The project began with a Burroughs-and-McNeil collaboration in the 1970s on the comic strip "The Unspeakable Mister Hart," which appeared in the British magazine "Cyclops." The magazine folded, and the two decided they wanted to turn their work into a full-length project -- at the time, Burroughs was 56 and McNeil was 23. What they conceived was so new that they weren't sure what to call the form, and settled on "a Word/Image novel." They worked for seven years but never found a publisher.
Fantagraphics, which included some spectacular images from the book in its announcement, describes the story of "Ah Pook Is Here":
John Stanley Hart is the "Ugly American" or "Instrument of Control" -- a billionaire newspaper tycoon obsessed with discovering the means for achieving immortality. Based on the formulae contained in rediscovered Mayan books he attempts to create a Media Control Machine using the images of Fear and Death. By increasing Control, however, he devalues time and invokes an implacable enemy: Ah Pook, the Mayan Death God. Young mutant heroes using the same Mayan formulae travel through time bringing biologic plagues from the remote past to destroy Hart and his Judeo/Christian temporal reality.McNeil's story of working with Burroughs on the project is sure to be interesting. "Fictional events in the text would materialize in real life. Very specific correspondences, not just similarities," he told the website Big Bridge in 2008. "Such events might suggest that things are already in place and that with the right combination of words they can be made to reveal themselves ahead of time. That's what Bill's 'Cut ups' were about: 'Cut the word lines and the future leaks out.'"
Creating a "Word/Image novel" was pretty futuristic too.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: William S. Burroughs photographed by Allen Ginsberg in 1991. The photo is on exhibit at the National Gallery of Art in Washington through Sept. 19. Credit: Allen Ginsberg via MCT