The side-by-side layout of image and story enhances the work of both the book’s creators.
While a collaboration between an author and illustrator is hardly new, writer Leon Rooke and artist/painter Tony Calzetta took an unusual approach to their work in Fabulous Fictions and Peculiar Practices. The short stories and illustrations that make up this volume show both creators’ imaginations at work in their interpretation of the other’s, making it an interesting look into the duo’s creative processes.
Rather than having an illustrator contribute images to an already written work, Fabulous Fictions began with small versions of a number of Calzetta drawings. Rooke wrote very short stories based on some of them, and Calzetta updated some of his works based on the resulting narratives. Calzetta’s work is largely abstract and difficult to describe, but with enough definable shapes throughout to give some direction for a story; that interplay is what makes Fabulous Fictions interesting.
One of the book’s strongest stories is "The Ravening Beasts at Fairy Godfather House." The image on which it is based suggests a pair of towers or turrets sticking out of water, and Rooke writes about the shaming of dull world leaders as ravening beasts and the escape from that label by those whose lives intersect with the supernatural. Another highlight is "Cézanne’s Muse," in which Rooke succinctly describes a lifelong relationship between the impressionist painter and a physical muse, based off an image that suggests an arm reaching out from the sky over several loosely defined objects.
In another pairing, an oblong object atop a black platform with lines all around suggests a story titled, in part, "The Scroll of Civilization Survives the Restless Deep," in which a portrait artist considers suicide, and which references several earlier stories from Fabulous Fictions as a way to tie the book together. Somewhat similar drawings inspire stories called "Son of Scroll" and "Daughter of Son of Scroll," a pair of short works that react to their parent story.
Of course, the art itself is the strongest connection between stories. The first Calzetta piece, which aligns to the story "How God Talks in His Sleep," is reproduced in full color, with a three-page, two-sided foldout. The rest are black and white, but printed on a ridged paper stock that nicely shows them off. That presentation and the side-by-side layout of image and story enhance the work of both the book’s creators.
Fabulous Fictions reads best with the whole creative process that produced it in mind, though the quality of Rooke’s and Calzetta’s contributions ensures that its parts are able to stand alone on their own merits.
—Jeff Fleischer, Foreword Reviews
Excerpt from book
Bank President’s Address to Minions on the Eve of the Release of the Annual Financial Report Showing Profits Heretofore Unseen in the World
Welcome gentlemen and ladies, and congratulations, you’ve gone through the stir and come out clean and cooked, the disabled unworthy have been cast aside, you’ve proven your mettle and are on the cusp of embattlement with mountains, climbing the ladder, to make no bones about it you are among the anointed. Tomorrow you will take up your multiple tasks in the greatest of kingdoms, the money kingdom, over which I and others of my likeness preside, preside by whit and whittle, looking after the nation’s business and keeping the world’s affairs afloat. You have every reason to feel proud and I’m convinced your training has taught you that our love for you, for you and your families, runs deep, it courses through you as veins course through millennia of rock, of effluvia, landslides, alterations of land mass occasioned by ice-age phenomena and other such marvels.
You are not here, though, for history lessons, there comes the time when you have taken from history all that can be profitably removed from it, you have seen this with your own eyes, I am sure, those old history buffs walking the streets in their worn-out shoes, their coats wormy at the elbows, that exhausted and defeated look in their faces, with nowhere to turn now that history has yielded its very last dribble onto their shoelaces. These are as men and women drowning in a sea of melancholy, unlike ourselves who drive unerringly onwards into a future divested of any possibility that those of our ilk may incur a loss, save that routine loss of loved ones, love that fails us, wives that desert us, as mine did, children that give themselves over to lawlessness, druggery, and drunkenness, as mine did, loss incurred through accident, a piano falls on you from a rooftop, the faint music of wind stirring the keys as in that final second your brother or sister looked up, tsunami and such that might assail our shores, earthquakes, no matter our vigilance against such terrors, these terrors will insert themselves in our lives, sickness too, such as yesterday my very own father suffering a deadly stroke as he strapped onto his wrist a new Rolex down at Cartier’s, above which he kept his delightful mistress, Agaza Strip, in a state of entitlement through forty-three stirring years. Not that I intend to dwell on such hazards, one day it rains, another it does not, that is about all one may say about such occurrences, in my own view God was blindsided some many aeons ago, he turns a deaf ear, we might assume he has his own difficulties, his goats have escaped the pasture, that sort of thing, vines have overtaken his many mansions, grey skies day after day, a kind of exaggerated Vancouver, if one chooses to be specific, he sleeps the sleep, that’s about the best we can say of him, his old head is granite upon the pillow, his wife and children occupy a madhouse wherein they may live in accordance with their needs, we need not dwell on this, we too, prince and pauper within the world of profit, have our difficulties and it is not on these that we must dwell, but rather upon the making of a better world as best as can be accomplished within our restricted means.
So, so, so, as tomorrow you take up your positions as number cruncher clerks in the bastions of power, knowing that long gone are the days when we could do with our clients what we wanted to do, which was to strike them beside the head with bricks the minute they came through our door, empty their pockets, and slide them through the coal chute on a slow boat to China, never to be heard from again, alas, gone are those days of the golden harvest, now we have no option but to cook our books in the civil and accepted manner, taking as our model the fine workings of our federal, regional, and local governments, finding a bit of gold here, a bit there, picking it up the way a street person lifts a nub of cigarette from the gutter, though still one penny makes another, the pennies mount up, you will have heard that our profit last year exceeded the combined budgets of 86 nations, not bad, I’ll say, when rules and regulations hem us in from every side, we are the tiger that must be caged, but the will has a way, so I say to you, gentlemen and ladies, go forth and prosper in the commercial world, make our bank proud, lift yourselves gaily from your crypt, I’ll merely remind you that tomorrow, Friday, is our "Informal Attire" day, you men may abandon your ties, you women may feel perfectly free to arrive at your station dressed in hardly anything at all, in fact we prefer this for its symbolism, you know, our historic "leave em naked" motto, "leave no stone unturned."