The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel

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The Alcoholic
By Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel

Admission is, of course, the first step on the road to recovery. Where penning a graphic novel on the subject falls amongst list of steps, however, is a bit tougher to say. As plenty of past autobiographical comics have shown us in the past, the process can be incredibly cathartic, a prolonged session of sequential art therapy.

With a thinly veiled protagonist named Jonathan A., novelist Jonathan Ames, makes no bones as to the autobiographical nature of his first graphic novel, in spite of the fairly tongue-in-cheek insistence on the book’s back cover that the character “bears only a coincidental resemblance to [his creator].”

Still, catharsis seems to be far from the primary purpose for the existence of The Alcoholic. Ames, for his part, appears to have decidedly less selfish reasons for having penned the book. Confronting demons takes something of a backseat to the author’s desire to creating an engaging, interesting book, a fact in part clear from the author’s almost film noir-esque framing of his story.

“My name is Jonathan A. I’m an alcoholic,” the book begins. “I have a lot of problems. Not more than the average person, really, but I have a propensity for getting into trouble, especially when I’ve been drinking. This one night, I came out of a blackout and I was with this old, exceedingly tiny lade in a station wagon.”

It’s a simple, but fairly affective device, the alcoholic graphic novelist’s rough equivalent to the pool from Sunset Boulevard. Ames effectively spends the bulk of the book effectively working back up to that moment by recounting his history with booze, making some detours along the way to lead a relatively normal existence.

His first foray into the medium Ames understandably trips up a bit, along the way. True to the noir-ish framing device, the author relies heavily on expositional narration, a method, which, in the case of The Alcoholic, often tends to pull the reader out of the story. Fortunately for Ames, artist Dean Haspiel is a seasoned professional. The artist’s clever and beautifully drawn panel layouts are largely affective in pulling the reader back when the author strays. It’s clear that Haspiel’s work on Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor allotted him the necessary tools for the task of collaborating with the novelist.

Ames meanders from the main plot device with varying success. An anecdote about meeting Monica Lewinsky (“She’s kind of the American Princess Diana”) proves one of the book’s lighter moments, when someone in their party orders a plate of kielbasa. The pages spent on Ames’s experiences during September 11th, while peripherally related, feel like a bit of an afterthought.

Toward the book’s close, Ames has a clear grasp on the true linchpin of the story: a friendship abandoned earlier in life. By the time it comes back into play, however, it’s a touch too late.

It’s not a total loss, however. The Alcoholic is still a perfectly entertaining books. While a little green in the graphic novel department, Ames presents a highly readable story, thanks in no small part to his more experienced partner in crime.

–Brian Heater

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2 Comments to “The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel”

  1. Teresa Kilt | August 21st, 2009 at 7:30 am

    Just the label of the book turns me off

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