TOPANGA MESSENGER -- October 21, 2004

"From the Shelves of Lobal Orning… Graphic Novel Review: 'Floating' by Robert Campbell"

By Pablo Capra

“Don’t get me wrong, Bud. I know there’s more to life than what meets the eye,” Sam tells his brother when the smoke from their campfire begins to curl up in a strange spiral.

And Sam is right! Unbeknownst to the teenage brothers, they are being pestered by two bickering spirits named Larry and Sal.

In Robert Campbell’s posthumously-published comic book “Floating,” there always seems to be a fantastic explanation for things that happen in reality. Campbell experienced life in the same way.

Campbell was featured in two previous Messenger articles, and is one of the poets included in the Lower Topanga poetry book “Idlers of the Bamboo Grove.” He was born in Marshall, Texas in 1951—a country town he liked to call “Mar’s Hall,” imagining that it had fallen from Mars. A visionary out of time, Campbell himself seemed to have descended from another planet. He called his artistic style “Real Fantasy” to emphasize the real effects of fantasy in our lives.

In the late ’90s, Campbell drew two graphic novels, both part of a series. The first one is untitled, and will be published at a later date. The second one is the “Floating” graphic novel, which is being published in two installments, “Floating” and “The More Ado about Floating.”

Campbell drew “Floating” in meticulous ballpoint pen shortly before he lost is eyesight to diabetes. His intention was to make one long story out of this graphic novel, but it was not realized before his tragic death from diabetes in May at age 53. Therefore, “Floating” is made up of many different stories, loosely related by Campbell’s fantasy of how intoxication can cause one’s head to float away.

Some of the artwork in “Floating” approaches painstaking realism, while other pages are more sketchy and have stains and cigarette burns. But the surreal stories in “Floating” are unlike anything you’ve ever read before.

Meet characters like Jamal Abernathy of Venice, the Rastafarian salesman of inflatables whose slogan is “Don’t wait! Floatate!” Jamal’s surprise creation is “the inflatable home, complete with furnishings and water purification.”

Then there’s the jobless couch potato with a spoon dangling from his neck (“no tellin’ when I might have to audition for a place in a soup line”) whose head floats up and away from a nagging wife to a space station where a kinky female captain subjects it to bizarre experiments.

And the downtown drug dealer who offers a stressed-out single mother some “Mary Jane, or Peggy Sue” to “patch that crack in your halo,” while her children beg for Butterfingers from the backseat.

And the five-eyed archer who claims to have developed a sixth sense from using cocaine, and demands above all else that people keep his forest clean.

And the farmer who goes out to hunt a flock of chickens that fly by in single-engine propeller planes.

And the untold story of Aunt Jemima who left her familiar place on a pancake box “sad in frustration, exclaiming, ‘I’m more than this’” only to reinvent herself as a supermodel in a leopard-print bathing suit.

These are stories that push the envelope of the comic book genre. They read like an African-American “Naked Lunch.”

After Campbell’s eyesight deteriorated, he turned to poetry to keep his creative flow going, but continued to explore many of the themes in “Floating.” A floating head reappears in one of his poems from “Idlers of the Bamboo Grove,” called “The Rebirth of the Frustrated Artist:”

in a puff of smoke she’ll come and go
vanish and appear
as your brain bloats and floats
beneath a bottle of beer

Two months before his death, Campbell published his own book of poetry, “Life as a Poet presents: Anesthesia Lake.” More collections of his poetry and comics are forthcoming from Brass Tacks Press.

All of Campbell’s books are available at Lobal Orning in the Pine Tree Circle. You can also order them online at www.lifeasapoet.com.

So pick up a copy of “Floating” and treat yourself to Campbell’s mysterious, magical, and humorous vision of the world—a place where, as another character points out, “Virtually anything could happen.”




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