In tribute to Paul Auster: “Detection”

The writer Paul Auster died on April 30, 2024.

I have a handful of writers in my life whom I have become obsessed with and have read nearly all their output: Hermann Hesse, Angela Carter, Haruki Murakami, Shirley Jackson. Paul Auster is also on that list. Most of his works I checked out from the library, which seems fitting though it meant that he received very little financial compensation from me even though I was a devoted reader.

Besides his novels, I was very heartened by his autobiographical works, which didn’t lie about how difficult the life of an artist is in the contemporary United States. His failure made me feel like less of a failure. I really credit Paul Auster for being one of the influences that helped me keep going.

But that was later. I was reading Auster when I was in the midst of putting out my mini comic title, Litmus Test. So his influence found its way into my early work. And in terms of one work, “Detection,” that influence was very strong. In fact, a reviewer at The Comics Journal said that the story was so derivative of Auster’s work that I had no right showing it to anyone else.

Well, I’m showing it again.

To me, this is one way that I can give tribute to Paul Auster. “Detection” is derivative, especially of the second book in the New Your Trilogy, Ghosts, but the story was an early success. Yes, it is bad and overwritten in many places. The art is rough and the text is almost illegible. However, in certain moments the emotions land. I felt this at the time. So for me, “Detection” was proof that I could do it, that I could create comics that could move off the page and convey emotion. And this confidence in my ability came, ironically, from aping Paul Auster. So this piece honors his influence on me, his unknowing mentorship.

This is a paltry offering, but thank you, Paul Auster.

End notes

Besides being inspired by Paul Auster, especially Ghosts, “Detection” owes a lot to David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch, especially the idea that the center of the story is actually a love story about a dead wife. There is also Hermann Hesse in here. The line about identity being like a river comes from Siddhartha. And the bar is named “Herman’s Bar.” The bartender, though, is the same bartender from my first mini comic, Jack Face. And even Angela Carter has a moment. I tried to model the wife on photos of Carter.

I originally hurried to get “Detection” into Litmus Test 8 in time for the Alternative Press Expo in 1999 and it showed. The story was rushed and the ink wash looked horrible photocopied. Yet there was a kernel of something in the story that I liked so I decided (with the urging of my wife) to edit it in the summer of 2002. It was difficult to recreate the old drawing style of the original, but the challenge was very educational. This version appeared in Litmus Test 12 in February 2003.

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