cover image Failure Biographies

Failure Biographies

Johnny Damm. The Operating System, $34 (182p) ISBN 978-1-946031-92-1

Damm (The Science of Things Familiar) upends the usual fare of celebratory biographies of successful lives by finding inspiration in artists who tried and failed to change the world around them. Using collage techniques to mash up vintage horror and sci-fi comics like Tomb of Terror with WPA photography from the Great Depression, Damm documents forgotten lives and plumbs great meaning via unusual, macabre visuals that manage to jibe with their real-world subjects’ lives. Readers are treated to such unexpected portraits as Lorenza Böttner, an armless transgender woman who turned her own body into “exhibitionist” performance art; the “Tucumán arde” artists who attempted to foment popular resistance against the Argentinian military dictatorship in 1968; and Superbarrio Gómez, the Mexican real-life superhero who fights his own never-ending battle against the tyranny of evictions. Each section is followed by “Bodies in Space,” a series of unsettling liminal spaces and in-between moments compiled and edited from old comics. Drawing on Jack Halberstam’s theoretical framework in “The Queer Art of Failure,” it’s Damm’s goal to subvert the “neoliberal vision of ‘success’” in favor of a more attainable and holistic worldview. It’s a heady concept at which he—ironically enough—wholeheartedly succeeds in accomplishing. It’s a weird and engrossing volume for any reader who operates on this creator’s wavelength. (Oct.)