The Buildings Are Barking Review

By | Thursday, July 20, 2023 Leave a Comment
I don't recall precisely when I first discovered Bill Griffith's work, but it was certainly sometime in the back half of the 1980s. It was the first (I think) collection of Zippy comics called Zippy Stories. It was my dad's copy; I don't when he first picked it up -- it first came out in 1981 -- but I'm certain I didn't read it until I was old enough to understand it. Well, at least as much as anyone besides Griffith can truely understand Zippy. So it should come as no surprise that my familiarity with his work is very much tied to bizarre, surreal comedy. I'm certainly aware he's done more serious, dramatic work -- I rather liked Nobody's Fool in fact and I've been sitting on a copy of Invisible Ink that I've been meaning to read for a couple years now -- but I still very much associate him with Zippy's... unique brand of humor.

So coming to The Buildings Are Barking: Diane Noomin in Memoriam is a bit of change of pace. Noomin, of course, was Griffith's wife of over 40 years, who passed away last year from uterine cancer. Although the title implies it to be a recollection or recounting of what Noomin did throughout her life, it's just as much a therapy session for Griffith as he tries to process his (very understandable) grief. Between those two aspects, though, we do see much of what their relationship was and what they meant to each other.

Interstingly, the art in the book is by both Griffith AND Noomin. Both are characters throughout the book and both are drawn by the artists themselves. Griffith's cartoons are all new but he's dropped in Noomin's own illustrations of herself (and/or her cartoon avatar, Didi) throughout the book. There are just a few drawings of Noomin by Griffith himself in the book and, while those are called out as such on the last page, they're fairly identifiable anyway. Even moreso if you're familiar with the photos they're obviously based on. It makes for a fitting tribute, as Griffith speaks to Noomin's 'ghost' (not an actual ghost, just a kind of metaphor) he's using her own illustrations for the responses. Those handful of instances where Griffith drew her are reserved for static memories and not really a part of the conversation per se.

The book isn't entirely without some of Griffith's trademark surrealism, though. Zippy appears periodically in the background, and Ko-Ko the Clown acts as an ersatz guide to accepting Noomin's passing. Not to mention that Griffith recounts one of his dreams, which kind of has a surrealistic edge by default. (Although, not surprisingly, Griffith's actual dream makes more narrative sense than your average installment of Zippy!) So it's not just 24 pages of Griffith moping about in a state of grief and depression.

Interestingly, both the title and the final punchline of the book were both "written" by Noomin herself. But as it retails for only $7.00 US, I'll let you buy the book to find out about those yourself. The book was only just released this week from Fantagraphics, so you shouldn't have much trouble finding a copy. Worth picking up if you've ever found any of Griffith's and/or Noomin's work enjoyable at all. It is indeed a fitting tribute to her, even if it is a little askew from what you might expect to see from Griffith.
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