To say [Damm] has created a fusion of poetry, art, storytelling, and pulp comics doesn’t seem to do the work justice, principally because it’s a great deal more sophisticated and delightfully bizarre than that. There’s really no way to describe the experience of reading this book as it juxtaposes and repurposes textbook diagrams, prose poetry, and comics panel sequences while opining on the imagined comings and goings of literary giants, failed mid-20th-century filmmakers, and the history of the blues. Damm’s ideal reader is an open-minded culture junkie and fan of poetry, high art, and comics, someone with a penchant for everything from Dada to Derrida. [Those] who fall into that category will make this the centerpiece of their literary collections.
—Publisher’s Weekly, Starred Review
Johnny Damm’s luminous and poetical debut puts me in mind of films like Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York, and the novels of Alain Robbe-Grillet, Clarence Major, William Gass, and Renata Adler. This is a highly readable, and deeply moving hyper-narrative that respects readerly intelligence. You’ll read this book as an active participant; in the very same way you read the world around you, and world inside you. It’s about film, music, race, obsession, nature, marriage, comics, history, and the shell game we call contemporary culture. This is extraordinary work, a symphony.
—Reginald McKnight, Author of He Sleeps
Johnny Damm’s Science of Things Familiar diagrams the ways we move toward and away from one another, exploring relationship through the failures and disjuncts that reveal it. In annotated illustrations taken out of their original context, in comics stripped of their narrative content, and in cinematic essays whose parts are sutured where they’ve been spliced, these pieces take apart the familiar to see what makes it tick. Troubling our assumptions about the workings of nonfiction, they reveal themselves as highly constructed, interweaving the personal and historical just as the book’s “rat-a-tat” refrain rings out both drumbeat and gunfire. If we catch ourselves dancing, we’ve missed the point. Witty and serious, critical and compassionate, Damm invents a new visual poetics in which what we see and hear do not sync up. This is his way of waking us up with a “BLAM!” and “WHOOSH!” to the history of appropriation and conquest underlying America’s popular forms. Nothing here is familiar, even as we recognize parts of the whole.
Science of Things Familiar captures “freeze-frames” from the history of comic books, crime films, and blues music, all from the middle of the darkest century. Johnny Damm accents the pulpish poetics in both the visual poetry and the phonic milieu, experienced by the masses in each cheap genre made on the fly for everyone.
Johnny Damm’s Science of Things Familiar mashes up Classics Illustrated, vintage diagrams, and film director bios to create an unlikely fusion that is an oblique yet often poignant autobiography as well as an essay on the way that we transform culture as much as it transforms us.
—Matt Madden, author of 99 Ways to Tell a Story: Exercises in Style
Johnny Damm is a writer specializing in verbal-visual and creative-critical blends. He is the author of Science of Things Familiar (The Operating System, 2017), Your Favorite Song (Essay Press, 2016), and The Domestic World: A Practical Guide (Little Red Leaves, forthcoming). His work has recently appeared in or is forthcoming from Poetry, Denver Quarterly, the Rumpus, Quarterly West, and elsewhere. He lives in Athens, Georgia, where he is a doctoral candidate in creative writing at the University of Georgia and editor-in-chief of A Bad Penny Review and Opo Books & Objects.