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One of the weirdest books I ever ran across was Wisconsin Death Trip, a compilation of old photographs and newspaper articles that put the lie to the notion that things were better in olden times. It read like a fin-de-siecle version of the New York Post, with clippings about murders, abductions, all manner of craziness, juxtaposed with period photographs. What was interesting about the book, at least to me, was that it showed there is a hidden side of human nature that is universal — yes, there were murders and sex crimes in the 1890s — yet at the same time so far removed from our current existence that it seems unreal.
A similar spirit seems to underlie Sam Costello’s upcoming graphic novel Labor & Love: A Garland of American Folk Ballads, which is set to debut in October at SPX. Costello is best known as the writer of the horror comic Split Lip, and this comic, illustrated by Neal Von Flue, features comics based on four folk songs about craziness and death that all have a surrealistic feel.
From songs narrated by a bird witnessing murder committed by a spurned lover to a song about a fiddle made of flesh and bone playing the song of its creation, they explore — as Greil Marcus famously dubbed it — the old, weird America.
The songs may seem initially clear, but they’re also impossible to completely understand. Even when you’re looking at them you can’t quite see them, as in a dream, or a nightmare. Listening to them, it often feels that there’s an entire world of meaning beneath the lyrics and the events described that one knows is there but has no hope of accessing.
Check the link for a couple of preview pages. As someone who loves old things, weird things, and old, weird things best of all, I cannot wait to see this comic.