Christopher Moore in Collision: Whales, Comedy, and the Impressionists
About ten years ago, New York Times bestselling comic novelist Christopher Moore decided to find out if there was more to write about whales, other than that they were “big and wet.” And that’s when he encountered National Geographic photographer Flip Nicklin. Then things got weird. The result was Moore’s 2004 novel Fluke: Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings, which featured a marine biologist named Clay Demodocus inspired by Nicklin, as well as a whale with the words “BITE ME” written on its fluke.
Now bosom buddies for over a decade, Moore and Nicklin get together at Z Space to showcase Nicklin’s new book Among Giants: A Life with Whales, and give Moore fans a taste of Sacre Bleu, his 2012 novel set in France and featuring Vincent Van Gogh’s murder as a jumping-off point. Moore will talk about art history, with a slide show of comics created from fine art. Nicklin will provide a slide show of his astonishing photographs of whales. What do they have in common? Nicklin’s photos have been described as “painting with light.” And the Impressionists’ artistic quest was to “capture the moment” by “capturing the light.” Otherwise, it will just be a good time and a lot of fooling around between two old friends.
As Jeannie said, science + art history is the perfect summation of our friendship. Plus, the tickets were only $10 so it was a cheap date. After school today she picked me up from SJSU and we headed up to San Francisco.
So it turns out that Z Space, the venue, is a big warehouse art gallery. Right by the entrance was a small gallery featuring works by Gwen Stefani…or was it that they were inspired by Stefani? I’m not sure. One image was a print of one of those little Harajuku girl characters; another was a canopic jar that somehow tied to Stefani. They were odd, to say the least. There was also a bar, which we didn’t take advantage of, and a small pile of Chris’ books on a table so that people could purchase copies for him to sign. We slipped through the gathering crowd to go to the main stage and grab some seats. On the way through, we were handed two red raffle tickets.
Flip Nicklin started the evening with a gorgeous slideshow. He has been photographing whales since the 1970s, following in the footsteps of his father. It was amazing, because as he talked about his trips and worked his way through trips to see humpback whales, narwhals, sperm whales and so on I would remember seeing those exact photographs when I was a kid in issues of National Geographic. This guy that I’d never really heard of until a week or two ago was almost single-handedly responsible for shaping my childhood vision of what whales looked like. It was really cool.
The second really neat thing about his presentation was you could see how whale photography has evolved over the years. Back when all cameras were film cameras, a photographer had to snap roll after roll of photos and hope something turned out. With the rise of digital cameras and instant feedback the new machines allow, Flip’s photographs have gotten a lot more…playful, I think is the word for it. His more recent pictures experimented with light, color and contrast a lot more than the older ones. Flip has just released a photo book of whales called Among Giants: A Life with Whales and if even half the photos that were in his presentation were in that book, it’s got to be gorgeous.
Unlike his usual book-signing speech, in which he tends to talk about whatever happens to be interesting him at a given time, Chris’ presentation had an actual focus this time around. He introduced the unusual topic – art history- by explaining that on his book tours, he often only gets a few hours to “play tourist” and art museums are one of his favorite places to go. Over the past fifteen years, this adds up to a lot of art museums, and eventually all this art knowledge inspired his upcoming novel, Sacre Bleu. Having established the connection to his books, Chris explained to the audience how European art got from the oil paintings of Jan Eyck to the colorful art of the Impressionists. I’ve attended a lot of art history lectures where people rhapsodize about the glorious majesty and impeccable form and conceptualized eroticism of this and that, and it gets old. It was nice to have Chris’ much more irreverent-yet-still-accurate spin on history.
My favorite part was actually when Chris showed one of his own paintings, a Judith Decapitating Holofernes in which Judith is a VW Bug and Holofernes’ head rolls in the streets of San Francisco. Classic.
There wasn’t much time for questions at the end of Chris’ talk, so he moved straight from art history to the raffle. The first giveaways were autographed copies of The Griff, which I already have sitting at home (and I really need to read it!) so I was actually relieved that I didn’t win those. The next thing the two authors gave away was a dozen or so pairs of Fucksoxs, and I wouldn’t have minded bringing a pair of those home…but no luck.
The third item up to win was a single limited-edition copy of Flip’s book about whales…and to my great surprise, I won it! I definitely didn’t expect to win anything, and it was one of the best prizes. (Definitely the most beautiful.) It was a lovely hardcover in a slipcase. I mean, I didn’t get up and jump or scream or anything, but winning that book was really exciting.
The last two giveaways were ARC copies of Sacre Bleu. The first couple of tickets Chris called out got no response. I guess people had left early, although I can’t imagine why. Luck was on our side - Jeannie won the last copy. She wanted to trade for the whale book, and even though Flip’s book looked very handsome and interesting I agreed, because I have been waiting for Sacre Bleu since Chris first announced he was writing a book about artists. We then stood in lines to take pictures with the authors, even though getting a picture with Flip put at the very end at Chris’ line and we probably spent over half an hour waiting around. It was worth it.
Photo of Jeannie with Flip Nicklin. Thank you, Flip, for drawing our tickets for the raffles.
And here we are with the crazy-awesome Mr. Moore himself.