"Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship."
(I can’t stop singing the ‘Isolation Song’ from the Mighty Boosh now!)
Henry Joseph Darger, Jr. (April 12, 1892 – April 13, 1973) was a reclusive American writer and artist who worked as a custodian in Chicago, Illinois. He has become famous for his posthumously discovered 15,145-page, single-spaced fantasy manuscript called The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinnian War Storm, Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion, along with several hundred drawings and watercolor paintings illustrating the story. Darger’s work has become one of the most celebrated examples of outsider art.
Oh Henry Darger, what can we say about you? He was truly an outsider artist—he created a body of work spanning thousands and thousands of pages of drawings and text—in a small room in Chicago, almost completely isolated from the world around him. After escaping from an asylum at the age of sixteen, he took up work as a janitor and eventually began to create the manuscripts, illustrations, and painting that make up In the Realms of the Unreal, a story that took him six decades to tell.
As to what In the Realms of the Unreal is actually about…well, it lives up to its name. Set on a fictional planet (around which the Earth rotates, no less) during a rebellion of child slaves. The main characters are the seven Vivian sisters, righteous princesses of a Christian nation who assist the child rebels against their enslavers, the Glandelinians. There are also a race of winged and horned creatures called Blengins that take on partly-human forms to assist the children. The illustrations he did for In the Realms of the Unreal are hypnotic nightmares. Sickingly-sweet little girls—based on commercial images of children from magazines and books—run through stormy battlefields pursued by an evil army of adult men. They hide behind gigantic flowers and shoot their oversized rifles at their attackers. They wear cute fashionable dresses or nothing at all, and Darger seemed to have treated male and female genitalia as interchangeable. And sometimes they are caught and tortured like Catholic martyrs, with all the gruesomeness you would expect from a man who attended mass up to five times a day.
"That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong."