“I shoot for making 100 copies every time but that’s only happened once,” says the booklet’s creator, Will Lytle. “I just kind of take a walk around town and consider where I’d look for one of these things…I try to be kind of funny about it.”
Lytle lives on a magical property in West Hurley, in a quirky little place he hand-built near the home his father hand-built when he was a kid. Gardens surround the place. Chickens, bees. Tall trees swaying in the mountain breeze.
The young man, now 25, went to West Hurley Elementary. He was in the first bonafide class at Onteora’s INDIE program, where he later stayed on as an intern, and then a bit more…helping kids like who he was make films, access their creative sides.
For years, he says, he’s followed his father’s advice and hit the road for long patches of time. He’s been to New Zealand, Eastern Europe. He spent time in New York City. After his last six month trip across the United States, hitching and riding the rails, including a 400-mile bike ride, he came home exhausted and had a bummer summer. He got a job at Sunfrost and found he had some time on his hands in between customers.
Lytle remembered a project he’d dreamed up years earlier, before he tired of the crowded nature of the film and video world he had been aiming at (and last showed installation pieces of, at the Center for Photography at Woodstock, in the autumn). He liked odd comics and thought he’d try his hand at some.
Beginning in February, he would give himself 24 hours to conjure a small narrative, storyboard it, draw it, scan the work into InDesign, and then print his small booklets. The idea was to get something out that wasn’t over-thought or overworked. Something simple and evocative. And free…and distributed in a truly guerilla, non-Art World manner.
“The Frozen Lake” starts with a picture of a tent by a lake shore, “I waited on the shore for two days,” it reads. He walks out on the ice and gets wrapped in snow. He hears voices and everyone he ever knew shows up, telling the stories of Will’s life.
In “Old Houses” he tries living in the wild by himself and finds an old house that has glass on the floor. There are ghosts. They sing to him in the dining room.
“Love Letter” recalls an evening in his loft when “I felt like we were two astronauts whose ship exploded. And we were just gliding out out out into space,” and then, “I felt like we were sitting in the branches of a tree all on fire.” There’s a wordless piece with a heart on the cover, another where he witnesses wood monsters drinking and wonders whether they are gods.
In “The Dry River,” Will walks out over a bridge that spans a dry river bed and meets a giant monster-like figure who tells him, “You’re going to die in the water.” “Yeah, I know,” he replies. “I’m sorry,” the monster replies, adding in the next panel: “Here, I made you a dandelion crown.” “Death, you’re stupid,” Will says, seated in a field with the hairy monster beside him, an arm around his back. “I know,” replies Death.
These works are utterly original, sweet-natured and deeply observant. Child-like and yet timeless.
When I ask Lytle if he listens to music while drawing he says that listening to music makes him feel very lonely “and kind of scared.” Instead, he will listen to “This American Life” or long narratives, such as the collected works of J.R.R. Tolkien.
“It’s meditative,” he says. “I walk outside with my cup of tea. I watch the woods.”
He said he finished eight booklets before he started distributing them. He wanted what he calls “a buffer zone” before starting in on his big project.
At one point he created a book in color, with lots of words, but found it too much work… and not as effective as something that someone could read through “in about 45 seconds, total.” He says he wants his poetry to be like popcorn.
“They’re poetry popcorn,” he says with a smile.
He’s hoping that with spring arrived, his narratives will lighten some. He’s had some fans, including the folks at C’est Cheese, suggest as much. And yet I find what’s there, already, is light and effective. As does my five year old, who is now making up his own Will-like stories, and illustrating them, on his own.
We are seated in Lytle’s small hand-made abode. Asked whether he feels young or old, he quickly replies, “Old. Totally.” He speaks about showing art at the new Beginner’s Mind on Mill Hill Road, and how nice it was to be at an art party filled with young people celebrating their young creativity. He’s now readying to show some stuff with fellow 20s-something artist Scott Ackerman at his Lovebird Studio in Rosendale.
“I went to the School of Visual Arts but got turned off by it,” Lytle says, talking about such influences as the zine commix artist Tonine, and Tin-Tin’s creator, Herve. “I, like every American, want to be famous. But I’m not comfortable with most ways of showing the work. I’m more interested in having the works show themselves in their own way…I like my stuff to be like little spots of sunshine that you find in the woods.”
We speak of quiet, prolific artists such as the folk singer and painter Michael Hurley, the old Zap illustrators, R. Crumb. Of not liking the Internet as a place for art. Of the need for locating what one does.
“You have to be here in Woodstock on a Monday morning to find this art,” he says, excitedly. “I don’t have a structural understanding of how this will work. I don’t know how it will stop. But I also don’t know how it can keep going…I’m just going through a process with it.”
Will pauses. He hands over a self-portrait he’s drawn of himself that morning, on scrap paper. He’s wide-eyed, wide-mouthed, but with an old man’s sense of himself.
“You sit down with yourself and make yourself do something every week and your muscles grow exponentially,” he continues. “And then there’s a body of people out there waiting for what you’re making. And I realize it all gives me a great outlet that also teaches me all this awesome stuff.”
He looks up with a grin.
“It’s been rocking,” adds Will Lytle. “I guess I’ll end up being known in Woodstock as much more than the manic guy who sells you apples, now.”
For his series of books, check out around town on Monday mornings. Or catch up with the young man at Sunfrost on the weekends.++