This is a story I still find astonishing but it is completely true.
Sometime in the late 1960's, poet and life long comics fan, Kenneth Koch reached out to then star and now legend of the comic book world, Stan Lee. He had an idea for a Vietnam protest comic book that he and Lee would collaborate on. In the end it fell through—Lee said his (unnamed) cartoonist thought the proposal was too "far out". As Head Librarian of the Hypothetical Library and comics fan, this notion makes my head reel. Just imagine a story penned by Koch, and drawn by Jack Kirby, or Steve Ditko, and published by the 1960's, Marvel. *sigh*
Moving forward a few years to 2003, Shanna Compton poetry editor at soft skull press had learned of a posthumous manuscript consisting of comic book pages Koch had sketched over the years, but had never found a publisher for. It was called The Art of The Possible: Comics Mainly Without Pictures. Shanna and publisher Richard Nash had acquired the sketch book via David Lehman, and the Koch estate, and the book would now see the light of day. If only they could find a designer that liked poetry, and was a comic book geek.Hmmmm.
I started right away, scanning the pages, sketching ideas, trying to match the style of the crude, but charming thumbnail drawings—it was great fun. Here's a couple of the pages of the many that I was lucky enough to hold in my hands...
One Idea I had for the project was to assign pages to contemporary cartoonists to interpret, and then publish the results. In the end, smarter folks than I prevailed, and the pages were reproduced as Koch had sketched them.
If I got this project today I probably would have advised that it be reproduced as a total facsimile—cover and all. I would have had a photographer shoot the pages to show the white out, pasted scraps of paper (that made the sketchbook bulge a bit), and other bits of untidiness that made it so charming. Still, there is something to be said for letting the intent of the work speak more loudly than the context, so I remain happy with the final book for the most part.
The cover for The Art of The Possible: Comics Mainly Without Pictures
Finally I'd like to leave you with Mr. Koch's wonderful title page/credo. You may want to print it out and put it somewhere you can see it with regularity.
Tomorrow—David Lehman, and James Cummins (sorry I didn't get to you guys today, but this post took on a life of it's own.)