• Steven Heller

The Daily Heller: Breast-Pocket Book by Robert Coover, Illustrated by Art Spiegelman, Looms Large

Want to read a big book of tiny dimensions? This is what I suggest for a few hours of Summer reading and timeless pleasure.


To remain productive during the COVID-19 pandem-acation, comics maestro and Pulitzer Prize–winner, Art Spiegelman, illustrated a futuristic noir (in color), zombie-laden short story by Robert Coover titled Street Cop. isolarii is the publisher and Street Cop is the most recent in its novel series of literally little breast-pocket books. Released every two months (at $15 per copy), and available via subscription, isolarii (Island Books) "gathers together the most Avant-Garde people, groups and movements from across all continents and disciplines," states co-editor India Ennenga, who suggest that this is the next big thing—and I agree.





But before I inadequately summarize Street Cop, here's a little backstory about the press from the publishers:


"Originating in Renaissance Venice, isolarii were poetic encyclopedia of real and imagined islands adrift in an uncharted world. Bound together in small volumes were poems, stories and artworks—each a repository for a singular idea. It was through these isolarii that a series of imagined new beginnings aggregated and humanism, as a set of disparate ideals, became a united philosophy."

"Over the centuries, this spatial form of literature was eclipsed by the novel and the humanist belief that man was exceptional opened the abyss of extinction. A new approach is needed to re-enchant the world and establish the commonality of all life on Earth."


600 years after the first isolarii were published, "their purpose is of renewed relevance. When all that seems to be conserved are states of inequity—with crises of all varieties spawning on a seasonal basis—there is an urgent need for new ways of writing and conceiving the Earth."

Designed by Ben Ganz with Chase Booker, and edited/published by Ennenga and Sebastian Clark, the entire series is printed as "portable," pocket-sized books (7 x 10.8 cm). Each "isolarii is an island—a spiritual, emotional and intellectual condition to be inhabited. Together, they are an archipelago—open totalities, singular unto themselves, yet in relation to their counterparts."

Printed in Italy, the entire collection is a joy to hold, touch and read. Released first to subscribers internationally, the series will be translated into multiple languages for worldwide distribution. Now, onto the book…




Robert Coover is a novelist known for his realist and fabulist concoctions. His The Universal Baseball Association Inc. (1968) creates an imaginary baseball league in which fictitious players take charge of their own lives. Written in the voice of former president Richard Nixon and satirizing the national mood of the early 1950s, The Public Burning (1976) is what Coover called a "factional account" of the trial and execution of so-called "atomic spies" Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who he portrays as being electrocuted in the heart of Times Square.


Art Spiegelman is the author of MAUS I and II, and is acknowledged as the trigger for the huge acceptance of the literary and autobiographical comics, a genre of "graphic novels" (a term he rejects), over the past four decades. His interest in noir and detective literature and film drew him to Coover's absurdist tale about a former Philip Marlowe-esque dick-turned-uniformed "street cop" in a world where policing is dominated by digital personal assistants and flesh-eating zombies are kept as house pets.


Spiegelman's knowing love of classic and vintage comic strips play an unmistakeable role in his character-driven illustrations. The nameless "Street Cop" has the pug face of Sluggo, and his cohort, the world-weary sex worker who apparently witnesses the murder and recognizes missing corpse that Street Cop is ordered to investigate, resembles a bedraggled Nancy (both characters inspired by Ernie Bushmiller's "Nancy" comic strip).


If my summary of Street Cop is lacking in acute detail, it is not from lack of interest (I read it thrice). This book defies summation but I can attest it is a compelling futuristic flirtation with classic noir and gumshoe tropes. So, just read it and savor the story and illustrations for yourself. If you are not engaged by the first 10 pages, I guarantee it is your loss, not mine.



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