The Daily Heller: The Exquisite Corpse of Björn d’Alegevey

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This book, really two books in one, Milano Eagles & The Marvelous Moo, took 40 years to make. Its byline may read "Björn d'Algevey" but it's the work, exquisitely melded (an exquisite corpse), of artist, cartoonist and musician Peter Blegvad and the late illustrator, Push Pin Studios designer and storyteller Jerry Joyner. An introduction of sorts falls in the middle of this topsy turvy livre. It states, "These two stories were composed concurrently over four decades as a form of recreation. … Both stories evoke a vaguely Heraclitean world in which nothing is stable (like The Covid19opolis), everything is liable to morph into something else. Flux and caducity rule [caducity?: The quality or state of being perishable; impermanence. eg. French caducité, from caduc, frail, falling, from Latin cadūc]."

I am a raving fan of Blegvad's work and had admired Joyner's from afar. This is a strange entity to be sure—and probably not for everyone. But it's definitely for those like me who savor the eccentric. Below are a few not-so-eccentric words with Blegvad, who as of this writing was not sure what to do with the 300 copies (available here).

Tell me, Peter, who is Björn d'Algevey? And where has he been hiding all these years?Björn d’Algevey is an anagram of the last names of my late friend, the illustrator and designer Jerry Joyner, and me, Peter Blegvad—the actual authors/illustrators of this book. But I imagine our alias, Björn d’Algevey, would be a man of mixed Swedish/French descent, aged between 28 (the age I was when we began this project circa 1977) and 80 (the age Jerry had reached when the book was published last year). I’d guess that d’Algevey is or was an author/illustrator of subversive bent with time on his hands and zero concern for the market. I picture him patiently working on his stories in a tower library like Montaigne’s, or maybe in a nice quiet cell in a Swedish mentalsjukhus.

The two stories were originally two separate handmade books—"Eagles" had been hiding for many years with Jerry in Nashville, while "Moo" was locked away in London with me.

Instead of a front and back, [d’Algevey's edition] is a two-faced book: When one is right-side up, the other is upside-down—two independent stories that start from opposite ends.

Though jealous of his privacy, d’Algevey did not object when Jerry and I decided that the time had finally come to publish. Designing and printing the book was a slow and onerous process. Colin Sackett (who designs and publishes the independent imprint Uniformbooks) was a crucial ally from the start. He designed and typeset the essay in the middle that flips upside-down halfway through. Eric Ladd and Julia Bettinson at XY Digital in London did a great job of "originating" the pages for the printers in Poland (Totem). Unfortunately, there were communication problems between XY and the printers. I don’t know the details, but instead of it taking a few months, it took a year and a half to print the thing. During that time Jerry’s health declined and, tragically, he died before he could see the finished product. But I’m sure he’d have been pleased. The printing is excellent. A handsome full-color hardback bound in Wibalin, and complete with a tipped-in flip-up mountaintop, the book came out just as we’d hoped. Exactly the sort of offbeat thing no other publisher would touch, but which Amateur Enterprises, my own imprint, was created to do.

Would I be correct in saying there is a kind of Edward Gorey-esque dark fantasy to "The Marvelous Moo" and "Milano Eagles"?Gorey was definitely an influence. Like some of his books, ours looks at first glance like a children’s book but turns out to be something else. (I’m not sure what.)

Children do seem to like it however. This blurb was written by a discriminating 11-year-old:

It is a great story with great pictures to go along with it. It has humor, and you can’t predict the next thing that will happen which is why it is so fun to read. The collaboration of artistry and writers also has a good story behind it.—Reuben Allen

Thanks, Reuben!

I don't want to give away too much in describing these books (in fact, I don't understand them entirely) but there is a mysterious joie de vivre or mystique that draws upon twilight and dawn, scary and funny. Would you like to illuminate? Scary and funny, yes, good! Systematically deranged, absurd. Nothing in the worlds these stories evoke is stable; everything is liable to morph into something else. If there’s anything so vulgar as a "point" to them, maybe it’s that instability, change, caducity are the only reliable truths. Everything else is in doubt and worthy only of skepticism. If these stories are fables, maybe that’s the closest thing to a moral they provide.

The book is a Surrealist cadavre exquis, or exquisite corpse, of the most wonderful kind. How do you feel now that it is complete? I’m thrilled. … My only regret is that Jerry didn’t live to see our dream realized.