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Books, Books, Books

Editor’s note: Books today — for the most part, the three volumes that make up Jon Rosenberg‘s The Infinite Pendergast Cycle: Infinite Typewriters, The Corndog Imperative, and Showcase Showdown. In the interests of full disclosure, Rosenberg is the one that bribed me to start this blog back in 2005 and remained its publisher for the next six months; additionally, I am directly responsible for Hell being located at exit 9C, and possibly other gags that appear in the stories.

I’ve held off on talking about the first two volumes of Rosenberg’s magnum opus as they were released over the past year, figuring that the overall story demanded an overall consideration. On the one hand, this was a good plan, re-reading some 29 months worth of strips (from here to here, or 819 updates across 27 separate story arcs), seeing all the pieces that Rosenberg set in motion (sometimes years before the strips in these collections ran).

On the other hand, Rosenberg practices a particularly fluid kind of storytelling, meaning that just about any of those arcs can (with a bit of backfill) provide a hearty laugh-chuckle without having read a dozen years worth of strips. In fact, the boundaries of the strips in the books can be hard to identify — open a page at random, and try to figure out which panels appeared originally on one day, and which on the next, if you can. For the most part, these discrete chunks flow as a single, continuous narrative, although that’s not how they were originally designed.

Rosenberg has story beats mapped out that he wants to hit before the big wrap-up — in this way, it’s almost the opposite of Karl Kerschl’s freeform, improvisatory approach to Charles Christopher, and even if the entire story isn’t constructed at any one time, the whole outline of it is in his skull. But when an idea strikes his fancy, he has the flexibility to follow it where it might lead. Much like Jeff Smith found a throwaway gag demanded to be expanded upon (and became probably the most popular storyline in BONE), Rosenberg might hear a digression (over beer, no doubt) on facial-hair competition and Japanese snack foods and bingo: The Great Moustache Fight.

It doesn’t get us any closer to the ultimate goal of the story than the 78 strips of Good Hitler movie installments, but dang if the digressions don’t make us not care that we aren’t getting closer (negative … double negative … triple … yes, that’s right). That ultimate goal, by the bye? The universe is going to end due to a programming error. Unfortunately, solving other problems (demonic telepath wants to burn down all reality) has put a few more obstacles in the way of resolving the big crash. By the time the story wraps up, Randall Munroe will have to create a diagram to follow all the perambulations and peradventures of the cast, but any small fragment of the story independently reflects the insanity of the whole, like a full-color cartoon fractal on a three-week tequila bender.

That’s really all you need to know to jump into The Infinite Pendergast Cycle anyplace you like. It’s funny, it’s crazy in the best ways, and it moves from place to place with such chaotic speed and grace as to defy conventional description. It’s not gag-a-day, it’s not a graphic novel, it’s not hard sci-fi, it’s not straight humor, it’s not all-ages safe, it’s not unchallenging with respect to the nature of reality here on the streets of Manhattan Three. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have three books I need to read again.

  • But before I do, a quick note: I can only hope that all future TopatoCo book releases have a fake dustjacket option. That would be so rad.

I like your review Gary. Yes, our heroes and foes can take a 2 hour break to watch a Good Hitler movie. The multiverse will still be there afterward. So will their missions in it all.

And luckily for us Jon will finish it. It sounds like he needed his own break to dabble in something new. I hope he’ll at least have a dvd case with the unseen third Good Hitler movie lying on a table. Leave us wondering what it would have been.

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