Renee French’s small but beautiful book Edison Steelhead’s Lost Portfolio: Exploratory Studies of Girls and Rabbits perhaps has many themes, but surely the most obvious is body horror. Each spread includes a soft, detailed charcoal rendering of a girl or a rabbit on the right, with a short, disjointed description on the left. Supposedly written by Edison Steelhead, these descriptions include the condition – whether it is medical, or something like “covered in flying insects” of the drawing, as well as where Edison drew it, what he consumed, as well as some small observations he made while drawing.
Are these girls and rabbits from the imagination of our unreliable narrator? Some of them seem to be drawn from life – or just from memory; because surely Edison Steelhead also suffers from some kind of illness. Many of his descriptions include the number of pills he took, headaches coming on, as well as avoiding the sun. His sad but kind affection towards a girl wearing a halo brace also develops over the course of the book; he is alone and obsessed with the grotesque. His self-pity occasionally seeps through the precise and mechanical wording.
Edison Steelhead, however, is not the star of this book. The girls and rabbits contained within are stunning. Whether wearing a freakish head covering, a neck brace, or having a fresh skin graft, all the subjects are brilliantly drawn. I find myself attracted to them, as Edison’s fetish begins to grow on me, and never to pity them. They appear used to their condition, natural, and strong. They are a category of being both the same as animal and human, but also wildly the Other. The divine shines brightly through the grotesque. (ed. - summary by Sera Stanton)
($9, 88 interior pgs, 4.5" x 5.5", color cover with one color interior, Sparkplug Books)
Edison Steelhead's Lost Portfolio is available here!