Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Alcoholic

I can't recall when I purchased this lovely hardcover graphic novel, but I do know that it took me more than a year to get around to reading it. In the time between buying it and reading it, I picked it up a number of times, I even carried it with me on a few trips where I thought I might have free time to spend with the 136 page story of Jonathan A., the titular alcoholic, but I never got past the first few pages. This is a thing for me sometimes. I assume there are plenty of others who love reading, and are attracted to a specific book or story for whatever reason, and then can't get into it enough to get through it right off. For me the process goes that sometime in the future I will generally notice the item on the shelf, pick it up, and then be unable to put it down until I am done. That happens more often than I care for, and certainly was the case with this as well.

Jonathan Ames wrote the Alcoholic, and Dean Haspiel provided the art, including the cover. I wasn't kidding about the volume being lovely. it has a cover that is well designed and interesting, and underneath the cover is the title etched into the book inside the outline of a bottle. I never thought I would feel this way, but I really like hardcovers. I love them. I don't have that same feeling about slip covers though. I think that slip covers seem a bet excessive, and just get in the way of getting to the comics. Hardcovers themselves though are kind of classy. I am getting away from the focus of this post now, so I will pull myself back to it now.

As someone whose life has been impacted by alcoholism in one way or another, I wasn't sure what to expect from this book, which follows the life of Jonathan A. from High School, where he first got drunk, on into his forties where he may or may not have learned enough to overcome his basic nature. It takes a wholly unapologetic look at his life, and just presents the events. The narrator is aware that he is narrating. He is telling you the story initially of everything in his life that lead him up to a specific point. Eventually the narrative catches up with the timeline and proceeds from there.

I find that I particularly like the approach taken with the story. There are several main things that are carried through most of the book. One is his attraction to and love for his best friend. They act on the attraction, and then find themselves moving away from each other. Another is a relationship that turns into an on again off again thing that he can't free himself from. His writing and professional / creative career is another, and finally his addiction to alcohol and drugs, and the inevitable detox that he puts himself through. Everything is really just plainly presented. There is humor, but no attempt to explain away anything really. That's not to say there isn't any insight, there is just nothing approaching an attempt to rationalize the destructive behavior.

I found this story really resonated with me. It echoes an awful lot of things that I worry about with myself, and behaviors that no matter how much I understand the negatives, and know better, I still find myself always gravitating back to. I think that's the beauty of this, and where some of its real value lies. Just like the story offers no resolution for the issues, I found no great insight into my own condition, but seeing that reflection there is a pretty useful and thought provoking thing.

The writing is well done. Fairly horrible episodes are presented with some sense of humor. The art is very good. I like that it is a light style without being too cartoonish. It doesn't make anything less ugly than it is, but it resists being grotesque. It also allows the places where there is beauty to show through nicely. I'm glad I picked this up when I did, even happier that I finally read it. I think it deserves the good reviews it has gotten.

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