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The blog of author Dennis Cooper

TimothyT presents … The Fotonovel’s Crappy Life *

* (restored)
—-

 

“It’s a book that used to be a movie, instead of the other way around.”

I have this slight but persistent interest in the genre of the photo novel. Maybe it’s because a childhood friend of mine had a stack of garish, violent old Mexican photo novels back in the early 90s that I used to pore over whenever he and I hung out. I just think it’s curious form, at once really logical and equally peculiar. So I asked Dennis if I could create a post here to lay out the history of this minor genre, only to find after searching very hard for the details, there basically is no thorough, definitive, or even semi-half assed information on photo novels or fotonovels out there in cyberspace. I found exactly one sketchy, uncredited personal account of the genre on one offbeat webpage. I reprint pieces of it below along with some of the not many samples I managed to gather in my search. So this is not in any way the paean and informational scouring I’d hoped to put together here. It’s just a little nod in the photo novel’s direction in search of any thoughts, opinions, or memories you guys out there might be harboring. — Timothy T

 

 

‘Am I the only one who remembers Fotonovels? They were a uniquely ’70s creation, and they seemed to come and go within about two years. Two movie-loving friends of mine who’d also lived through the ’70s had only a dim recollection of Fotonovels, if that. Maybe they came and went so fast they didn’t even have time to leave a footprint in the collective cultural memory. The fotonovel was an attempt to bring back and modernize the original photo novels, which flourished internationally in the early 60s. But compared to photo novels, which were lurid, violent, seamy affairs often based on original stories, fotonovels were usually G-rated, cut and dried, faithful renditions of blockbuster movies, or, on occasion, narrative picture books tied to the romance novel genre. …

 

 

The 60s

 

‘For the uninitiated, Fotonovels were quickie paperbacks that most often told the story of a movie (generally a movie with youth appeal), although original creations without movie souces were not infrequent. Fotonovels’s stories were told through full-color photos or stills; the dialogue was rendered as printed text, with open speech balloons (as in, say, DOONESBURY) pointing to whoever was delivering the dialogue. Fotonovels were apparently never welcomed with open arms. They were fair game for ridicule. Stephen King, writing about INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (whose 1978 remake was Fotonovelized), went off on a tangent in his DANSE MACABRE: “If there is a lower, slimier, more anti-book concept than the Fotonovel, I don’t know what it would be. I think I’d rather see my kids reading a stack of Beeline Books [porn paperbacks] than one of those photo comics.” …

 

 

The 70s

 

‘Informally, I’d place the original Fotonovel US life span from 1977-1979. There may have been more after that, but I sure wasn’t spotting them in drugstores. I was around 8 or 9 during the “peak” of Fotonovels, so I’d collected quite a few of them, most of which I eventually sold at yard sales for a quarter each. I remember having SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, ROCKY & ROCKY II (these were combined into one Fotonovel), the aforementioned INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25th CENTURY, and perhaps several others I’m forgetting.’ …

 

 

The comeback: first wave, 90s

 

‘Why is the Fotonovel making a comeback now? Perhaps someone noticed that the marriage of text and image on the Internet has been slightly successful. And for movies that don’t lend themselves to straight text novelizations, like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, the format seems a good match. Though on the other hand, BLAIR WITCH depends almost entirely on its cinema-verite camera jiggling for its impact; as a Fotonovel, it looks like a collection of grainy photos, with text. It’s the shittiest-looking $9 paperback I’ve ever seen. $9 may seem pretty steep, but the cover price on my old copy of the LOVE AT FIRST BITE fotonovel is $2.75 — a fairly high cost for a quarter-inch-thick paperback in 1979. That was probably one reason Fotonovels went under before: A book composed entirely of full-color photos is expensive to produce. …

 

 

The comeback, second wave, early 00s

 

‘Personally, I think they’re blowing it all over again. If they set their aim a little higher, both demographically and artistically, they’d clean up with uncensored Fotonovels of beloved Gen-X classics like CLERKS and RESERVOIR DOGS. (PULP FICTION would probably be too long to fit into a standard Fotonovel.) I would also go with primarily verbal movies — they’re making their old mistake (with BATTLEFIELD EARTH and DINOSAUR) of trying to convey a big-budget, big-screen experience within photos the size of a baseball card. A talky movie like CLERKS, which kinda looks shitty anyway, wouldn’t lose much by being Fotonovelized. You could even do a flip-page cartoon of Silent Bob dancing to “Violent Mood Swings,” the way they had Travolta doing flip-page disco in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER. …’ — collaged

 

 

Some offshoots


from Herve Guibert’s ‘photo novel,’ early 90s

 


Chad Michael Ward’s ‘Black Rust,’ 2003

 


Photo novel zine, undated

 


Jorge Simes Fotonovela No 3 Book No 1 (2000)

 


from ‘The Johnny Torture Series’

 

‘You don’t know what it was like to be a geek in the 1970s. There was no VCR and what we liked wasn’t taken seriously by those who produced things. It was rare to come across professionally-published things outside of a few cheap magazines (Famous Monsters of Filmland). Some fanzines managed to get good quality still photos, like Cinefantastique. But on the whole, photos were rare and scripts were even rarer.

Then Richard J. Anobile came along and made every geek go WOW! He pioneered a new kind of mass-market paperback that came to be known as a Photonovel or, trademarked, Fotonovel. Orgasmic cries could be heard throughout fandom when that book appeared. Those kinds of books have gone away because, really, who needs them now that we’ve had VCRs, DVD players, and, today, streaming video?

 

 

‘However, technology now makes it possible to create our own. That’s a Kindle displaying a PDF with screensnaps made from an episode of Eastenders. The directions for doing that are here: iPlayer for Kindle

‘I’m not up on the kind of software that’s available to do it with American broadcast TV or even DVDs. However, when Rubicon was on the air, there was a LiveJournal site that offered HD screensnaps from episodes — that I now see could be compiled into a DIY photonovel. All that was missing from them were the captions. So I have to think this is possible outside of using the UK setup from that post.

‘Maybe someone out there will attempt this. It’d be interesting to see the size of a digital photonovel with two snaps per screen (portrait mode) or four snaps per screen (landscape).’ — Mike Cane
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*

p.s. RIP John Baldessari, a very great artist whose work was central and important to my development as a writer and artist. Also the nicest, most generous guy there could be. A very big, very sad loss. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Yeah, she’s super great, I agree. And I agree those three films of hers are her most towering achievements. Happy birthday to Van Dyke Parks. ** Misanthrope, Hi. Codeine? Oh, great. He needs some kind of boot camp or something. Drop him off in the middle of a forest with just a book of matches and a paper map or something. Half-kidding. ** Wolf, Waahoolf! I’d recommend ‘Daises’ and ‘Fruits of Paradise’ if you can score them. I did my ‘mine for yours’ favourites of 2019 post a while back as far as suggestions go. Here. Yeah, but is it denial, really? I wonder. There’s this idea that full attentiveness to the politics of the era and world around you accompanied by appropriate outrage and action is the right way to be, but I think it can easily be argued that living richly and trying to share whatever is good about yourself and what you know and learn with those who are realistically within your reach and field of personal power is just as much a life fully lived and cultivated. Anarchism-Central. Yay that IC-B got her work’s fingernails under your skin. Her writing’s like crack to me. Interesting day ahead? Our strike/protests are supposed ratchet back up into something disruptive to behold today, so my day, other than working, is a question mark. Love, me. ** Joseph, Hi, Joseph! Holy moly, it’s very good to see you, sir! That’s a lot of jobs. Ugh, man, sorry. I hope you got some poem writing in yesterday as per your plans. Congrats on your marriage! And to a gamer, nice. And to gamer who loves Banjo-Kazooie! Holy shit. She is already my friend for life. And I’m not surprised if she picked up on all the B-K in ‘God Jr’. Wow, that’s cool. Great, have a good one, man, and I hope to get to see you again soon. ** Bill, I think you’ll like ‘Daisies’. That gig sounds nice as hell, obviously. As does that crepe. How much longer are you there? ** Steve Erickson, Her films, especially the big three, are a natural for Criterion. Huh. Oh my God, I’m so sorry to hear about your friend’s wife. That’s horrifying. Our friend/performer Kerstin, who was supposed to star in our TV series, died of that this summer. I count my blessings, as my mom used to say, that I’m not living in the US right now pretty much every second these days. ** scunnard, Hi, J. I saw there was an email from you this morning. I’ll get to it today. Thanks! ** _Black_Acrylic, ‘Fruits of Paradise’ is amazing too. Welcome home! May 2020 be your personal red carpet. ** Right. Today you get a restored, very old, quite odd post made by TimothyT, who, if memory serves, was a silent reader of my blog who gave it this gift one day. See you tomorrow.


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13 Comments

  1. Corey Heiferman

    January 6, 2020 at 11:19 am

    I’ve yet to go through a full-on comics/graphic novel phase, though I’ve always been surrounded by enthusiasts. This post indirectly reminded me of “Stalags”, Holocaust-themed Israeli porn from the sixties that has since been suppressed.

    https://flashbak.com/the-gonzo-insanity-of-1960s-israeli-holocaust-porn-377523/

    I was bedridden for the past two days with the flu. Now I’m on the mend but continuing to rest. I’m becoming obsessed with Ernst Lubitsch and Miranda July. They’ve each been showing me how to “follow the rules” of filmmaking in a way that’s still deeply creative, personal, and risky, since I’ve resolved to learn how to “play in” before I “play out”.

    I’m still behind on assignments but chilling out more–nearly all the pressure is internal as the workshop professors are good at their jobs but keep distant, don’t really give a shit about us.

    I think a lot of my melancholy over the past few weeks had to do with overly associating being or not being an artist with my position in life, how my needs and wants are or aren’t being met. As your posts on artists make evident, they come from every conceivable walk of life, and the one thing they have in common is making art. This has been particularly hard for me to accept because in my teens and recently-ended twenties the two struggles–finding a place in the world and making art, felt inextricably linked to each other in a raw intense way.

    I guess the screenwriter in the sky has been having fun with my character. My first time back checking email in convalescence I got invited to an interview with a production company I reached out to months ago and almost forgot about. Wish me luck!

    Good luck getting around Paris. In general there are also lots of strikes here in Israel, though nothing major at the moment. Coming from USA, amidst all the annoyance it’s a bit refreshing to see folks standing up for themselves, being the opposite of “have a nice day”.

  2. There crappy “Fotonovels’ are alldescendants of a very great work of cinematic art Fellini’s “The White Sheik” . Co-scripted by of all people) Michelangelo Antonioni, this satirical comedy concerns the “Fumetti” — the Fotoroman “comic strips” that Fellini worked for before he became one of the gret filmmakers the world has ever known.

    here are some more scenes from it.

  3. Photo stories were big in UK tabloids for years, with The Sun featuring a thing called Dierdre’s Photo Casebook featuring “real” couples showing off their nubile bodies and their complicated private lives. Viz also had some good ones, as in Life’s a Gas, Man from 2015.

    You may recall that last October I applied for funding to publish a book of Jim Colquhoun’s Black Tantra blog and some more issues of The Call zine. I never got a reply and so, after my lengthy Xmas break, I duly followed that up today. Turns out they never received the original application! So now I’m advised to aim for their February deadline which is frustrating to say the least. What I’ll be aiming to do is work on some speculative literature of my own, in addition to featuring the work of others in the pages of the zine. All being well, this delay could even be made to work to my advatage.

  4. Fotonovels! What a fantastic concept. The New York Punk era really took on that format, and I think they were put together by Legs McNeil? Nevertheless, a fascinating medium. Great blog today.

  5. Hi!!

    I’m back from Prague (which was super lovely, definitely a good way to start the year), back to work (eh), reading Flea’s autobiography (which is full of his magic). I saw this movie called Utoya: July 22 with Anita – it’s about the 2011 Utoya massacre (maybe you know about it, I’m apparently living under a rock because it was completely new to me) and it’s the single most terrifying and anxiety-inducing film I’ve seen in my entire life. Superb, in my opinion, one long, ~80-minute take.

    Huh, I hope you’re free from the TV script for now! How’s it coming along? Did you have to change it up a lot?
    And wow, congratulations! I do hope the GIF work show happens at the end of the month! Any news about this? And about your new novel? My fingers are still crossed tight!!

    And, of course, how are you? How did the new decade’s first week treat you?
    Lots of love, Dennis!!

  6. Here’s my review of Ladj Ly’s LES MISERABLES: https://www.gaycitynews.nyc/stories/2020/1/les-miserables-lanj-ly-2020-01-05-gcn.html. I know that there’s recently been a campaign in the right-wing French media to slander Ly.

    I am really interested in writing about Poppy’s new album and have pitched a piece on her to one outlet. I wonder how metalheads will receive its direction, which borrows heavily from nu-metal and Marilyn Manson while retaining very femme vocals and influences from J-pop. They don’t seem thrilled by the idea that postmodern pop can incorporate the whole of pop/rock history, including metal.

    Criterion actually did put out DAISIES, but it is only available as part of a 5-DVD set of ’60s Czech cinema, and there are no bonus materials with it.

  7. D-badee-badoo!

    Thanks for the ‘mines for yours list’. I need to give mines (‘yours’) a bit more thought but I’ll give you some Best Of Wolfus 2019. I kinda feel like that likely-apocryphal Chinese thing though – ‘it’s too early to tell’. Maybe I can give you my Best Of 1997 now that I kinda know what really stuck.

    The denial/action/zen thing is… yeah. I oscillate on that one. The oscillation is real barf-inducing, roller coaster style. When it all comes down in flames in 50 years or so I’m not sure saying ‘I just tried being nice’ is gonna cut it but then again neither will ‘I went to lots of protests and read the news everyday’. Nothing will cut it. Since I can’t possibly summon up any reasonable argument in favor/hope of anything really important getting fixed soon enough (climate, tyrannical ubercapitalistic internet, the rise of nationalism – and of course those are all linked), all we have left IS to not be jerks and do what we can in our own small-ish circle. But that does make me feel pretty shitty too. Art does kinda have the higher moral ground in the end, I think – emotional impact is probably the most meaningful and feasible kind we can have. I just can’t figure out whether that is depressing or comforting. Probably both.

  8. Happy new year, of course, and today’s post is really interesting. If I remember correctly, photonovelizations (what a word) of movies in books and magazines were really popular in the 40s and 50s, for promoting or “re-watching” studio movies. I came across a collector of these once, I don’t remember the name, who had thousands and said he would trade any painting ever painted to have another cheap photonovel of a programmer in his collection. I was excited by his enthusiasm, but didn’t have much luck finding exciting uses of the format. Maybe your GIF novels are their distant, philosophically distinct descendant? Would be interesting to see a photonovel in the style of Histoire(s) du Cinema or the like, with photos and connective tissue stretched to the limits of the medium. Do you know Michael Snow’s Cover to Cover? It’s really the most incredible example of photomontage I’ve ever come across. Every other photography book looks conceptually weak in comparison. Here’s to the future & thanks for keeping up with the blog. I’m excited to see what you have planned for this year. Rabbit rabbit.

  9. The blog seems to have eaten my previous comment. Weird.

    Here’s a link to my list of my favorite films of the 2010s and commentary: https://read.kinoscope.org/2020/01/02/best-of-the-2010s/ as well as my review of Ladj Ly’s LES MISERABLES: https://www.gaycitynews.nyc/stories/2020/1/les-miserables-lanj-ly-2020-01-05-gcn.html

    Criterion actually does have the rights to DAISIES, but they only released it as part of a 5-film box set of ’60s Czech films with no bonus materials.

    I’ve been listening to Kesha’s first album in preparation for reviewing her forthcoming one for Gay City News. Some of it still seems really grating, but predictably, it sounds better to me now that it’s more obvious how much her “Black Eyed Peas going binge drinking with the JERSEY SHORE kids” sound and persona was a careful construct hiding a darker reality.

  10. This is a very fine collection, Dennis. Obviously I searched for copies of the Johnny Torture series, but paper copies are hard to come by. For these artifacts, I’d much rather have the paper, old geezer that I am.

    Only a few more hours left in Taipei. Brunch with friends, then maybe a bookstore or two. Hopefully the flight will not be 12 hours of agony and back pain.

    Bill

  11. Dennis, Hahaha, yeah, right? I don’t know how he got codeine in his head. Of course, the next step…

    So it’s my year of being more positive and getting in better shape. I think I told you that already. So far, so good.

    I’m going to work on a chapter tonight and then go to bed.

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