December 18, 2014

"This is the final installment of the Illustrated Scroll of Jack Kerouac’s novel 'On the Road.'"

"I started making one drawing for each page of the book in 2012 and reached the end at page 309 a few weeks ago...."
Last month, Paul Slovak, editor at Viking Penguin called to see about publishing the drawings as a book. He had some great ideas about packaging and design and it looked like it was going to be in stores next fall, but we got some bad news from the Kerouac Estate. They decided not to grant permission because they feel that the project “detracts from the book,” is a “dumbing down” of On the Road, and “diminishes the aura” that the novel possesses....
Ah! Too bad! You can see the drawings by Paul Rogers at the link. Here's a list of things Jack Kerouac called "dumb" in "On the Road":

Louanne was a pretty, sweet little thing, but awfully dumb and capable of doing horrible things...

Eddie... was like having an old friend along… a dumb smiling goodnatured sort to goof along with....

... only cute suburban cottages of one damn dumb kind and another....

... in the middle of nowhere... everybody snoring, every damn dumb sucker...

... a kind of dumb attempt on my part to befriend the captains of our ship and there was no reason to...

... a pretty young blonde and a fat brunette sister... were dumb and sullen but we wanted to make them....

.... then I got mad and realized I was pleading with a dumb little Mexican wench and I told her so....

Al Hinkle is...  six foot four, mild, affable, agreeable, dumb and delightful. He helps women on with their coats.

... a real gone dumb girl who was out of her mind...

... a crazy dumb young kid fresh out of reform school...

And do you know that the same thing happened to that dumb little cunt — the same visions, the same logic, the same final decision about everything, the view of all truths in one painful lump leading to nightmares and pain. Then I knew I loved her so much I wanted to kill her.

She finally married one of the sailors, dumb sonofabitch has promised to kill me if he finds me....
"Aura" on the other hand, is not a Kerouac-type word. It never appears in "On the Road," except within the word "restaurant" (17 times) and  the name "Laura" (once).

41 comments:

tim maguire said...

Capote was about right when he said of On The Road, "That's not writing, it's typing."

Henry said...

Great illustrations. Doesn't make me want to read the book. Maybe they're better than the book.

sydney said...

It's an improvement

m stone said...

I agree: the illustrations are an improvement. A little like Cliffs notes.

I think someone interested in literature ought to read the book as a period piece if you're not as ancient as Ann and can remember the 50's.

I remember placing myself in one of Kerouac's many stops (I believe it was a YMCA, maybe Harrisburg) with fond remembrances.

Robert Cook said...

I've tried reading the book twice. I never got past--or to--page 50. Gaseous pontificating on the holyholyholy nature of existence and freedom to be "on the road" and so on. Blah!

Robert Cook said...

Oh, yeah...those drawings are better than any part of the actual prose!

Ann Althouse said...

The first 3 comments, in my view, justify the decision of the Kerouac estate.

They want the text to be dominant and revered. It was put into words precisely because the material lives and belongs in text form. If people are going to say they prefer the pictures, that's really annoying to those who care about Kerouac.

The drawings could be criticized as too literal, too commercial, or too slick. I think they look good, but I could also see believing — especially if you love Kerouac — that they are missing the soul, missing the music, missing the point.

If you're one of the many who don't even see the point and hate the music and the soul of it... the Kerouac estate is rightly wary of your opinion.

mccullough said...

M stone

the book takes place between 1947 and 1950. It's not about the 1950s.

buwaya puti said...

Count me among those unable to see ghosts (the "soul") in Kerouac.

Henry said...

They want the text to be dominant and revered. It was put into words precisely because the material lives and belongs in text form. If people are going to say they prefer the pictures, that's really annoying to those who care about Kerouac.

That seems like a valid representation of the viewpoint of the estate. But that viewpoint presumes that people who are interested in reading Kerouac are really easily put off. Outside of some segment of lazy students, who seeks out Kerouac who hasn't already decided to read Kerouac?

That presumption that interest in Kerouac is comically fragile is joined by the misplaced worry that the pictures match up to the narrative of the book, at least to the point of fooling lazy students and distractible enthusiasts.

But what I like best about the pictures is that they aren't a narrative. They're odd and disjointed. If they were narrative, a comic novel, for example, they would be less interesting.

Maybe I will go read On the Road now. Maybe I'll read The Dharma Bums instead. Who knows?

tim maguire said...

Ann Althouse said...
The first 3 comments, in my view, justify the decision of the Kerouac estate.


I disagree. They may illustrate the concern of the estate, but it does not justify the decision unless the concern is legitimate. They seem to be interested in flattering the awe of a select few, they do not seem to be interested in exposing the widest possible audience to Kerouac's writing.

JSD said...

Regardless of how crappy the book is, it still stands out in its depiction of post war America. It’s hard to deny its influence. Kerouac loved the post war 40’s and bebop; hated the 60’s and hippies. I’m OK with that.

traditionalguy said...

Kerouac was crazy. I have his book on Audible. It is refreshingly insane.

Saint Croix said...

You know what that is?

Comic book prejudice.

Paul Kirchner said...

I like Kerouac's writing. I read "On the Road" and "Dharma Bums" as a teenager, and recently enjoyed listening to them on audio books. Not that my opinion means anything, but I'm surprised at all the negativity expressed. Also, I'm not that crazy about the pictures. I don't need to see a picture of a car or a cup of coffee interspersed with the text.

Saint Croix said...

They want the text to be dominant and revered. It was put into words precisely because the material lives and belongs in text form. If people are going to say they prefer the pictures, that's really annoying to those who care about Kerouac.

I had that same response to the Bertie and Jeeves shows. Somebody who watches that mediocrity has no understanding of the brilliance of P.G. Wodehouse. The language of Wodehouse is the key to his brilliance.

On the other hand, I can't read Jane Austen, but her movies are amazing. Her books speak deeply to many people. I am like Mark Twain, who hated Austen and I Can See Why. But she's a plotting dynamo. Her books make excellent films. Wodehouse is not a plotter, so when you translate him to the screen a lot of magic is lost.

In essence this guy is translating Kerouac to comic book form. But these guys allow movies to be made from Kerouac! So I call bullshit on their fidelity to text.

Saint Croix said...

The Godfather, by the way, was better than the book. The Maltese Falcon was way, way better. I think The Thin Man movies were also better than the book, and Jaws was better than the book. It's an ancient prejudice that the book is always better. Not so!

Anyway it's a different art form. It doesn't destroy the original art. And it introduces a new audience to the subject. They might discover it on their own. Lots of people read Philip K. Dick because of the movies based on his works. Ditto Jim Thompson.

John Lynch said...

Kerouac dies with the Boomer generation.

Sorry, but that's the truth.

wildswan said...

Tennyson allowed his work to be illustrated by Pre-Raphaelites although he himself had preferred Turner and visualized in Turneresque ways. His publisher worked out a deal. And when the pictures were done Tennyson said the were "antipathetic" to his text but he could not get out of the contract. The illustrated edition (1857) set in stone a certain way of visualizing Tennyson. This cripples appreciation of Tennyson to this day. Some day I will do an illustrated version of Lady of Shalott, a version based on Turner and his imitators and then people will "see" Tennyson properly for the first time since 1857.

Henry said...

JSD wrote: Regardless of how crappy the book is, it still stands out in its depiction of post war America.

That makes it sound interesting. Maybe I will read it.

John Lynch wrote:

Kerouac dies with the Boomer generation.

Sorry, but that's the truth.


I think that's the truth. And that's the shame of this whole thing. Print a book of drawn images from On the Road and Kerouac could reach some new readers. Protect his reputation from the cruel dumbing down and diminishment of drawing and soon he'll have no readers at all.

buwaya puti said...

Oddly, I have never seen an illustrated Tennyson, since we kids were made to memorize a bunch of it in the 4th grade (Christian Brothers schools were pretty good in those days). So I and all my contemporaries uninfected by the false illustrations. And for that matter so are my wife and kids as our anthologies and such all happen to be un-illustrated. Dodged a bullet we did, eh?

David said...

Did he get laid?

Yeah. A lot.

Which was a good part of what it was all about.

Goju said...

Kerouac, Ginsberg, etc were pretentious self absorbed pseudo intellectuals who mostly wanted the world to acknowledge how they were so above all of us.
Ferlinghetti's howl was the ultimate in self indulgence.
The constant corruptiopn of Zen Buddhism was also highly annoying.

Robert Cook said...

"Did he get laid?

"Yeah. A lot."


From what I've heard and read, Kerouac was sexually conflicted, possibly with homosexual leanings, and his relationships with women were fraught. I doubt very much Kerouac was the sexual satyr cleaving his "scythe" through waves of young, wheat-blond beat-babes, as some may imagine or as he may have tried to have others believe.

(He was steeped in his catholocism, which may have contributed to his problematic sexual life.)

Robert Cook said...

"Kerouac, Ginsberg, etc were pretentious self absorbed pseudo intellectuals who mostly wanted the world to acknowledge how they were so above all of us.

"Ferlinghetti's howl was the ultimate in self indulgence. "



Hmmm...you don't know much or understand anything about those you're calling names. HOWL was by Ginsberg, not Ferlinghetti.

wildswan said...

"dodged a bullet" by not visualizing Tennyson the wrong way? Yes, I think so. I never argue about it because I know the people who don't like him aren't visualizing - or else, still worse, they are in a PreRaphelitish way. But if you visualize his lines as Turner would have drawn them then the verbal music and pictures are a great poetic experience.

The woods decay, the woods decay and fall/ The vapors weep their burden to the ground/ Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath/ And after many a summer dies the swan." that's from Tithonus, a meditation on being the only immortal man living on the earth.

Bob R said...

I read On The Road for a few hours many years ago and really disliked it. I thought the illustrations were great. Maybe they'll give me a new appreciation of the novel. (Imagine reading Sin City without the artwork.)

Bob R said...

"I had that same response to the Bertie and Jeeves shows. Somebody who watches that mediocrity has no understanding of the brilliance of P.G. Wodehouse."

I don't agree with that at all. It's very possible to "get" the greatness of an artist without being moved by that part of their art. I think I "get" what people like about Kerouac at some intellectual level, but it doesn't move me - in fact it annoys me. In the case of Wodehouse, I get the brilliance of the language. But it comes out of the mouths of characters that I find completely repulsive. He put great lines into the mouth of Bertie Wooster for Christ's sake!

tim in vermont said...

One thing the pictures showed me is that I should have read the book more slowly.

jeff said...

"If you're one of the many who don't even see the point and hate the music and the soul of it... the Kerouac estate is rightly wary of your opinion." I'm sure the estate knows the only people who actually attempt to read it are those who wish to be viewed as disillusioned hipsters and that the vast majority will just put it in a hip pocket so people can see how deep they are and never actually open a page. The illustrations likely would open up the audience a bit.

averagejoe said...

Saint Croix said..."It's an ancient prejudice that the book is always better. Not so!"

Very true. That contention is a trite and hackneyed assertion, the kind of long-standing falsehood that has gone unchallenged so often that it's become a catchphrase. A few weeks ago I read The Third Man by Graham Greene. A good book, but it pales in comparison to the movie produced by Alexander Korda and directed by Carol Reed. Not only because of the brilliant visuals and terrific acting, but for the many alterations, both great and small, that the filmmakers brought to the story. Changes and additions made for the movie range from changing Martins' first name from Rollo to Holly, to the very ending where, in the book, Martins gets the girl. The book was set in Vienna too though, contrary to the belief that Greene had placed the setting in London, and Korda had it moved to Vienna.

mccullough said...

These illustrations are pretty good. Maybe Rogers can do one for The Road.

William said...

I read On the Road when I was a teenager. I can't remember anything about the book. I wanted to like the book, but nothing about it was memorable or even interesting........The old saw is that bad books make good movies and vice versa. I don't know if that's true, but I'm always vaguely disappointed by the movie version of books that I love. David Lean's version of Great Expectations is a terrific movie, but it doesn't get into your synapses the way the book does......Some of the Hardy novels were well served by their screen versions, but that's mostly because Julie Christie makes visible every single thing you love about a Hardy heroine.......Both versions of The Great Gatsby sucked. I think Buchanan should be the star part in the movie He's the one with karma and clearly defined features. Let him be the character with the most sex appeal and Gatsby be the wispy wannabe. Buchanan played by Clark Gable and Gatsby played by Justin Long.

tim in vermont said...

Read Mark Twain on the literary sins of James Fenimore Cooper, which is at least readable today, and try to read The Last of the Mohicans which is not, IMHO, then watch the movie. The movie is far better. The story was great, Cooper just didn't have the skills to tell it.

JSD said...

Kerouac will not die with the boomers. He will be studied for his interesting take on post war America. He will also be included as part of the Cold War 1950’s. In the 1950’s, intelligence agencies actively promoted and exported American culture. They were using it to show the superiority of western freedom over communist rule. American intelligence was populated with wealthy New York Ivy League types. In the battle over post war Europe, the Commies had the Bolshoi Ballet; we had modern art, jazz and literature. I think wealthy art patrons really liked Pollock, Miles Davis and Kerouac. Promoting them over crappy Soviet art was a no-brainer. They really do epitomize American freedom.

It’s tragic that Kerouac became a celebrated author with the publication of On the Road in 1957, but he couldn’t get a lunch date in the 1960’s. There is irony in the FBI keeping files while America was promoting their ideals.

rastajenk said...

I personally feel that the writings of JK have helped to make me what I am today. The, um, well, his detractors might ask how that's worked out, but I'm now too old to change my approach to achieving success by aiming low.

Saint Croix said...

Read Mark Twain on the literary sins of James Fenimore Cooper

Twain is a hilarious critic. Biting, funny, he would be a great commentator here.

It's one of my favorite Twain works.

Saint Croix said...

Here is Twain v. Austen

Rather than pitying Twain when he was sick, Howells threatened to come and read Pride and Prejudice to him.

Twain marveled that Austen had been allowed to die a natural death rather than face execution for her literary crimes. “Her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy..."

Anonymous said...

Is Kerouac a guy thing? I read it several times as did my son. The ex wife and my daughter never did. Small sample, I know, but still...Is there a post-modern - post-truth female out there who reads Kerouac like they read Salinger? Do they read Salinger?

Kerouac wrote his truth which will quarantee him a place beyond the Baby Boom.

mikee said...

Can we expect a series of posts on "Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" soon?

Because I've read that one, at least.

Maybe some Brautigan? Trout Fising in America? Or is that an absurd suggestion?

Paul Kirchner said...


Twain marveled that Austen had been allowed to die a natural death rather than face execution for her literary crimes. “Her books madden me so that I can’t conceal my frenzy..."

The man who wrote "Tom Sawyer Abroad" and "Pudd'nhead Wilson" has no standing to mock Jane Austen.