by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he ABDICK 8805 makes a sound like a dryer with a cantaloupe in it. Whir, thump, whir, thump, whir, thump. Each whir sends a dozen-ish rollers spinning in complementary and countervailing directions at strictly tuned speeds and at relatively precise distances from each other. Every thump brings them to a halt. The momentum shift of the thump sends the machine lurching forward and rocking back in a hulking way that recalls DaVinci's mechanical sketches, Howl's Moving Castle and, somehow, the Golem of Prague.
The ABDICK 8805 is a single-color offset printing press. It was built in 1984, about the time its operator, Chris Dreyer, was a zygote. The inner workings of the machine are vastly more complex than whir and thump, but that's all the detail you need in order to understand something vital about Dreyer. While the machine whirs, his hands fiddle with knobs and levers near mechanisms that could mangle his fingers like cocktail wieners. When it thumps, he checks the ink to ensure it has evenly distributed itself across the rollers. The tolerances he's looking for are precise and are found entirely by eyeballing the rollers, a process that takes dozens of iterations of whir and thump. Once he gets a coat of ink that looks exactly even, he tests it out with a sheet of paper, at which point he is reminded of a certainty of the ABDICK 8805. The ink is never exactly even.
So he fiddles some more.
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he first issue of Chaotique, the jewel in the crown of Chris Dreyer's boutique imprint, Dreyer Press, is a mishmash of literary forms. It is part comic, part memoir, part dictionary, part essay and part acid trip with a four-page "novel" thrown in for good measure. It begins with a manifesto.
The world is going to hell, dying an "economic, environmental and cultural death," Dreyer writes, and yet we still take comfort in the banalities of modern life that have led us to this precipice. We festoon ourselves in the warmth of a 9-to-5, and we drug ourselves with the lethargy of convenience. To his mind, and the mind of his partner in the endeavor, Gonzaga history professor Eric Cunningham, this is a terribly inauthentic way to live.
Cunningham illustrates the drudgery in a comic called "La Vie Chaotique." An unnamed protagonist wakes up at 5:55 am and, after engaging in a dozen meaningless though nearly automatic acts of domesticity and personal grooming, arrives at work at 7:15 am, dog-tired. The minutiae we allow to creep into our lives steals our time and saps our strength, he says, "and none of it is all that consequential. It's this evil, anti-cosmic conspiracy to blind us to our loved ones and the things we love." Worse, we do it to ourselves.
As we're the ones doing it to ourselves, though, we have the power to un-do it. Dreyer concludes his essay by offering how. "We must reach inward and spill out all of our creative potential now more than ever in our history," he writes. "We are a culture on the verge of obliteration, run with it."
In terms of content, Chaotique runs in every conceivable direction. An essay by Cunningham defining "Obliterature" as "writing and drawing that wipes away the false self and removes from memory all that gets in the way of the creative act" follows Dreyer's initial manifesto. Cunningham, Dreyer and four contributors then proceed to offer examples. A comic juggling objectification with a love of breasts; a virtually impenetrable five-page metaphysical novel; a meditation on drawing and self-knowledge; "A Glimpse Inside the Modern Workforce"; and a second manifesto on the phenomenon of the "Joe Job," which ends in an illustration of a fetal Chris Dreyer suckling at the rectal teat of capitalism. Cunningham, at 46, has spent a decade navigating the rigors of academia. He finds the short bursts of disconnected creativity found in Chaotique as being in a sense better suited to handle our increasingly fragmented lives. "Compared to the kind of thinking I do as a history professor," he says, laughing, "this is qualitatively better."
& lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he careful calibration and controlled entropy of the ABDICK 8805, of course, is the other way Chris Dreyer has chosen to run with it. There are a dozen faster ways (and safer ones) to produce this journal of literature, criticism, comics, blood spatter and breast-play. None of them, though, make books that look exactly like this. And also: None allow Dreyer this level of involvement in the clumsy, elegant alchemy of creation.
Each page of Chaotique is a multi-part, multi-discipline act of expression. Dreyer doesn't create all the content, but he has a hand in translating everything to the page. A typical page finds him hand-drawing figures and letters with pen and ink, tracing color separations onto tracing paper, manipulating drawings in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, and arranging the design elements in Adobe InDesign. Then, of course, comes the ABDICK 8805. Chaotique is a three- and sometimes four-color publication, meaning each page requires at least six and as many as eight runs through the press. "The tactile quality of this is a huge part of it. The way the paper feels and the way the ink glimmers," Dreyer says, rubbing the paper one moment and holding it to the light the next. "Those are minor attributes to the whole, but to me, they're meaningful." If Chaotique is about anything, it's about that: teaching ourselves to reconnect with the meaning inherent in simple acts and pleasures.
And so Dreyer spends hours in his garage in an unremarkable sub-development on East 14th Avenue in Spokane Valley, fiddling with levers and knobs and adjusting ink and fluid levels while an unforgiving museum-piece of a printing press chugs along under his fingers. He's striving for perfection even as he realizes that in imperfection lies a considerable part of life's beauty. "When the layers of ink are a little bit off and I have to give it the thumbs-up or thumbs-down," he says, "that's the part I love -- "saying, 'That's wrong, but goddamn it looks good that way.'"
The contents focus on cat litter and sexuality and "Joe Jobs" and the squalor of modernity. By its very existence as an act of "creative ejaculate," Chaotique is also about redemption as a continual act of self-revision, becoming better while being satisfied fine-tuning imperfection. "There really aren't that many dick jokes in the first one," Dreyer says, after he and I make a game of looking for every inadvertent phallus-shaped ink-splotch, but that's an easy fix. "I thought of some really good ones for the second issue."
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