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. But his pose becomes harder to maintain as time goes by, classes are cancelled, and truths that seemed obvious, incontrovertible and irrefutable are called into question.

The Hall 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 together seamlessly, but all of the entries have a distinct visual identity that repays close attention to the details. And taken together 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, to a sketchbook bildungsroman and diary chronicling the budding artist’s isolation, theatrical world-building, and gaudy, self-fashioned grandeur. Such homemade whimsicality speaks to something in all of us.

Review first published in Quill & Quire, July 2008.

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