"Saying what this artist's work is about would be like describing colors to blind people."
It's a rare cartoonist who can translate his comics to musical theater, and perhaps rarer still is the cartoonist who can successfully adapt his work to a purely auditory medium, such as radio. Ben Katchor has done both, with an opera called The Carbon-Copy Building
and a series of "radio-cartoons" based on his comic strip Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer
. Among comics artists, Katchor exhibits an unusual devotion to the auditory effects of the medium, and his experiments in opera and radio testify to his love of language on its own. But Katchor the librettist and radio actor remains subordinate to Katchor the cartoonist, and his comic strip work shows a complementary interest in the visual appearance of words on the page. As Will Eisner states in Comics and Sequential Art
, "Text reads as visual," and certain texts in Katchor's graphic novel The Jew of New York
can only be read as images, not interpreted as words.
In a 1993 article about Katchor, Lawrence Weschler praises the artist for his inventive sound effects and discusses the variety of unusual names that fill Katchor's strips. When Weschler asked about Julius Knipl's surname, Katchor replied: "It's Yiddish. And it's one of those Yiddish words you can't really translate" (Weschler, 230). Rarely does Katchor make explicit the meanings to be found in the names he concocts. Most of his names do have some sort of meaning attached to them, but for Katchor their denotative meaning becomes less important than their connotative suggestiveness, the effects found in the sheer auditory or visual aspect of an unfamiliar word. Whether or not one knows that "knipl" means something like "a nest egg," the sound of the word conjures up an array of ideas and associations, which may themselves be richer, more expansive and enigmatic, than the fixed meaning found in a dictionary.