"WILL QUIT FOR FOOD" Guest Blog by Ashley Holt
Updated: Apr 29
My first encounter with the esteemed Mr. Holt was as a fellow nomad, wandering Facebook’s great digital wasteland between a video of somebody's rabbit eating peanut butter and a promising new pharmaceutical weapon in the war against toenail fungus. I was much amused by his deceptively sophisticated minimalist graphics so I clicked a link to his Substack page, and braced for the sort of dull, awkward, and painfully begrudged language that I have come to expect from artists. (I knew one artist back in the day, a stunningly good expressionist painter, who expressed all non-visual communication in grunts, squawks and howls.)
What I got instead was dazzling cleverness, stiletto-sharp wit and a literary voice unique as it was funny and amiable.
I was all fanboy. We got to be online chums.
Like the incorrigible literary and graphic shoplifter that I am, I began to load my pockets with ideas derived from Ashley’s jazzy chops, both written and graphic. You always know that I really like a guy when I distract him with oily praise while snitching French fries off his plate.
Below, Ashley introduces his most recent book of pithy, illustrated marvels, “A Blackbelt in Quitting”, with a pithy, illustrated marvel in its own right. JDA
I’ve been invited by the great J. Daniel Abel to say a few words in my own defense concerning A Black Belt in Quitting, my pocket-sized volume of illustrated essays. And since Mr. Abel’s intense drawing and writing skills, which I admire greatly, suggest that he and I are of like mind, with, perhaps, a similar breed of disillusioned, disenfranchised, malcontent fan base for our respective efforts, I’m thrilled at this opportunity to throw myself on the mercy of his mosh pit.
To first address a common misreading, no, the book is not called A Black Belt in QUILTING. I’ve done no needlework in my life, legally or otherwise, so please don’t expect a book of essays about the embroidering of duvets. The title refers instead to my mastery of abandoning responsibilities, usually with a dramatic flourish. As the Bible probably says, to loaf is human; to quit is divine.
Not that I want to give the impression that my mighty little booklet has a consistent theme running through it. It’s a loose assortment of essays (with adorable cartoon drawings attached), originally appearing in The Symptoms, the column of autobiographical tantrums I’ve published in various venues since the turn of the century. In the waning days of the Paper Age, these essays appeared in a number of weekly papers and book anthologies, eventually suffering the fate of all modern literary “content,” whereby pulp becomes blog. The Symptoms can be currently consumed in regular doses on the online platform Substack. https://thesymptoms.substack.com/p/heritage-not-great? f
But the predictable patterns of self-absorption in my writing force me to consider that there may be consistent themes after all. Quitting, yes – there’s plenty here on the subject of “man vs. that with which he can’t be bothered.” But my therapist has pointed out other notable themes: “man vs. Star Wars,” “man vs. manhood,” Gen X vs. Mr. T,” and the ever popular “Daddy done me wrong.” Think of Black Belt as a self-help book which “helps” through cautionary tales, all starring me. Collectively, this is the story of an alien who longs to be embraced by the community of group-thinking numbskulls he despises. A man who craves emotional connection, but only if everybody leaves him the hell alone. A man for our times. A blogger.
Essentially, A Black Belt in Quitting is my end of a conversation you didn’t invite me to have. I have opinions on European soccer, holiday traditions, and celebrity culture you really need to know about, and since we can’t sit down over a few Jager shots at Denny’s to hash them out, the obvious alternative is for you to pay me five bucks to hear my side of the story. Did I mention there are also drawings? Really cute drawings?
One of the things the esteemed Mr. Abel and I have in common is having toiled in the fields of commercial illustration back in the days when the term was not necessarily an oxymoron. And, having spent all those years dressing up now-defunct periodicals and remainder-table paperbacks, I feel we have both maintained a core philosophy concerning print publications: Books should have pictures in ‘em. And mine do. Drawings in the finest tradition of my cartooning forefathers, scrawled in real ink on real paper in my patented, heavy-handed technique. Take that, computer age!
The net effect of this jaunty word/story assault is to present a portrait of a man in perpetual mid-life crisis. Even though, considering the man’s Frito-Lay diet and premature cultural irrelevance, midlife was probably twenty years ago. Yet he sustains the delusion that monumental change is still possible. He's even disrupted his American rut by remarrying and moving to Germany, where he reinvents himself in a strange new land by…sitting quietly in a small room, drawing pictures and watching Mannix like he always did.
I know, I know. It sounds like a gripping tale with breakneck plot twists, and you can’t wait to get into it. Well, wait no more. Or rather, wait a week or two while a copy of A Black Belt in Quitting is made fresh just for you in the print-on-demand factory at Lulu.com and shipped to your door. (I’d autograph it for you, but I’m in Deutschland and you’re in one of those backwards, English-speaking countries.) You can order one right about here: https://www.lulu.com/shop/ashley-holt/a-black-belt-in-quitting/paperback/product-23373748.html?page=1&pageSize=4
And while you’re there, also check in on the publications of J. Daniel Abel, (link ‘em, J.D.) one of the few contemporary artists I admire who has given me exactly what I demand: BOOKS full of his electrifying artwork (no kidding, Abel’s art really does look like how sticking your finger in the light socket feels). Because great art on gallery walls and blinking from screens may be all well and good, but books are where it really belongs. Books on your shelf, in stacks on the floor, and on those rickety remainder tables, archives of a better age.
Good quilting, now that belongs in a gallery.
A link to Ashleys highly recommended site. ashleyholt.com
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