BY CONRAD GROTH – On Thursday, August 22, about thirty people gathered in the Strand's Rare Book Room to hear Samuel "Chip" Delany and Mia Wolff discuss their collaboration on the graphic novella Bread & Wine. For the uninitiated, the comic tells the story of how a novelist's chance encounter with a man who had been living on the streets of New York City for six years led to a loving relationship that continues to this day.
As one might imagine about an author willing to divulge his love story, and an erotically charged one at that, Delany is an open man. More than open. As he recalled with a chuckle at the signing, he has been accused of "promiscuous autobiographizing." However, like his graphic novella, he is never gratuitous. This is because his decision to write about his own story was not merely born of vanity. When asked by an audience member about their decision to graphically depict sex, Wolff, the illustrator and close friend of the author, fielded the question. "I called Chip and asked him if we should put sex in it and he said-" at which point Delany finished her anecdote with an emphatic "Yes!" Delany went on to explain that he considered sex to be a natural and thrilling aspect of his relationship to his partner. He also expressed concern for adolescents who are taught to repress their sexual desires and hoped that his and Wolff's novella would play a small part in chipping away at the taboo of homosexual sex.
Often, as in the above quote, Delany and Wolff would finish each other's sentences. They seemed so comfortable around each other that it came as no surprise that they had met while in their twenties. They described the collaboration process as organic. The original idea came from letters Delany sent to friends describing his ongoing experience with his new lover, Dennis. Encouraged to write out the full story, Delany began to send pages to Wolff (an illustrator who had never before considered drawing a graphic novel), who would sketch and improvise. Soon, Wolff visited the lovers and took pictures for reference and probed for details. The intimate connection between them is evident in their collaboration, which comes together in a beautiful unity of word and image.
Though only two artists showed up at the event, the novella was the product of a trinity. Dennis, wary of crowds, remained home, awaiting Chip's return.
**Special thanks to The Strand's Emily Simpson for arranging the event and Blake Grindon for the photos.
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