Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Cosmocopia by Paul Di Filippo and Jim Woodring

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2009. Reprinted with permission.

Frank Lazorg is a legendary artist of comics, book and album covers, movie posters, and more recently his own abstract ambitions. But since his stroke, he's done nothing new. Until one day he gets "a rather exotic foreign package with — an odd smell" containing a brick of red powder in the mail from an old acquaintance. This powder inspires Lazorg to begin painting again. But when he finds that things can never be as they once were, he has a "sudden impulse" that leads him into another world.

Author Paul Di Filippo has rather transparently used the career of another legend, Frank Frazetta as his model of Lazorg's career, but the similarities stop there (I hope). The fictional Walter Paisley (A Bucket of Blood) may have been another inspiration. But even as this synopsis summarizes the first few pages of Cosmocopia, Di Filippo's new 100-page novella offered in a stunning limited edition package from Payseur and Schmidt, it is only the beginning.

The novella hits the ground running — things are already really weird by page 16 — and Lazorg goes on a journey of highs and lows that lead him toward redemption. (These paths are so surprising and brilliantly original that I want don't want to spoil them by trying to lamely describe them.) Cosmocopia, like the best speculative fiction, offers a vision of another world while making strange-looking characters seem utterly familiar, especially in their personal struggles. And Di Filippo he has done a beautiful job creating a world in so few pages that is foreign yet familiar, and managed to place a love story — and a message of hope — at the center of it. (Interestingly, the title "Cosmocopia" is mentioned in DiFilippo's story "Science Fiction" from the 2003 anthology Witpunk, so this idea has apparently been percolating in the author's mind for some time.)

This terrific limited edition also includes two wonderful examples of the work of artist Jim Woodring. The centerpiece is a 513-piece jigsaw puzzle of Woodring's black-and-white surrealist painting entitled The Artist's Eye, but also of note is an 8" by 10" full-color print of a pulp-style magazine cover mockup showing the major catalytic event of the story (Lazorg's first venture into his new style). These two disparate items quickly and sharply showcase the range of Woodring's talent, as they do not appear to have come from the same hand.

The box has a complete image of The Artist's Eye, with a wraparound band signed by both Di Filippo and Woodring. The package comes to $65 USD, but it is such a beautiful presentation, worth revisiting dozens of times (with Di Filippo's novella alone being easily rereadable at least half that much, that it's really an investment. Payseur and Schmidt seem to be one of the few small presses actually offering products that are well worth the collectors' price tag.

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