Friday, November 25, 2005

There's no "Quit" in this book

Book store's are dangerous places for me. I like reading and collecting books so much that if I happen to walk through a Borders or Comic Shop, the temptation to buy can sometimes be too much. The other day I stopped off at Barnes & Noble, to get some Christmas shopping in, and as I scooped up several potential gifts, I couldn't help but pick up myself something as well.

Luckily it was a book I had been looking for, the latest graphic novel by Harvey Pekar, The Quitter. (I wanted to buy this at SPX in September when Harvey was a guest at the show, but the publisher hadn't sent any copies of the book)

For those of you who don't know, Harvey has been writing his auto-biographical books since the early 70's (at the urging of good friend Robert Crumb) The comics, titled American Splendor told tales from his every day life, with art supplied by various artists. American Splendor became a bit of a cult hit, leading to his appearances on the David Letterman Show and even to an award winning film (of the same name).

Much like his earlier work The Quitter is very personal. Harvey pulls no punches, describing his childhood days, as a white jew in a predominately black neighborhood of the 1940's. Whether it was dodging fights, failing in school, or his disconnection with his father, Pekar paints a dour picture of himself.

It's a very good read, easily my favorite of all his work. Throughout the book Harvey describes himself as a quitter (hence the title of the book), but I don't agree with him. Sure, he quit sports while in school, quit several jobs after high school, quit the navy and eventually even quit college, but does that make him really any different then hundreds of others at that age? Many teenagers and young adults flounder around, trying to find their way in life, and as I read The Quitter, Harvey sounded a lot like them.

In his other work, and even in the latter stages of this book, Pekar talks about his fear of the future and security. He's extremely hard on himself, so it's not surprising that he'd view his past as a series of unfulfilled potential. But,.... that's what makes Harvey, Harvey.

Since he's only a writer, and not an artist, he's usually at the mercy of the illustrator chosen to depict his words. In the past the artwork on American Splendor would vary from very good to.... mediocre, at best. Fortunately The Quitter is illustrated by Dean Haspiel, who does a great job!

Haspiel has a nice sense of panel layout and design along with a strong ink line. He uses the graphic novel format to it's full potential and the use of black & white (and grey) helps to convey events that took place over 60 years ago.

What didn't I like? Well, we're not told much more about his parents and brother after 1970 and I would have liked to know more about his early days, when he first started publishing American Splendor, but that's just nitpicking.

If you had meant to read any of Pekar's work before, this is as good a place as any to begin.
Most especially, if you enjoy reading personal work, autobiographical stories that show everything, warts and all (and aren't "afraid" to read it in comic form) then by all means, give The Quitter a try.

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