Making the Graphic Novel Graphic


Making the Graphic Novel Graphic
by Francis Levy

The Wormhole Society began 6 years ago. I signed up for a writing workshop which took place at Arthur Nersesian’s apartment— every Monday night at 7. Arthur who lives in a fifth-floor walk-up on First and Fifth is the author of The Fuck-UpSuicide Casanova, Chinese Takeout and most recently The Five Books of Moses (e.g., Robert Moses) which weighs in at 1,504 pages.

I was going to work on the rewrite of another novel, Tombstone: Not a Western, but I decided to start something new. 

I believe that writing is an existential act that at the same time has little to do with thought. The tenement with its peeling paint, the tarnished copper mailboxes and the buzzer in the vestibule that never worked (you had to call Arthur to get in), together with the CVS at the corner and the McDonald’s one block up, on the other side of First, would all become part of a new novel The Wormhole Society. This book had begun to gestate inside me, without my conscious knowledge, the moment I walked into the workshop. 

As for ideation, I write with my fingers. In fact, it’s a kind of race. The whole idea is to start writing before any ideas get in the way. 

Encapsulation is the enemy of creativity

Imagine if Dostoevsky had thought I want to write something about an impoverished student who kills an old pawnbroker for the sake of it. Crime and Punishment would have been dead in the water.  

What added grist to my mill was the fact that this was not the Iowa Writers Workshop. Literally anyone who wanted to could join. Elitist institutions like Columbia which employ well-known writers like Sam Lipsyte and vet the submissions of hopefuls are counter-creative. 

Arthur’s dark apartment with the smells of fried plantain and cuttle fish coming from the alleyway provided the perfect olfactory conditions for introducing readers to my Raskolnikov, a character whose Lost Weekend began when he started to steal French fries off other people’s plates.

I’m far from a free spirit, but I have an unfettered imagination when it comes to sex. Imagination is where I have my most passionate and often perverse sexual couplings. 

Laura Kipnis once noted in The New York Review of Books that you can’t legislate fantasy. In this age of fascistic thought police who compete for inanity with MAGA, the inner life is a respite. 

Cutting to the chase, and possibly to the chagrin of other members of the writing group, who would have been shocked at what I was thinking, I turned the workshop into a whorehouse, one resembling Pasolini’s Salo, where life is viewed as a concentration camp whose inmates live by the dictates of Sade’s 120 Days of Sodom. 

I quickly enrolled all our members into The Wormhole Society, a 12-step program where sex addicts and those suffering from varying kinds of paraphilia and dysfunction could enter portals. There they’d find other iterations of themselves in space/time. Therapy works from the inside out, “worming” is outside in. 

Know the old paradigm about a monkey at a typewriter composing Shakespeare? Under the Doctrine of Eternal Return as articulated by Poincaré and Nietzsche both, there’s a universe of doppelgangers. Find the right one and you will be happy, particularly if you’re a male suffering E.D.  

Potency is one of the major themes of The Wormhole Society. It’s a dynamic that both presupposes something more than consummation, while, at the same time, bringing about a condition far surpassing anything that Cialis or Spanish Fly could eventuate.

One of the members of our workshop was and has been Joseph Silver, a brilliant writer who lives in Saigon, meets with us over Zoom and is in the process of creating a memorable collection of stories, The Saigon Classic Car Club, which I am convinced will be both a classic and also the title of a film of the same name.   

Joe is an animator by trade. It’s a long story, but we undertook the animation of my novel Erotomania (which premiered this past December 15 at The Nihilist Film Festival in Santa Monica).

Having listened to The Wormhole Society, as it came into being, he was convinced that the visual nature of Raskolnikov aka Rusty’s travels to the Big Bang, to the Pleistocene Age where he has an affair with Lucy, the famed Australopithecus Afarensis fossil, and to King Arthur’s Court where he becomes the Connecticut Yankee, would be realizable in visual form.

The rest of what went into making The Wormhole Society a graphic novel is somewhat akin to the creation of a movie from a written narrative. You start with a storyboard. Then there’s the casting, the costume design and locations. Since a graphic novel is made up of visuals usually amounting to 8 frames per page, a good deal of the actual language, i.e., that part which will be visualized, has to go. 

You don’t describe Camelot, you turn it into a cartoon strip. Creating a graphic novel actually hones writing skill to the extent that one is constantly reminded to show not say. Interiority is present, but it also involves the referencing of a number of “objective correlatives”—which are what now lie at the heart of the finished product.  


Francis Levy’s collection of stories, The Kafka Studies Department, with illustrations by Hallie Cohen, was published in September by Heliotrope Books. He recently completed a graphic novel, The Wormhole Society in collaboration with Joseph Silver, who did the illustrations. The Wormhole Society deals with a reprobate, who travels to alternate universes to find redemption.

Image: Debby Hudson/Unsplash

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