The Scribblings of a Madcap Shambleton
I don’t want to say ‘surreal’. It’s the invariable adjective for everything that Noel Fielding does: writing; performing; art; dress sense; persona. But I give you: hordes of medic-cats, gaggles of pop-eyed zombie fox-men, a “Self-portrait with Fried Egg for an Eye” and a camel on roller skates suffering from ‘floppy hump’. What else am I supposed to say?
Fielding is, of course, best-known for his work with Julian Barrett writing and performing in The Mighty Boosh, a smart, offbeat comedy obsessed with (among other things) zoology, shamanism and eyeliner. And, yes, surrealism.
The thing about too much surrealism, though, is that it can become tiresome and feel too contrived to be engaging. Personally, I find that a little whacky surrealism/childlike wonderment/primitive outpouring/etc etc etc goes a very long way (but then I always identified more with Howard Moon than with Vince Noir, being a grumpy old git who doesn’t get modern art and doesn’t understand young people). Nearly 300 pages of zombies, visions of hell, affectionate and skewed takes on icons of pop culture and lots and lots and lots of cats might get a bit much if you occasionally like to take things seriously.
Fielding’s work has been compared with that of Moomins creator Tove Jansson – there is a both a darkness and an innocence running through it that does bring to mind Moominvalley in November, for example – but there’s nothing nearly as sustained, substantial or subtle here. Fielding’s saving grace is in his obvious sincerity; there is some genuinely heartfelt narratives here including the Anansi-style fable ‘The Tale of the Tiger Spider’, an absolutely hilarious extended riff on Bryan Ferry and a strangely touching dedication to the legendary Peter Falk (AKA Columbo). He’s also, I think, the only person ever to have sympathised with Pacman’s eternal, harassed plight.
Is Fielding’s ‘art’ any good? Former tutor Dexter Dalwood says not, in the albeit tongue- in-cheek foreward to this book (“I use the word ‘painting’ lightly, as it was… so bad that it almost flipped into genius… I suggested that a career in making people laugh might be more appropriate.”) Whether he has talent or not is kind of beside the point – if you’re a massive fan of the Boosh and delighted at the prospect of getting lost inside Fielding’s singular and versatile mind for a couple of hours, no doubt you’ll love it.