What annoys some people about Ben Katchor's comic strip Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer is its lack of immediate payoff. It's not comic in the laugh-out-loud sense, nor is it self-contained; "getting" Knipl, as much as he can be gotten, is a week-to-week endeavor (his strip, now titled Ben Katchor's Cardboard Valise, runs in this paper and other publications around the country). Knowing something about its creator helps, which is where the Jewish Film Festival presentation "An Evening With Ben Katchor" comes in. Sam Ball's short film about Katchor, Pleasures of Urban Decay, screens with George Kuchar's short video on Katchor, Urban Doodles. Katchor himself will offer a color slide show and performance.
What will these reveal? As the titles suggest, urban life; specifically, a New York that exists mostly in memory, but also the keen, almost poetic observations of its watchful citizens. For Katchor, that world includes the modest neighborhood typesetting shop he used to run, as well as the Yiddish-speaking Jewish working class of his father, a small-time Bed-Stuy landlord with communist leanings and a head full of utopian schemes. As Katchor told The New Yorker once, his childhood impression of his father and his father's cronies was that adults left the house each morning to walk around the city and have adventures.
That's essentially what Knipl does. "Real estate photographer" might sound like one of the most desperately imaginative ways a man could make money, but who knows how many people have lived off just such odd jobs throughout the city's history? More like a graphic novella or film noir than a comic strip, Knipl takes place in bustling turn-of-the-century New York, as viewed from a variety of angles by a businessman with an artist's soul. "An Evening With Ben Katchor" begins at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Castro Theater, 429 Castro (at Market), S.F. Admission is $6.50; call 621-6120. (