Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Alcoholic

Jonathan A. has a problem. That much is apparent as soon as he wakes up in a station wagon where a particularly amorous dwarf woman lives. Things only get worse when the police arrive. This situation seems to be why the word tragicomedy was coined. It would be a funny situation, a punchline, if it did not happen to you, but it also shows the precipitous drop Jonathan has made. From this moment, the story shifts in and out of the past, showing the times he first started drinking, his escapades in high school and college, and various other indignities. At various times he experiences the joys of waking up in a garbage can, defecating in his pants, and having to hide out buried in the sand under a pier in Asbury Park to avoid arrest. Jonathan is clearly an alcoholic, but he is an addict in other ways, too. He indulges in crazy sex and different types of drugs as well.

The Alcoholic explores the effects his drinking has on his relationships as well. In particular it shows how much effort goes into hiding his alcoholism from his great aunt Sadie, his closest relation. It also shows how he fixates on a particular ex-girlfriend, whom he renames each time she moves to a different city. All of the pressures of hiding and pining away take their toll on Jonathan as he keeps finding different ways to lose jobs and alienate people. Along the way, he does find a creative outlet in writing, and at least these experiences are good fodder for his work.

By now, you may be asking how much of Jonathan A. is based on the writer of this graphic novel Jonathan Ames. He is not letting on, stating on the book jacket that there is only a "coincidental resemblance" and that Jonathan A. is "entirely fictional." Ames is a author who has published a number of novels and written a column for New York Press over the years. His work tends to focus on interesting sexual relationships, his love for boxing, and autobiography, especially his childhood experiences. Most recently his work became the basis for the HBO series Bored to Death. The art is by Dean Haspiel, a native New Yorker who is probably most famous for his collaborations with Harvey Pekar.

Most reviewers have liked The Alcoholic, commenting on its mix of humor, beauty, and sadness. Bryan Young called it a "very sad, sweet story of a writer finding himself." Andrew Wheeler said that "it’s a great depiction of the mind of an addict." Shathley Q comments on how well Ames and Haspiel complement each other, so that readers can see the story as a series of realistic yet distorted moments. Alissa Tallman writes a great essay on the interplay between addiction and autobiography in this graphic novel.

The Alcoholic was published by Vertigo. Here is a 6 page preview of the opening pages posted at the MTV blog.

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