In Italo Calvino’s celebrated novel, he takes us on a tour of Imaginary Cities through the eyes of Marco Polo and Marco’s dialogues with Kublai Khan not only describe fabulous cities, all peculiar in their natures, but also delve deeply into human nature. Within Kublai’s city, the reader is led through cities within cities, stories within stories, until, perhaps, the nature of reality itself breaks down. You might say that Calvino is giving us a number of vistas viewed Through the Looking Glass into worlds not simply opposite but other, and intriguingly, unpredictably different in their principles.
The Trip City Visitor’s Guide 2012 acts as a passkey to a place both real and imagined, unapologetic in its own paradoxes. Only by accepting them can you swipe the fare at the turnstile, choose your stop, and feel those doors slam shut behind you. Choose carefully, because once you do, you are hermetically sealed in the virtual reality that is Trip City. Trip City is a place of see-through doors and vanishing avenues where solid things melt, hidden things surface, thoughts become concrete, and looks can kill. None of those things, in fact, are very reassuring but they become astonishingly “real” in psychological and thematic terms, rendering the “invisible city” visible for us.
If you had a look at the cover, you’ll know that Trip City has a transit line, a neural network of lines that seem to converge in territorial designations such as “sounds”, “pictures”, “words”, “comix”. It is their interrelationship, and the functions that they cooperatively produce that you need to know about and that’s what riding the strange rails is all about. It’s a guided tour, more or less, but if you’re ready to strike out on your own, there’s the jump into virtual portal TripCity.net.
The stations on the tour are manned by a cast of experienced conductors: Dean Haspiel (who legend has it created Trip City out of a handful of unwanted pencil shavings, but that may be an old wives’ tale), Seth Kushner (who has occasionally managed to take a snapshot he argues is proof that Trip City exists), Chris Miskiewicz, Jeffrey Burandt, Jen Ferguson, Nick Abadzis, Sandra Beasley, Eric Skillman, Jorge Coelho, Jonathan Ames, and Jennifer Hayden, with the help of Bobby Timony and Anthony Picone.
Dean Haspiel’s prose piece “I’d Rather be Happy than Right”, from his “Room Tone” station opens the guide, introducing a number of features that recur at various locations in the Guide. Depth of detail in describing the seemingly everyday breaks through into challenged memory, perception, and truth. Perfunctory, unexpected violence also serves as a reminder that Trip City is not always a “safe” place, in fact, it might best be described as “hyper-real” in the same way that a “hyper-text” has many levels of possibility, none mutually exclusive.
Haspiel’s other contributions, the prose “Icebox” and the comic “Montero Bar and Grill” expand upon “I’d Rather be Happy than Right’s” uncertainty principle without a sense of repetition. The climate of psychological and physical isolation possible in Trip City comes to the fore in “Icebox” where the narrator chooses to break out of his infinite break-up loop by seeking out a friend only to find that conflict is ubiquitous. The Montero Bar and Grill, like Trip City, is the source of “so many stories”, nevertheless, is across the street from a trauma center and has a peculiar way of redirecting clear identity. Watch out for that unexpected refraction in the “looking glass” that might redefine who you think you are.
Veteran poet Sandra Beasley takes her prose station as a “Modern Alice”(who is no stranger to the “looking glass”) in “Knock Knock” with a first-person, present-tense dive into the tensions of the moment, exploring the physicality and immediacy of time often eclipsed by routine, even in Trip City. There is a thematic link between suspension of time and “seeing” that reinforces a mirror-gazing aspect to this unorthodox tour of reality.
At writer and photographer Seth Kushner’s “CulturePOP” station, we find Jonathan Ames featured in a “Brooklyn Phallacy”. Photographs and text are combined to form a visual reflection on an unforgettable “embarrassing” Brooklyn landmark, set in a kid of enduring “real time” of Trip City” time where, like at the Montero Bar and Grill, things may be unpredictable and varied, but “nothing changes.” Seth also conducts a “Schmuck” prose tour of the City in “Meinn Roomates” (note the plural), echoing the break-up themes of Haspiel’s opening prose in widely varying terms. Taking action to confront his ex, however, doesn’t get the narrator any closer to a solution, but leads him further into recursive confusion as he ignores the advice of not one but two friends, one of whom just happens to be imaginary. Even obsession, it seems, disapproves of hanging on to lost hope.
Nick Abadzis takes you off the beaten path into his “Subterranean Stories” with his comics creation “Carla & the Fear Machines or: the Joy of Horror” where he insightfully lays out several of the principles of Trip City, for instance, that surviving there is a matter of learning to “think different” and even, perhaps, to accept a “wider world” than the one you may currently inhabit. For Carla, horror films are not a way of “escaping” but of tapping into a greater instinctual reality which cannot be reached without embarking into the “subterranean”.
Chris Miskiewicz operates as signal master as you pick your way between stations in both “Cobain” and “Which You?”, veering widely between a seemingly autobiographical narrative and a psychological thriller very much a paradoxical locus in Trip City. “Cobain” takes you into a specific moment in time that suggests the importance of attitude to true survival, whereas “Which You?” takes you on a series of stunningly unpredictable turns into the double nature of reality.
Jen Ferguson’s mini “ad” from “Metrollpolis”: “Missed Connections” may seem like a grace-note, but its combination of image and text contains a subtle reminder of the true “strangeness” of Trip City, where appearances go masked as well as assumptions, insisting on the importance of perspective. After all, only one troll may spot another, and if you can “think different” then you might find you have, in fact, been different all along.
Eric Skillman and Jorge Coelho team up to brake the train at “Suckers”, a comix combination offering here expressed in “What We Do”. If visitors haven’t noticed recurring patterns in Trip City by this point in transit, they are here even more apparent as tautly-drawn and cool-headed career criminals engage the curious with disposable incomes to experience “insider” status. The scam, known as the inversion, reversal, or “flip” is characteristic of the shell-game you’ll play with Trip City as a whole, waiting for the unpredictable reveal that made the trip worthwhile.
Jeffrey Burandt pulls no punches when you disembark at “Clash Fiction” to the tune of “Portrait of a Zombie as a Young Scientist”, revealing the darker possibilities of this voyage in mind as well as location. Tracking the survival logs of scientists during a zombie apocalypse draws a fine line between necessity and depravity in refreshingly clipped style, and from beginning to end introduces some of the same “inversion” characteristic of this ambiguous but authentic “looking-glass” world. The real trick, it seems, is for each of the characters we follow through Trip City to recognize themselves, and their own world the mirror. Through the process of reflection and refraction, they have the chance to gain dizzying revelations.
Jennifer Hayden’s comix “S’Crapbook” episode “Love is The” is no exception. It cobbles together the sensory material of experience to create a jostling queue of definitions and communally produce an impression of love. How can such an “invisible city” otherwise take on known form? Refraction may capture the essence of what direct scrutiny may not contain.
A perusal of the Trip City Visitor’s Guide 2012 wouldn’t be complete without bothering to puzzle over the mini-mag’s spare but intricate design courtesy of Eric Skillman and the back cover, a haunting Haspiel Billy Dogma image. The yellow seems to have resonance with Haspiel’s Trip City posted comic “The Last Romantic Antihero”, which may be confirmed by the apocalyptic suggestion of Billy and Jane stumbling from the rubble of a catastrophic event. It has a peculiar thematic harmonic with the idea of “aid” and “guide”, and acts as a reminder of the unpredictable and intense aspects of Trip City, as well as the mysteries it still contains.
The combination of all of these “stations” into a single print volume has significant implications: Trip City can invade our world, and you can never be quite sure when it might do so. It has jumped from an online portal into a communiqué from “beyond” the web, print, and digital mediums. Better tuck it in your back pocket. You never know when you might fall asleep on that late night train and wake up in Trip City. From what I’ve heard, you will need that guide if you happen to set foot in an Invisible City.
–by Hannah Means-Shannon
*I am Hannah Menzies on FB and @HannahMenzies on Twitter