Introduction by Eric Drooker

Howl: A Graphic Novel

First time I hung with Allen Ginsberg, one long hot summer night in 1988, the streets were hopping mad. Riot cops on horseback were slowly moving in our direction, enforcing a midnight curfew, but the chanting crowd refused to leave Tompkins Square Park—a refuge for punks, homeless, squatters, artists and other riffraff who’d been "keeping real estate prices down" on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. When the police charged, swinging clubs, we lost each other in the crowd.

When I bumped into Allen a year later, and he realized that I was the artist who’d created so many of the street posters in the neighborhood, he admitted that he’d been peeling them off brick walls and lampposts, and collecting them at home. He suggested we do a poster together. Over time, we collaborated on numerous projects, bouncing his words off my pictures.

Our book, Illuminated Poems, became an underground classic, and ultimately caught the attention of filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman. They were just starting to direct a feature film about Allen’s early poem "Howl" and it’s historical significance—with Hollywood actors playing Ginsberg and his friends, Jack Kerouac and Neil Cassady. When they approached me with the ingenious idea of animating "Howl," I thought they were nuts and said "sure, let’s animate Dante’s Inferno while we’re at it!" Then they told me I’d work with a team of studio animators who would bring my pictures to life . . . how could I say no?

Last time I hung with Allen Ginsberg was on a cold winter night three months before he died. Over the phone he’d invited me to join him for dinner at his favorite Chinese restaurant. As usual, we discussed current events, politics, and eventually got onto the subject of art. Allen brought up the painting The Triumph of Death by the 16th century master, Pieter Bruegel the Elder.
 "Have you ever seen it . . . in real life?" he asked.
 "No . . . not yet. Where is it?" I asked.
 "It’s in Spain, in the Prado Museum. It’s enormous and fucking terrifying!"

After supper we went up to his apartment, where Allen was in the process of getting rid of things he no longer needed.
 "Hey Eric, you want this jacket? It looks about your size."
He handed me a crimson-red blazer jacket. I tried it on. . . .
 "Good fit” he said, “now it’s yours."

Ginsberg and Drooker

Allen Ginsberg and Eric Drooker on East 10th Street, New York City

Photo ©1996 by Denise Keim

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