The Alcoholic is an autobiographical retelling of Ames’ existence from high school until the book's release in 2008. The narrative thread seems to consist of life’s trials and tribulations coupled with the sweet call of tasty booze. Breakups, professional hardships, and a slew of inevitable misunderstandings guide the reader through gallons of drunken consequences that are both painful to sit through and dreadfully funny.
Heartbreaking moments such as the one shown above serve as the grand justification for Ames’ frivolity, at which point it is up to reader to decide whether this context provides a satisfying reason. Jonathan Ames does not apologize for who he is, though. Rather, the book feels like a tell-it-how-it-is love letter to his youth. There is something commanding and powerful about an individual, broken and helpless, owning up to their mistakes in such an honest way. You might not always agree with or respect Ames, but there is something infinitely likable about him that you can’t help but sit on his side of the court.
But, what about all the antics?
That’s right! The Alcoholic has antics and hijinks for days. The book is like being in an AA meeting when an old-timer goes off on a drunken “war story” that is so juicy that the people running the meeting forget to tell him to stop even though he is WAY over his allotted time. The book perfectly captures the feeling of accepting an apology from a friend, but secretly not caring because you thought what they did was very funny. As the reader, you are a brave psychologist diligently taking notes on a patient you come to find out halfway through the meeting is, in fact, a Pink Elephant from Dumbo. It’s sad. It’s brash. It’s deeply moving and unrelentingly personal.
Dean Haspiel is the other creative force behind The Alcoholic. He was tasked with the challenge of translating this convoluted, time-jumping, diary-of-sorts to life. The art in the book is consistently good throughout and never feels incidental to the writing. I was worried about this in the first half of the book, since Ames’ writing basically takes over huge swaths of the page, almost as if his words are eating the art alive. As the book progresses, the writing settles down, the exposition subsides to a humble narration, and the opportunities for quiet/tasteful panels flourish. Haspiel takes every advantage to make us feel through the unspoken context of Ames’ tragic moments.
The book is in black and white. I love black and white, but I would be very interested to see this book done in color. The Alcoholic does have all of the characteristics of an old comic strip or something alike to Harvey Pekar’s work, but something about this story drips of vibrance and begs for color. Maybe in the 20th Anniversary Edition, we will get a version that has color. Until then, the book delivers all of the promise of a high-brow New Yorker cartoon, but...ya know...drunker.
The Alcoholic is definitely on the more serious side. There are no superheroes, no flashy, twisting narratives, and no sprawling kingdoms to remember who rules what. This is the story of a man (drunk) trying to stay away from trouble (the bar) lest he find himself forever shackled to it (throwing up). Oh, and watch Bored To Death on HBO; it’s very funny.
Creative Team: Jonathan Ames (writer), Dean Haspiel (art)
Publisher: Dark Horse
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