Ben Katchor's dreamscape is peopled by transistor radio listeners, door-knob triers, false eyebrow importers, and a late-night-perambulating real estate photographer named Julius Knipl. The vaguely melancholy stories in his eight-panel comic strips reflect a fondness for the forgotten, the obscure, and the merely overlooked. What happens to the city's wholesale calendar salesmen in February? Who buys last year's tinned seedless grapes? Katchor's shadowed line drawings of a gray metropolis evoke musty smells, the shuffling steps of retirees, and a proliferating autumnal chill. Readers who enjoy his work in their local weekly papers, as well as NPR listeners who have been held captive by the "Knipl Radio-Cartoons" will be glad to linger a little longer in the dream life of Katchor's world.
I have a completely different appreciation of Julius Knipl now, especially after reading the extended "Evening Combinator" piece that is the coda to this volume. Katchor's ability to capture the dream-life of an urban metropolis is uncanny, and his invariably lonely and disconnected characters are the perfect guides along this obsessive pathway. Personal dislocation amongst the abundance and liveliness of the city is a major theme of all of these pieces, and Katchor draws out the threads of his little stories with the subtlety and artistry of a fine tailor. Julius Knipl is very much an everyman, but Katchor resists the temptation to depict him in a condescending or judgmental manner. This is comics art of the highest degree, and I now find myself to be a major fan.