Best Shots Extra: The Alcoholic by Ames and Haspiel

Best Shots Extra: The Alcoholic

The Alcoholic

Written by Jonathan Ames

Illustrated by Dean Haspiel, with gray-toner Lee Loughridge and letterer Pat Brosseau

Published by DC/Vertigo   At the New York Comic Con, Vertigo announced an initiative to publish more graphic novels, going so far as to devote two editors to the full-time acquisition and editing of such tomes. If The Alcoholic is anything to judge the publishing effort by, the new focus should be quite a success for Vertigo.   Author Jonathan Ames’ fictional story of the writer Jonathan A.’s descent into chemical abuses is at once darkly humorous and tenderly heart-breaking. The early publicity has focused on Jonathan’s break up with the girl of his dreams, but as the author points out, Jonathan deals with plenty of loss throughout the book - women, family and friends. Ames manages to make his protagonist completely pathetic in his unwillingness to face the problems in his life, yet mostly likeable due to a series of humorous and unfortunate happenings.

The unfortunately side effects of a colonic put Jonathan (the character, not the writer, so far as I know) in the ultimate embarrassing public situation, and many of the drunken misadventures – including coed parties and hiding in the sand under the boardwalk to avoid the police (it’s even funnier than it sounds) – keep the narrative from bogging down too heavily, allowing Ames to sell the reader on the tragedies his character faces. The relationship with his doting, yet stern, aunt is full of moving nuances, and the unanswered questions of a high school friendship will keep readers up at night wondering what the friend really meant. Using 9/11, Ames writs large the character’s internal heartbreak. Ames manages to, without cheapening a national tragedy, bring Jonathan’s (character, not author) confusion and uncertainty to a scale and event almost all readers will connect to. The plight of Jonathan’s neighbor reminds everyone that Jonathan’s troubles, though taxing, are far from insurmountable.

Artist Dean Haspiel is the perfect complement to Ames’ prose. Haspiel brings a Kirbyian muscular line and dynamic layouts to the most mundane setting, enabling the narrative to grab the reader’s attention without sacrificing the everyday clarity of Jonathan A.’s all-too-human foibles. Keeping the “camera” still and splitting panels during a conversation between Jonathan and his aunt, Haspiel allows the dialogue’s cadence to carry the scene, yet he’s able to exaggerate the more outlandish sequences to make the scene even funnier than Ames’ description. You have to see for yourself the depiction of a dragon roaring free of the protagonist’s pants!

It’s a rare book that can mix scatological humor with national tragedy and still succeed completely. Building on the strong efforts of stand-alone graphic novels Silverfish, The Quitter, The Originals, Can’t Get No and Sloth, The Alcoholic finds Vertigo establishing itself as a publisher of diverse and entertaining book-length comics.

The Alcoholic is due in stores on October 1st.

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