Ben Katchor
Random House, New York, 2013, English
Nonfiction, Graphic Design; Nonfiction, Urban Design; Fiction, Comics and Graphic Novels
11.8 x 12.3 inches, hardcover, 160 pages
ISBN: 9780307906908
Suggested Retail Price: $29.95

From the Publisher. From one of the most original and imaginative American cartoonists at work today comes a collection of graphic narratives on the subjects of urban planning, product design, and architecture—a surrealist handbook for the rebuilding of society in the twenty-first century.

Ben Katchor, a master at twisting mundane commodities into surreal objects of social significance, now takes on the many ways our property influences and reflects cultural values. Here are window-ledge pillows designed expressly for people-watching and a forest of artificial trees for sufferers of hay fever. The Brotherhood of Immaculate Consumption deals with the matter of products that outlive their owners; a school of dance is based upon the choreographic motion of paying with cash; high-visibility construction vests are marketed to lonely people as a method of getting noticed. With cutting wit Katchor reveals a world similar to our own—lives are defined by possessions, consumerism is a kind of spirituality—but also slightly, fabulously askew. Frequently and brilliantly bizarre, and always mesmerizing, Hand-Drying in America ensures that you will never look at a building, a bar of soap, or an ATM the same way.

A Designers & Books Notable Design Book of 2013
On 1 book list
John Hill

A highlight of Metropolis magazine since 1998 has been Ben Katchor’s comic strips that grace the monthly’s back page. The funny and nostalgic stories describe our multifaceted relationships with the world of design, be it the implements we wield, the spaces we inhabit, or the cities we move through. The broad range of subjects parallels the concerns of Metropolis itself, making the relationship between the magazine and illustrator a fitting one.

This book collects 15 years worth of strips that capture Katchor’s amazing consistency in churning out pieces that draw us into a parallel world that resembles New York City but is made up of oddly named places and even odder characters. The strips also trace the magazine’s evolution over the same period, most overtly in “The Tragic History of the Oversized Magazines,” which takes up a two-page spread roughly in the center of the book (newer readers may not know it, but Metropolis used to be an impressive, tabloid-sized magazine), and in the way the comics change in size from beginning to end.

Without an introductory or any other essay to be found, the collection lets the strips stand on their own. And they do so extremely well, even though on repeated readings (in order or jumping around) most of the strips do reveal a structural and narrative logic. But to imbibe, in one place, stories about the design of a “new building ruined by the sound of the common wall light switch" and “boys wielding cheap bristle brushes and pails of 14-karat gold paint” roaming the streets to fulfill their “decorative impulse” on surfaces of neutral color, among many other memorable strips, is one of the greatest treats of 2013.

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