Sunday, February 11, 2018

Remembering Alvin Buenaventura

Alvin Buenaventura left us two years ago. On the day he died, I had been thinking a lot about calling him, but decided not to. Unless we were in the midst of a comics project for his press, Alvin, ever elusive, often didn't pick up. In the fourteen years we were friends, if I wanted to get in touch with him, I knew what to do: Call him a few times over the course of a few weeks and he’d eventually get back to me, whispering in his almost imperceptibly soft monotone, “Hey Ken, I saw you called.”  When this tactic wasn't necessary — when I called and he answered — I felt lucky. I had someone smart, someone engaged to talk comics with.

Soon after learning he died, I remembered my desire to contact him the day before. I had gone through an unusual internal debate about it, picking up the phone, putting it down, then thinking about it again and talking myself out of it. It doesn’t seem quite right to say I feel guilty about not calling, though maybe that’s the best word. I don’t think he would have answered. Had he already gone? I don’t know. The timeline of events is uncertain. Only two years, and I’m forgetting the chronology, or perhaps doubting my memory of it, both of which make me sad.

My cell phone still holds his number. It seems almost traitorous to delete it.


In the months before Alvin left, he said several times that he wanted to take guitar lessons from me.  I was excited about it, and so was he. Alvin was such an artistic anomaly that I was curious to see what he could do. Always focused when it came to anything creative, he had in mind very specific kinds of techniques to work on. I’m sad we didn’t get the chance.

When organizing a bookshelf two weeks ago, I came across a small collection of drawings Alvin released through his Buenaventura Press: Amanda Vähämäki and Michelangelo Setola’s Souvlaki Circus

Its soft cloth cover somehow seemed significant in a way it hadn’t before, and the front cover’s image, a cut-away of an animal’s elaborate underground den, did too. It triggered familiar thoughts about what remains one of Alvin’s defining features: his complicated, maze-like internal life. Fragments of this life were sometimes made visible to his friends — though visible in such strikingly different ways to different people that I occasionally think none of us really knew the same Alvin. But mostly he kept this interior life to himself, a well-secreted possession he wouldn’t, or maybe couldn't, surrender. (I'm glad, though, that as a print maker and comics publisher, he generously released so many beautiful objects into the world.) 

On Souvlaki Circus, the longest pathway within the animal’s den travels from the front to the back cover and disappears under a vertical paper band. It ends in an image of a creature nursing several newborns. I wonder why I never looked underneath the band until today.