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David Heatley:

My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down

David Heatley’s brain is not the only thing hanging upside down on the dustjacket of his dense, intense graphic memoir. On the front cover, his whole naked body is suspended from his left foot, reminiscent of The Hanged Man in the Tarot deck, held aloft from a grey cloud. A scrolling ribbon, tinged in pink, billows down from this cloud from a glowing, God-like figure, obscuring Heatley’s private parts. Rather than conveying anguish, however, his expression, lips and eyes shut tight, suggests a state of deep entrancement. His thought balloons, also edged in pink, trail onto the back cover and one large outburst of energy, revelatory or orgasmic, or both.


My Sex History
originally appeared in Kramer’s Ergot #5

Heatley uses the same eye-catching pink inside in introductory diagrams to identify the parts of his brain fixated on his five big themes: family, race, Mom, Dad and sex. He also applies this pink to censor explicit imagery in his utterly frank account of his Sex History, first published uncensored - if slightly abridged, as the full title claims -  in 2004’s Kramer’s Ergot anthology.  Why disclose everything, from kindergarten fumblings and homosexual leanings to his most embarrassing peccadilloes, only now to cover up the most graphic details? The censorship was his idea. "Over the last few years, I got letters from twenty-something boys saying ‘I loved your story, it gave me a boner!’ This was not my intention. While repackaging it for the book, I felt the genitalia was getting in the way of the story, which is about bad sex and longing for connection, not erotic titillation. Pasting neon pink rectangles over the genitals adds another layer because it calls attention to itself in a funny way and, I hope, makes the story more female reader-friendly."


Portrait Of My Dad
originally appeared in McSweeney’s #13

Equally honest and provocative is his Black History, cataloguing all his evershifting relationships with black people, and his portraits of his parents and family, from their Irish roots to his son’s birth. Drawing in vulnerable pen-lines or smoother brushstrokes, he squeezes as many as 48 panels into a single page, or clusters shorter, individual strips like the funny pages in American newspapers. In one short, as he reaches for another tissue after masturbating to internet porn, he reflects, "This doesn’t gel with the otherwise spiritually enlightened life I’m trying to lead." Wrestling between doing what’s right and what’s wrong, between frustration and self-recrimination, underpins Heatley’s life and his comics, which lay (almost) bare our inner turmoils with a wry, warm candour.


The New Yorker, 12 February 2007
cover by David Heatley

This article originally appeared in Art Review magazine, a monthly publication dedicated to contemporary art and is essential reading for a global community of artists and gallerists, collectors, curators and indeed anyone with an interest in art. Every issue of Art Review is available to read free online here.

In addition, the January-February 09 issue of Art Review #29, includes a two-page strip by Heatley. Heatley explains: "It’s a piece which appeared only once in an obscure US book, at a barely legible size in B&W. It’s basically a visual tour of my art-making and comics-making career from early, failed works to the present. I’m working on a new title for it, since it will change a bit from the earlier version." This revived, revised comic appears in colour and under the new title Comics History.

Posted: December 13, 2008

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My Brain
Is Hanging Upside Down

by David Heatley
(Pantheon/Jonathan Cape)