Tuesday, February 19, 2008


When traveling, whether it is cross-country, or cross-town, I can’t just have one book with me. My moods change and I like having choices. I’ve been known to shuttle between fiction, poetry, the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle, and non-fiction all in the course of a 45-minute subway ride.

What’s my point? The New York Public Library and its counterpart to the south, in Brooklyn, are treasure troves of books, a few of which I have borrowed, carried on trains, and returned, unmolested by my grubby paws

However, once in a while, I judge books by their covers, borrow them, and actually read them. The latest in this category was the just-published ’85. The title drew me because those are the three keystrokes after my name when the Iolani School alumni office sends me mail. I snagged it as well because it was a graphic novel, and it looked like a quick read. I was right.

Here’s the book in a nutshell:

Inspired by the widely praised novel Three Days as the Crow Flies, Danny Simmons and Floyd Hughes present a richly illustrated graphic novel set in the gritty underworld of New York City circa 1985 -- a time and place when street culture and the fine arts scene came together in strange and often predatory ways.

Crow, a junky and the son of a deceased police officer, steals a few paintings from his friend Danny, which he hopes to sell and make a few dollars off of to pay his landlord and cop some powder. Before he knows it, he's drawn into the surreal dreamland of "do-as-you-please," a hazy, hedonistic world of sex, drugs, and cold-blooded commerce. Filled with evocative black-and-white imagery and crackling with authentic, street-smart dialogue, Simmons and Hughes capture and bring to life this haunting urban tale.

This 96-page tale is surreal with its darkly-shifting images, with different visual perspectives populating the panels. I am no aficionado of graphic novels, but I do appreciate when something is interesting. This story fascinated me because it’s set in a New York that predates my arrival by 12 years and the transformation of the Big Apple from the mid-80’s to the mid-90’s is mind-blowing. It’s fun, as well, when a writer skillfully incorporates historic figures into their fiction. The appearance of Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Run-DMC, and one of the Beastie Boys certainly enrich an already-riveting storyline.

The reader is initially horrified that a character would steal art from a friend and fence it for some quick cash. But as unlikable as that act may be, I was drawn along a moral journey, following and actually caring for Crow, despite his questionable choices. It flies by quickly, but it’s thought-provoking nonetheless.

Danny Simmons is the brother of rap mogul Russel Simmons, and one of the co-founders of the Def Poetry Jam.

No comments: