of Urban Decay). So perhaps some contextual research is in order for the reader coming fresh to Katchor to avoid being bewildered, if not overwhelmed, by the sheer verbiage, multi-sensory detail and lack of narrative continuity here. The tale comes to encompass tourism (and public toilets as tourist attractions), cultural authenticity, the ever-changing nature of language, commodification and disposability, the plasticity of food, the nature of matter (both organic and non-) and the eating of ice-cream cones as performance art. The title provides an apt metaphor, for the valise is sizable, capable of accommodating such various and sundry contents, while the cardboard material suggests an impermanence. Pages could be shuffled from beginning to end and the reader wouldn't know the difference, because the book avoids all conventional notions of narrative momentum and character development. There are three main characters, the reader belatedly discovers, whose stories intersect though perhaps exist mainly as myth. Emile Delilah is a perpetual traveler, a man without a country and one who derives his identity from no culture, and the possessor of the cardboard valise. His tenement neighbors include Boreal Rince, the regal exile from the mythical realm of Outer Canthus (one of the narrative's settings, along with Tensint Island) and Elijah Salamis, whose first name might be confused with Emile's and whose last name conjures the sort of food that permeates the book in its taste, texture and smell. He is some sort of post-nationalist, refusing to recognize cultural distinctions and boundaries. These characters rarely meet.

A parallel dimension that readers might find creatively charged or thematically exhausting.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780594494256
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/15/2011
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 10.90 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

BEN KATCHOR is the author of The Jew of New York; Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer: The Beauty Supply District; and several works of musical theater in collabora­tion with the composer Mark Mulcahy. He teaches at Par­sons The New School for Design and has contributed to The New Yorker, The Forward, and Metropolis. The first car­toonist to receive a MacArthur Fellowship, he is the subject of a documentary titled The Pleasures of Urban Decay. He lives in New York.
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