Monday, August 25, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #237: I'm Pretty Sure I've Got My Death-Ray in Here Somewhere by Sam Hurt

It's not quite ironic that I found this book -- the very first collection of the great but obscure Eyebeam newspaper strip, covering the Daily Texan years, published by some guy out of his garage in 1982 -- three years after a flood destroyed all of my graphic novels, including the Eyebeam books. I was missing just one of those books, true -- but the missing book was Our Eyebeams Twisted.

If we really did live in a universe run by a malevolent, fly-torturing god -- which seems to be what a lot of people believe, though they all also seem to think said malevolent god likes only them -- then the book I found would have to be Our Eyebeams Twisted. It was not, and so there is no god. QED. Random chance reigns.

Anyway, so I found ...I'm Pretty Sure I've Got My Death-Ray in Here Somewhere! in a random box at the Strand earlier this year. I'm pretty sure I read this book once before, but that was a long time ago. Though, if you do find a random book from an obscure artsy newspaper strip that you read twenty years ago, it's really helpful if that was the first volume of that strip. And this is. So yay!

I know nothing about Sam Hurt's life except what I can glean from the Internet and remember from random bios in his books. But I'm pretty sure this book collects his earliest strip cartoons, starting in 1978 during his undergraduate tenure at the University of Texas -- maybe not all of them, maybe not in the precise order they originally appeared, but the bulk of those strips that turned into Eyebeam over the course of the next three years. It begins with random characters and general academic jokes, but pretty quickly develops the core cast: Eyebeam himself, the Sam Hurt stand-in, an Everyman undergrad and then law-school student; Ratliff, his feckless roommate; Sally, his girlfriend; and Henry, his regular hallucination. (Also showing up before the end of the book: Betty, Sally's old friend and possibly the shallowest woman in the world; her jock boyfriend Rod, who plumbs even greater depths of shallowness; Vernon, Eyebeam's law-school classmate; and the inimitable Law School Nurd.) Eyebeam moved away from the academic setting over the next few years, but this is the pure school-version of the strip, when everyone was still hitting the books (or avoiding doing so) all the time.

Hurt set up good gags, crafted amusing sequences of strips, and had a solid sense of character: if Eyebeam had nothing more than that, it would have been a fine, enjoyable strip. But Hurt was also a wonderfully inventive and weird cartoonist, equally prone to flights of philosophy and to bizarre hallucinatory fantasies -- relatively low-key here, but they would explode in later years when Hurt had larger pages and full color to work with. It's rare to find a cartoonist who is really inventive either verbally or pictorially -- one who is equally at home doing both is a marvel. Sam Hurt was, and is, one of them. He may be obscure, but he's as quirkily brilliant in his own way as Bob Burden or Jim Woodring.

And now I have one Eyebeam book, which means I just have to try to complete the collection. I hope I haven't been too convincing here; I don't want you folks to go buying up all of the Eyebeam volumes lurking out in the world, waiting for me to find them.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

1 comment:

BullCityFats said...

The first 306 Eyebeam strips can be found online here:

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