Time travel ticket

TRAINS Mostly True (Microcosm Publishing, 144 pages, $8) is the book companion to my 2005 movie, Who Is Bozo Texino? Styled like a 1930s pulp magazine, it’s an enigmatic compilation of railroad ephemera — a ticket for time travel back to the roots of American rail folklore.

The book was created as a by-product of making the film and as a direct product of 25 years of asystematically collecting any scrap of material related to the ideas of tramping, trains, Depression-era culture and graffiti (with a small g).

The relationship between the 100-year-old form of traditional rail graffiti and contemporary aerosol graffiti is much closer than their radically different styles and scales would indicate. There is also a curious parallel between particular social patterns in the long-gone networks of hobos and the secret society of contemporary urban graffiti writers. The book doesn’t address aerosol graffiti directly, but the historical similarities can be deduced from the odd evidence. By using the format of a 1930s adventure pulp serial mag, I figured I could relate these cultural practices without explicitly having to state the underlying connections.

The book is also a celebration of the popular written language of the day. I’ve excerpted 1930s railworker union newsletters by workers whose way of writing is so beautiful and so far removed from how we write now. This now-nostalgic style of letter-writing is another folk form I’m playing with in the book, both in presenting vintage material and in styling my own contributions to blend with the things I’ve found.