- Tony Morgan
The other day I got a copy of Throwing Bones in the mail— it's a book of short stories written by Anthony Alvarado and illustrated by Tony Morgan of Gunbaby Graphics. I cracked it open, saw the above image, and began reading the accompanying story, "The Penis," which starts with the brief declarative, "Ryan was a hipster." The following tongue-in-cheek description of hipsters walks in the footsteps of Fitzgerald's flapper model. I was mildly humored, but when I read this,
"The night became a blur. He woke up the next day with no idea how he had gotten home ... His stomach was in turmoil and he headed straight for the bathroom, grabbing a copy of the Mercury from off the kitchen floor before unbuckling and sitting down, and that's when he noticed it. His penis was gone."
and the subsequent tale of Ryan's runaway penis, I was sold. Gotta say, anything involving genital-based magical realism, wiping your ass with the Mercury, and non sequitur flying-paratrooper-cyclists is... well... bound to catch my attention. Narcissistic acknowledgment of Merc references aside, Throwing Bones is a pretty interesting collaborative project— and it's best with a little back story, which Morgan gave me yesterday when we met up at a coffee shop in SE.
Morgan says his relationship with Alvarado started with a blind collaboration. Alvarado was contributing a story to local lit mag, Cloudrag, and the editor suggested that Morgan illustrate the short. Alvarado agreed and so did Morgan, the issue came and went, and the two kept about their lives never having met, until one night at a party, they were introduced— admirers of one another's work. That's where the book starts. Alvarado asked Morgan to help with a deck of fifty-two cards matching words with images, intended to be used as a tool for writers to work through creative obstructions. Morgan suggested that instead of creating images from Alvarado's set of prompts and leaving it at that, Alvarado could also write stories inspired by the prompts.
And so, a year and a half later, we have Throwing Bones, the first thirteen collaborations in a projected series of fifty-two— an entertaining and imaginative installment-number-one, pairing Alvarado's often-magical realism with Morgan's tarot-like scratchboard etchings. Possibly the most fascinating aspect of this book is that both Alvarado and Morgan created their contributions blind of the other's interpretation of the prompt words— sometimes the interpretations align, sometimes they don't. The results serve as an interesting view of our culture's shared linguistic associations.
For instance, under the prompt word "ghost," Morgan etched an image of the Grim Reaper cradling a bone-child, sitting on a pile of skulls. "Classic Kafka," Alvarado's interpretation of "ghost," imagines a photo shoot in which a Wieden + Kennedy "idea guy," a parapsychologist, and a Gap rep resurrect the spirit of Kafka for an ad campaign. Here, Alvarado and Morgan's interpretations of the the prompt don't match up very well, pointing to a wide range of ideas associated with the word ghost.
Though occasionally the collaborations find a somewhat eerie, unplanned meeting point. Using the prompt "male," Alvarado wrote a story of family, accounting for the relationships between himself, his father, and his granddad. The childhood perception of parents is heavily mined, accounting for those early stages when we revere our folks for appearing as flawless, wise, and infinitely strong beings. Ultimately, we recognize that they aren't perfect and we must wrestle with their disbanded god-like image. Using the same prompt, "male," Morgan depicted a soldier pushing a spear through a minotaur, representing the struggle with father that's common to the human experience.
Regardless of whether the short stories and images match up well, Throwing Bones is a great first installment in Alvarado and Morgan's collaboration, and I'll be excited to see their next book whenever it's released.
Tonight, Throwing Bones opens at Sequential Art Gallery (328 NW Broadway #113) from 6-10 pm, exhibiting silkscreen posters of Morgan's illustrations from the book. Alvarado will be there as well, giving sidewalk readings.