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Sunday, October 12, 2008

 
The Alcoholic -- There's a feeling of rote recitation at work in this new graphic novel written by Jonathan Ames and illustrated by Dead Haspiel; "My name is Jonothan A. and I'm an alcoholic," the narrative starts off, and from there Ames tells his (presumably autobiographical and sometimes non-linear) story of a life made sometimes bearable, sometimes horrific, by drinking.

The story is frustratingly well-structured; the seams of Ames's technique are at times distressingly visible, like the ratty sportcoat a drunk might wear to an AA meeting. The whole thing feels like an AA meeting, in fact, except one that goes on for hours and only features a single speaker. All that is moderately redeemed by the fact that at least Ames spins a good yarn, and uses that skill to create some amusing scenes.

His relationships with his childhood best friend and his great aunt loom largest in the tale, although a late-in-life love affair also provides some insight into Ames's psychopathology. At the root of it all is an American man who has trouble navigating relationships and finds it easier to numb the pain with drugs and alcohol. There's nothing out of the ordinary about that at all, really, and Ames and cartoonist Dean Haspiel (who delivers the same solid cartooning here that he did for Harvey Pekar's The Quitter) really don't ever make a case for this story being particularly special or unique.
At times Ames seems like a wounded child, at others a narcissistic jerk. Mix the two, add some booze, and there you have, well, almost every adult male I have ever known. Ames has some modest skill with words and does manage to make The Alcoholic hold together as a narrative, but the total effect feels more like an Afterschool Special than I am sure the creators intended. The Alcoholic aspires to art, but never quite reaches that level, and its indeterminate ending ending suggests either the verisimilitude of life, or the arrogance of lessons unlearned, depending on how charitable you might feel as you turn to the final page.

Buy The Alcoholic from Amazon.com.

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