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In a New Graphic Novella, dug Nap Examines Friendship

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COURTESY OF DUG NAP
  • Courtesy of dug Nap

Anyone who has frequented Burlington City Art's Summer Artist Market would recognize dug Nap. Tall and rangy, with short, salt-and-pepper hair and serious large-framed glasses, he would loom over his display table looking formidable — until he broke into a rather sweet smile.

Nap's work, too, is instantly recognizable: colorful, in a semi-outsider-artist style, and usually featuring wry text. In fact, some of his most popular prints and cards are gaily hand-drawn quips such as "Down with toilet seats," "Caution: I have needs" and "Chard is the new kale." An au courant one: "You'd look better in a mask!"

The Burlington artist has entered 2021 with a new graphic novella titled Friends & the Distance Between. If that sounds perfectly pandemic-inspired, Nap says that he actually began the project before COVID-19 drove us apart. But the book certainly has an unexpected layer of resonance befitting the times.

Or it's just the product of a paranoid mind.

Kidding — mostly! Friends, published by Burlington's Fomite Press, features a hapless fellow named Bob Klink and a series of other characters, many of whom have eccentric names — Cowboy Steve, Willy the Worm, Brian Ryan O'Brien. (The female characters, inexplicably, are more conventionally named.) What they all have in common is rejecting Bob. And their reasons are as brutally candid as they are funny.

Friends & the Distance Between by dug Nap, Fomite, 140 pages. $19.95. - ILLUSTRATIONS COURTESY OF DUG NAP
  • Illustrations Courtesy Of Dug Nap
  • Friends & the Distance Between by dug Nap, Fomite, 140 pages. $19.95.

Julianne Winnetka, "who sometimes would take Bob to the supermarket," turned down his offer of lunch thus: "No, I couldn't have lunch with you because people might see us & get the idea that we're seeing each other." Ouch.

Even Bob's insurance agent, John Turnscrew, spurns grabbing coffee: "Uh, I'm sorry, Bob, but I'm just too compartmentalized to do that."

Mary "White-Bread" Williams likes to email Bob but refuses to speak to him on the phone. Abby A.B. Burns loves to talk on the phone with Bob but never initiates the calls. When Bob asks his neighbor, Rudy Pearls, if he'd like to go to the movies, Rudy responds: "I can't come to the door. I'm surfing the web & I'm completely naked, Bob."

Even his cat, Snooper, avoids him.

And so it continues. Alas, Bob can't catch a break. That is, until he decides to "go in and finally meet the guy who lived in his bathroom." Then things take a turn that this reviewer will not reveal.

One has to wonder whether Bob and his weird interactions with others are in any way autobiographical. On this Nap is cagey, or perhaps diplomatic: "I have experiences with people, and as an artist I play around with it," he allows. "Whether it's real or not real, as an audience you get to say if it feels real."

Fair enough. For certain, Nap's decades-long engagement with therapy is represented in Friends — in the form of Bob's psychiatrist, Michelle. She is at least marginally devoted to helping him: "Bob, I can't talk now, but I want to acknowledge that your need to talk with me is really great!"

dug Nap - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • dug Nap

Friends is Nap's second book; his first, Artsy Fartsy, came out in 2016. He's recently released a newer, more condensed version of the latter. Nap says he's been making art since the late '80s — he openly credits an art therapy class during his brief stint in a mental hospital for getting him started. Now 74, he "ekes out" a living selling prints, cards and original paintings.

Nap's website says that 28 shops around the U.S. carry his work, but he concedes it might be fewer now, given store cuts and closures during the pandemic. His books, which are printed on demand, are not necessarily on the shelves at local independent bookstores but can be ordered, according to Fomite production manager Donna Bister. One reliable local outlet for Nap is Frog Hollow Vermont Craft Gallery on Burlington's Church Street — just blocks from both his College Street apartment and his studio at Union Station.

What "really helped" him this past year, Nap says, particularly during the holiday season, was his pet portrait commissions. Samples of the adorable paintings — based on photographs and anecdotes from the owners and rendered digitally — are on his website. Though executed in his folky, whimsical style, the portraits unfailingly capture some ineffable quality of their guileless subjects.

Lately Nap has returned to nonrepresentational work — that is, to the kind of paintings he made back in college art classes. "The abstracts are really fun for me — I love working with pure color," he says. Samples of these, too, are on his website and available as prints or original acrylic or oil paintings. Not surprisingly, the pieces are wildly imaginative and riotously hued.

Nap is humble about his book ventures — and by his own admission is none too savvy about how the book business actually works. "It's just something I do — it amuses me," he says. "I'd like people who read it to get something out of it.

"I like to do a lot of things," Nap continues. Those things include writing lyrics for his "poetry band," as well as making art. Public performances are on hold for now, but, Nap admits, "Even just doing it by myself is fun."

The original print version of this article was headlined "Rebuffing Bob | In a new graphic novella, dug Nap examines friendship"