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Book Reviews

Hall of Best Knowledge

by Ray Fenwick

As has often been observed, it takes no small amount of ego to write a book. And in this regard, the self-important fictional author of Hall of Best Knowledge, a “typographical comic” by Halifax illustrator Ray Fenwick, is well equipped indeed. He is a genius, one of the chosen seed, though he will occasionally admit to some uncertainty and anxiety on that score. His purpose is to demonstrate his superior intellect – primarily evidenced by his inflated vocabulary – and inspire others by his example. His pose becomes harder to maintain as time goes by – classes are cancelled, and truths that seemed obvious and irrefutable are called into question.

The book takes the form of an instructional gallery, with each page containing a brief, idiosyncratic lecture, the text of which is set in a crowded space surrounded by doodles and designs. The best pages – like “Superstition” – bring the two graphic elements together seamlessly, but all of the entries have a distinct visual identity that rewards close attention to the details.

Behind the details, a larger story is operating that gradually reveals more about our less-than-humble author, turning the book into a portrait of the artist as a young egotist.  The result is a work that can be appreciated on many different levels – as an expression of the same impulse that draws looping lines, repetitive patterns, and intricate frames on the pad by the telephone, or as a sketchbook Bildungsroman/diary chronicling the budding artist’s isolation, theatrical world-building, and gaudy, self-fashioned grandeur.