The Cardboard Valise by Ben Katchor

The Cardboard Valise
by Ben Katchor
Pantheon, 2011

Original, imaginative and engrossing. Katchor’s sketchy greywash tales may not be to everyone’s taste, but they’re certainly a damn sight more interesting than the latest pre-storyboarded three-act action-screenplay, i.e. most modern graphic novels.

Valise is so dense that I was unable to read it in a single sitting. A reprint of Katchor’s weekly strip, it begins strongly enough with the story of Emile Delilah, a xenophiliac addicted to travel, touring the restroom ruins of Tensint Islands, which shortly vaporises. This insanely detailed tale unfolds slowly, throwing off peripheral ideas and conceits like a Catherine wheel.

Katchor’s previous book (The Beauty Supply District, also recommended) was a collection of his one-off Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer strips, which is a better format for his style. Valise fails to carry momentum as an extended story, although that doesn’t make the ambition and care which has gone into constructing this strange little world any less admirable. Perhaps it could have benefited from a few chapter breaks, or at least an occasional visual break from the crowded panels.

To live up to the title, the hardback edition actually comes with little cardboard suitcase handles, mercilessly glued down by someone at Central Library with no appreciation of novelty.

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