Juxtaposing Filth with Beauty

Seven Miles a Second by David Wojnarowicz and James Romberger

Seven Miles a Second is the graphic autobiography of a street kid who grows into the kind of provocateur that many Americans would prefer not to run into—the kind who won’t shut up. Instinctively angry at those blind to the ravages of AIDS and the chasms of class, Wojnarowicz is also deeply compassionate. In a city of junkies, pre-ops, four-flushers and whores, the author and his hero search for urban purity. And behind that search is the blistering, unrelenting rage that Wojnarowicz carries “like a blood-filled egg,” more vivid than anything else in comics.

Seven Miles opens with a pubescent Wojnarowicz being picked up by a horny businessman. The scene goes from seedy to sickening when the boy is forced to watch a severed prostitute service a john while his own trick administers oral sex. Wojnarowicz is masterful at juxtaposing filth with beauty. As his real world worsens from hustler to starving thief, his dream world—rendered with ethereal, psychedelic perspective by collaborator James Romberger—becomes increasingly liberating.

Even as his actions explode in violence, his words belie a sharp and perceptive tenderness. In one unfuckingbelievable spread, Wojnarowicz pictures himself towering over Fifth Avenue, smashing St. Patrick’s Cathedral. “We’re expected to quietly and politely make house in this windstorm of murder but I say there’s certain politicians that better get more complex security alarms.” And then pages later, unspeakable empathy pours forth as he visits yet another friend dying in a hospital.

Romberger spent the last 10 years drawing and assembling the book from the writings of Wojnarowicz, who died of AIDS in 1992. Just as he was getting sick, Wojnarowicz was reaching the pinnacle of his own career as a visual artist, which included a painting of Christ shooting heroin. Not surprisingly, he ran afoul of the NEA and Reverend Donald Wildmon, whom he sued for using his images in a pamphlet denouncing homosexual artists, recovering $1 in damages.

By story’s end, Wojnarowicz “can’t abstract my own dying any longer…My eyes have stopped being cameras, the tape has run out and no gesture can touch me.” The view from his East Village apartment is interrupted by a cloud with two skinny arms, what he imagines he’ll see at that last moment. It’s a ferociously lonely moment, but Romberger insists it couldn’t have been any other way. “David wanted to end with a sunny day, all positive, but there was nothing in his writing that would allow me to do that. He was a wonderful, warm man, but just filled with rage.”

Despite its occasionally explicit images, Romberger is adamant about the desire to get the book “out there to tons of people.” “It’s about the alienation that every smart kid goes through. But that old guy giving him a blowjob looks like it’ll keep it out of Barnes & Noble.”

Seven Miles a Second by David Wojnarowicz and James Romberger (Vertigo, $7.95)

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Ken Kurson

Ken Kurson is the founder of Sea of Reeds Media. He is the former editor in chief of the New York Observer and also founded Green Magazine and covered finance for Esquire magazine for almost 20 years. Ken is the author of several books, including the New York Times No. 1 bestseller Leadership.

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