A Review of Edie Fake’s Gaylord Phoenix in the Form of a Birthday Greeting for Jack Kirby

Gaylord Phoenix reviewed by Brian Cremins

Looking for a new series to fall in love with? Edie Fake continues one of the most innovative graphic narratives of the last decade in Gaylord Phoenix Issue 7, in which our hero continues to work magic while confronting a new series of mysterious threats. All without the use of panels and gutters!

I’m writing this essay on what would have been Jack Kirby’s 100th birthday. While reading the new issue of Edie Fake’s Gaylord Phoenix, I wondered what Kirby would have thought of Fake’s forward-thinking page designs. In Ken Viola’s 1987 documentary The Masters of Comic Book Art, Kirby provides a miniature history lesson of what he calls the “evolvement” of the form. With a mischievous gleam in his eye, the cartoonist speaks in panels, one thought and image after the other. Slowly, an explosive picture begins to take shape. “From what I understand,” he begins, “the editorial comic was first. And then they added a few panels to that and you had a comic strip. And they added a few pages to that and you had a comic book. And what we can add to the comic book . . .” Here he pauses. Begins to smile. Gestures with his hands. I wonder if, suddenly, he thought, Why talk about it? I’ll draw it for you. But he doesn’t say that. Instead, he continues “. . . we may have to think about that. So, I believe that’s the interesting part of the entire field is to say, What is it? Where is it going? How it’ll evolve. And we experiment with that every day.” If Kirby were alive to celebrate his centennial, I suspect that he would recognize in Fake’s comics the future he imagined in this interview. Where is it going? The answer to that question, I think, lies in the pages of Gaylord Phoenix #7, published earlier this year by Chicago’s Perfectly Acceptable Press.

Over the last decade, Fake has distinguished himself as a cartoonist and as a gallery artist. His 2014 book Memory Palaces—published, like the collected edition of Part 1 of Gaylord, by Brooklyn-based publisher Secret Acres—began as a series of drawings exhibited at the now closed Thomas Robertello gallery in Chicago. A visual tour of significant Queer locations from the city’s past, present, and future, the images of Memory Palaces tell a story as bracing and as emotional as the adventures of the Gaylord and his friends. I won’t provide a plot summary of those first six issues here. That’s a journey you should experience on your own. And, anyway, Fake himself, in a 2011 interview with Zach Dodson, summed it up as the narrative of a “wandering Gaylord being reborn as a bird-man. His journey is an epic magic roller-coaster ride through a psychedelic microcosm of homoerotic smut and gender meltdown and, the whole way through, he’s recovering and reconciling the violent, painful parts of his past with his powerful present self. Then there’s a great orgy scene at the end” (Fake qtd. in Dodson). The story, which, Fake also explained to Dodson, began with an idea for an animated film and then, over the course of six years, appeared as a series of self-published, beautifully hand-made zines, draws on influences ranging from underground filmmakers like Jack Smith, 1980s arcade games, and the work of science fiction writer and essayist Samuel R. Delany. There’s plenty of action, too, as the hero travels in the shadows of pyramids and through underwater kingdoms that could double as cosmic cityscapes in Kirby’s Asgardian tales. This is still very much a comic book in the best sense, but one that conveys meaning without the use of panels. Or, as the Gaylord and his companion declare in #7, “I know us best when our borders fly open.” Once again, Fake invites us into a universe without a need for “borders” and the spaces between them.

Gaylord Phoenix: An epic magic roller-coaster through a psychedelic microcosm.

Each page acts as a stand-alone image or as one half of a two-page spread. As a result, Fake continues this simple, familiar story—an epic journey that, as Fake once noted to Meghan Milks, is “archetypal” in its images and in its concerns (Fake qtd. in Milks 6)—with a series of complex visuals. “I think I’m interested in space without panels, I guess,” he admitted to Milks, “or things that are like comics without panels” (Fake qtd. in Milks 6; see also Dodson). Maybe this rejection of panels is the next logical step in the “evolvement” that Kirby imagined at the close of his discussion with Viola. First, the panel, then several panels, then the page, the comic book itself—and, now, a form of narrative that invites readers to imagine a life without “borders,” without the wall that divides and shadows one from the other. It’s possible, I think, to enter Fake’s universe and to come out the other side—like the Gaylord—strengthened and transformed. The question, though, remains—how, and in what direction? What next? At the end of Issue 7, Gaylord’s companion offers a kind of map in the form of a declaration: “Lover I am stronger than this nightmare.”  As readers, we don’t yet know what the nightmare is. A few pages in, we learn that “a storm has grown,” one violently “shaking the surface,” but it’s too early to tell the cause or to survey the damage.

Fake’s use of color fills the spaces left by this ominous but elliptical narrative. While his designs echo those of the final issues of the original Gaylord Phoenix—in which he looked to the Collective Tarot and to the art of Pamela Colman Smith as inspirations (Fake qtd. in Dodson)—Fake introduces a new palette here. Greens and reds mingle with navy blue and pink. Meanwhile, the jagged gold lines of the die-cut cover reflect light back at the reader. That cover, which looks as explosive as any Kirby splash page, establishes a tone of strength and optimism. As the storm approaches, the Gaylord and his companion seek higher ground.

Earlier, I neglected to mention another key moment in Viola’s 1987 interview with Kirby. Looking back on his long career, and especially to the spiritual and political concerns of the 1970s Fourth World books he produced for DC Comics, Kirby admitted, “Now I didn’t resolve the questions. I’m a guy [who] lives with a lot of questions. I say, What’s out there? And I try to resolve that and I never can.” Why raise these questions in the first place if there’s no answer to them? That, I guess, is the question at the heart of the art and literature we value the most. In Gaylord Phoenix—or, say, in Kirby’s New Gods—it’s not fame and power that matter, that survive. Instead, it’s prophecy, and faith, and vision. Not magic, but kindness. That’s what resonates the most in Gaylord, and explains, I think, it’s appeal, at least for me. Questions of form—of narrative structure, composition, and intent—cease to be meaningful in a space as fierce, open, and vulnerable as this one.

Fake’s narrative, I think, demands a new kind of scholarship and criticism. Is it possible to write about comics with the same integrity, passion, and intimacy on display in these pages? Fake, like Kirby, asks questions about what lies beyond the page. The single panel, the comic strip, the comic book, the “graphic novel” or “visual narrative.” What does it take, to paraphrase Kirby, “to resolve” the questions raised by this art form? In Gaylord Phoenix #7, Fake offers readers a chance to step outside the world of comics as we know it. In its place, and in these pages, Fake illustrates the kindness, unity, and divinity that remain despite the violence of the storm.



  • Dodson, Zach. “The Rumpus Interview with Edie Fake.” The Rumpus. May 17, 2011. <http://therumpus.net/2011/05/the-rumpus-interview-with-edie-fake/>. Accessed 4 September 2017.
  • The Masters of Comic Book Art. Directed by Ken Viola, A Ken Viola Production, 1987.
  • Milks, Megan. “Edie Fake’s Radical Bloodlust: The Comics Artist on Gaylord Phoenix, Queer Cartography, Etc.” Mildred Pierce Issue 4 (2011): 6–10.


Gaylord Phoenix #7
Edie Fake
Chicago: Perfectly Acceptable Press, 2017
30 p., 15,00 US Dollar