By David Wojnarowicz & James Romberger with Marguerite van Cook (Vertigo/DC Comics)
Every so often an outsider dabbles in the comics medium and brings something new to the tried-and-trusted mix which forces insiders to re-evaluate the way and the why of their preferred medium. Such a case was the collaboration between iconoclastic multi-media artist David Wojnarowicz and painter, cartoonist and occasional comics pro James Romberger.
During the 1980s and until his death in 1992 Wojnarowicz was a prolific author, poet, musician, painter, filmmaker, photographer, performance artist, advocate for Artist’s Rights, anti-censorship champion and political activist, driven or inspired to constantly create by his appalling life as a teen runaway, street prostitute and AIDS sufferer.
This slim 64-page painted album consists of three interlinked episodes from the author’s life, threaded and embellished with reminiscences, observations dreams and poetry to form a living monologue with the world which made Wojnarowicz the compulsive, questing, wonderingly politicized rebel that he was.
Beginning with ‘Thirst’, we follow as the world-wise, street-smart kid dodges Vice Cops and cruises for “Johns” on the 1970’s corners of 42nd Street, encounting just one more sad guy in search of negotiable warmth and affection…
‘Stray Dogs’ takes place a few years later as David and his latest dangerous boyfriend Willy struggle to feed themselves and trawl the soup kitchens, halfway houses and shelters in search of food and a safe place to sleep. Their nightmare journey through the dregs and gutters of the city would enrage a saint and make the Devil weep…
The disturbingly forensic inner narrative ends with a contemplative and breathtakingly introspective marshalling of ideas and experiences in ‘Seven Miles a Second’, begun as David was dying and left uncompleted until Romberger, a renowned artist himself – particularly scenes of urban and inner city life – returned to the author’s incomplete notes and his own memories of Wojnarowicz to pull everything together.
The final painfully intense and intimate project was initiated in 1989 and only completed after Wojnarowicz died from AIDS-related complications. The book was released in 1996 as a Vertigo prestige format publication.
Terrifying, hallucinogenic, appallingly revealing of a society that eats its weak and different, the graphic self-dissection is followed by the Afterword ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Maniac’, a history and appreciation of David Wojnarowicz by Carlo McCormick (Senior Editor of Paper magazine) which includes reproductions of many of his own paintings.
Hard to take, frighteningly beautiful and staggeringly honest, this is a book that will – and should – upset all the right people, but is one that no mature, clear thinking devotee of graphic narrative should avoid or miss.
© 1996 the Estate of David Wojnarowicz. Illustrations © 1996 James Romberger. Introduction © 1996 Thomas W. Rauffenbart. Afterword © 1996 Carlo McCormick. All individual Rights Reserved throughout.