Typical of Ben Katchor''s recursive, compact style, The Beauty Supply District is actually the title of three distinct entities: this collection of over 80 installments of his 8-panel comic strip "Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer" (appearing in The Forward and other weekly papers); a new, 24-page story with which Katchor concludes; and the subject of that final story, a commercial district on the edge of Julius Knipl''s imaginary, melancholy Gotham. In the beauty supply district, the city''s aesthetic needs are catered to by businesses like Synthetic A Priori Corp., Surface Meaning Refinishers Inc., and the Senseless Elaboration Parlor.
That might be a lot to digest for anyone new to Knipl''s wistful, chiaroscuro world (the first two collections of this strip, Stories and Cheap Novelties, might prove more accessible). But Beauty Supply District captures Katchor''s strip at the height of its form--from semi-professional gravediggers competing at the Cemetery of the Expired Coupon Redeemer to the chance discovery (at a drug store, naturally) of how production of cheap writing instruments has far outstripped the demands of poetic inspiration.
New York Times Review of Books critic Edward Sorel called Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer "perhaps the most original comic strip since ... ''Krazy Kat'' more than 80 years ago." Enthusiastic and deserved praise, but all the more reason that--to understand and appreciate something this unique--you really ought to see it for yourself. --Paul Hughes
Join Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer, on a leisurely stroll past The Institute for Soup-Nut Research and The Municipal Birthmark Registry. Savor the smell of a phone booth, circa 1961. Sign up for a guided tour of the oldest continually vacant storefront in America. Attend a championship grave-digging competition, or, should you feel you''ve wasted yet another day, you can check in for help at a local Misspent Youth Center.
In "The Beauty Supply District," a new twenty-four-page story, Knipl attends an evening concert and unwittingly enters the world of wholesale empathizers and chiaroscuro brokers who make the decisions critical to the production of aesthetic pleasure in all its forms -- from the shape of an olive jar to the score of a string quartet.
From the Hardcover edition.
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