by Pablo Capra
Recently, the second installment of the graphic novel “Floating,” by “Idlers” poet Robert Campbell, was published by Brass Tacks Press under the title “The More Ado About Floating.”
Like the first installment (reviewed in the Messenger Vol. 28 No. 21, October 21, 2004), “The More Ado About Floating” was drawn in meticulous ballpoint pen shortly before Campbell lost his eyesight to diabetes in 2000 and turned to poetry. It remained unfinished after his tragic death from diabetes at age 53 last year.
A painter for most of his life, Campbell called his artistic style 'Real Fantasy' and attempted to show how our fantasies spill over into reality.
The story of “The More Ado About Floating” is episodic, exploring different variations of how intoxication can float one away to a fantasy world.
Campbell abstained from intoxication in real life, and when you read his graphic novel you can understand why. Although his graphic novel is extremely amusing, his fantasy worlds are too real for comfort, and his characters are usually tormented by their tenuous grasp on reality.
“The More Ado About Floating” begins when a young man named Chris gets stoned and starts flying around the room with two pets who have inhaled his secondhand smoke. “They’re my twin engine jets armed with doo-doo bombs, which I fire at the enemy!” he shouts at his distressed mother, before making a crash landing.
Another tormented character is Coco, a famous actress and a pothead. When her boyfriend comes to pick her up at Channel Two, the secretary tells him that “[Coco] was here all morning long, but by midday she started dissipating, till by one she’d dementiaed off to another dimension.” Later, we learn that Coco has been whisked away to a doll house where she is imprisoned by a giant terrifying clown. She manages to escape on a toy train, but just when she thinks she’s made it back to reality, she turns to ask directions to Channel Two and is confronted by weird insect creatures.
At one point, Santa Claus appears as a character in the story when he discovers that Witch Hazel is hanging around long past Halloween to ruin the Christmas season. Despite her rude manners—she calls Santa “numb nuts” and “porky face”—Witch Hazel manages to seduce Santa back to her coven for a nightcap where he really gets into trouble.
“The More Ado About Floating” is unique because of Campbell's imaginative way of looking at the world. Even in the ordinary setting of the final episode—about a working-class family trying to make their Christmas the best ever—the odd perspective and oversized drawings make it seem as if something fantastic is going on.
“Can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something about this place!” one of the characters comments.
Campbell’s years of working in the movie business as a scenic painter probably influenced the creative angles and close-ups in his storytelling, as well as his idea to include outlandish commercials for real and imaginary products like Raid and The Coffee Bean, and an aging actress’s old dreams.
His way of describing the ordinary world verbally is also imaginative, and reflects his poetic ability. In “The More Ado About Floating,” a cat’s paw is seen as “a fist full of switchblades that could fray the fabric of reality,” and a beach ball becomes “a ball full of cold wind.”
Campbell successfully disrupts our notion of reality by mixing in these ordinary fantasies with more extraordinary fantasies like spiders who play poker, and the witch who flies over the Hollywood sign on a vacuum cleaner.
Both installments of the “Floating” graphic novel by Robert Campbell are available at Lobal Orning, as well as his poetry chapbooks “Idlers of the Bamboo Grove: Poetry from Lower Topanga Canyon” and “Life as a Poet presents: Anesthesia Lake.” Campbell’s books are also available online at www.lifeasapoet.com.