Saturday, January 17, 2015

Comics and Chalk

Today's walk took me to a birthday bash. Poe was turning 206.

I figured as long as I was out on this sunny morning, why not head down to the Poe Museum and partake of the festivities. I went a few years ago and had thoroughly enjoyed a ride in a horse-drawn wagon around spots central to Poe's tenure in Richmond.

Honestly, I was surprised at how many people were already there before noon because this is a 13-hour celebration that goes until midnight tonight with a champagne toast in the Poe shrine. Maybe others like me have plans for later and wanted to get their Poe fix early.

Although, admit it, there's something not quite right about celebrating Poe in the bright light of a sunny day.

I paused for a few minutes to listen to a group of women mystery writers known as the Sisters in Crime talking about the process of mystery writing and publishing in the big tent in the garden before opening the massive door to the exhibition building to see "Re-imagining Poe: The Poe Illustrations of Richard Corben," a retrospective collection of comic illustrations Corben did from 1974 to the present.

Especially compelling was Corben's observation that illustrating the same Poe story at different points in his life resulted in very different interpretations. His 1974 drawings for "The Raven" reflected a young man's take on the story: a guy is sad he lost his girlfriend. But in his later works for "The Raven," he digs deeper into the devastating depths of sorrow that come with age and life experience.

Upstairs in a blood red room was an exhibit of James Carling's 43 sketches for "The Raven," all of which were deemed too odd to be published in his lifetime, a brief 29 years. From today's perspective, they're just suitably shadowy and evocative of the story, but apparently not to 19th century eyes.

What was most interesting about Carling was that he'd gotten his start by drawing on sidewalks for the pocket change of passersby. Today, there's a James Carling International Pavement Competition annually in Liverpool to honor him.

The final exhibit by VCU grad and local artist Nicole Pisamiello was of intricate shadow boxes depicting "Chambers of the Red Death." While another woman and I bent to study them in the darkened room, her partner said, "Yea, they're cute. Can we go?"

So many things I could have said to him, but I refrained.

Outside, I spotted costumed re-enactors, including one handsome gentleman clad in a frock coat and top hat, leaning on a walking stick, checking his cell phone with another. It was a bit of a buzz kill.

Under the tent, I saw the band The Embalmers - each wearing a tassled red fez - warming up. A museum employee scurried by with an enormous birthday cake for later. I hated to miss the walking tour of the neighborhood later this afternoon, but alas.

Who knows, maybe I can make it back over later tonight for one of the performances, maybe "Telltale Heart" and a toast to the man who gave us the mystery story.

We'll see where the day takes me. Like a good story, no way to know how it ends until I get there.

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