Confessions of an Ex-Doofus Itchyfooted Mutha
by Melvin Van Peebles
Trust the zodiac. When you were born really matters, man. If you are a child of the ’80s, the Van Peebles name means faux-hip, comic gumshoe Sonny Spoon and possibly a string of B-level Black films like Posse and New Jack City (alright, New Jack City was a classic). But if you’re a child of the ’70s, the Van Peebles name means Sweet Bad Ass Songs and riffs on race, politics, and the arts, told through the medium of a neo-Harlem Renaissance. Mario Van Peebles is the offspring who played the bumbling Sonny Spoon character for NBC while his father, Melvin Van Peebles, is the badasssss.
Emerging during a fertile time in Black empowerment in the late ’50s/early ’60s, Melvin Van Peebles ushered in the Blaxploitation genre, popularized by films like Superfly and Dolomite with Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song. An artistic omnivore, Van Peebles is a talented actor, director, musician, and playwright who blazed an unconventional, do-it-yourself path through film, stage, and music. Sweetback… heavily inspired Quentin Tarantino while Van Peebles’ obscure 1969 Br’er Soul LP was heavily sampled by Madlib for his Quasimoto albums – a planned Brer Soul Meets Quasimoto album has yet to materialize.
Determined to be relevant in every genre and every decade, Van Peebles has produced Confessions of an Ex-Doofus-Itchyfooted Mutha, a graphic novel which is basically the storyboard for a movie script (the Confessions… film was released in August 2009) that tells the coming-of-age story of a precocious vagabond who emigrates from Van Peeble’s native Chicago to New York City, sails the Atlantic, and eventually returns to the love of his life – yes, there is a love story in here among all the quixotic questing. Along the way there’s also AARP pimping, gorillas, and dangerous employ with the merchant marines. The artwork is rendered in an interesting hybrid of photography and illustration that suits Van Peebles’ eclectic vision; the prose swings and lilts as it veers from poetic verse to song lyrics, to expository dialogue (Van Peebles’ jazzy, colloquial pen is sometimes overlooked for his more bawdy and kitsch eccentricities).
This is storytelling in the great oral tradition that relies on a charismatic narrator’s presence to bring it all to life, and Van Peebles is that avuncular yarn-spinner who could mesmerize you for days. But this isn’t a live reading or barbershop chit-chat. As a graphic novel, Confesssions’ slight narrative and uneven visuals don’t stack up to the best of the genre. Still, it’s not hard to imagine this as a step in the process of bringing a film to life, and Van Peebles’ fearless and coy DIY ethic shines through with character and panache. In that regard, it’s an interesting glimpse into the process of an artist still pushing his ambitions well into his seventh decade.