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The Lost Art Of Ah Pook Is Here h/c

The Lost Art Of Ah Pook Is Here h/c back

William Burroughs & Malcom McNeill


Page 45 Review by Stephen

When something happens is infinitely less important than what actually happens, how long its effects last, and indeed what those effects are.

At least, that’s what I scribbled at the top of my notes for this book, along with “see Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s FROM HELL”. Anyone who’s read that will know exactly what I mean.

Ah Puck is the Mayan god of death – our co-conspirators merely changed the spelling to make it phonetic. The Mayans believed in reincarnation, so death is definitely not the end. But we’ll get to that! Let’s pull back a bit.

Malcom McNeill was an art school student who founded the magazine Cyclops, illustrating the comic strip THE UNSPEAKABLE MR. HART written by sentence-fragmenter William S. Burroughs. When the magazine folded, they began working on a graphic novel starring that unspeakable Mr. Hart and, on visiting the British Museum, saw the facsimile of the Dresden Codex, one of the four Mayan books that combined pictures and text to survive annihilation – like the rest of its culture – at the hands of European Christianity. And so it goes. And very much went.

I know all this only because Malcom Mc Neill has taken the time to put this eye-frazzling book of art – some of it sequential – into context, for the work itself is very much lost. Not only was it abandoned, but it was then effectively buried or disappeared by an exhibition proclaiming itself to be the definitive gallery of art works inspired by the words of William S. Burroughs… which contained not one image from this massive body of art. In fact it wasn’t mentioned once, even as a footnote, in the accompanying 192-page catalogue.

That is extraordinary enough given that the art wasn’t merely inspired by Burroughs but created in direct collaboration, but when you see what I see in front of me – all these thumbnails, elaborate storyboards, sketches, full pencils, Mayan-inspired line drawings, and then fully painted sweeps of integrated sequential art which have stretched the entire length of an art gallery wall – you will shake your head in wonder and dismay. There are vast scenes of ancient ritual, carnal lust and very modern warfare transcending time just as they were always intended.

The script was released thirty years ago without any images. This time the images are published without any words, thanks to Burroughs’ estate who forbade it. The resurrection therefore isn’t quite complete: for a full comprehension some assembly is required.

I mention that because while Mc Neill is an eye-popping artist, he’s not the most lucid of writers, making some reasonably simple ideas seem more complex than they need be:

Words are alchemical and writing is an act of magic, able to affect change in people’s minds and so the very world around them. We know this: we have read Alan Moore’s PROMETHEA.

Everything has already happened therefore time-travel is possible, if not inevitable, as is a form of telepathy – a communication shared through Ideaspace. We know that too: we have read Alan Moore’s interview by Eddie Campbell in A DISEASE OF LANGUAGE:

“An eloquent communicator of even the most complex metaphysical concepts, Moore elucidates on his notion of a shared Ideaspace and its topography of hot-linked associated thoughts, as explored in PROMETHEA and which he convincingly offers as a possible explanation not only for telepathy, but for ghosts and the otherwise inexplicably synchronous arrival of thoughts or inventions in ostensibly unconnected minds like steam propulsion.”

That’s from my review. Anything else we should know? Oh, yes, the plot. Here’s Malcom:

“Using sacred books of their own, Mayan mutants travel back and forth in time, contact young guys in the future, and bring down the whole show. Biological weapons burst over the cities of the world, breaking down species barriers and shutting down the human condition forever. Hart dies. End of civilisation, heroes sail off into the sunset…”

All right, then!