Sunday, April 15, 2007


I used to read The Beano and 2000 AD and have dabbled in graphic novels off and on. Saw the movie American Splendor but haven't read the book of the comic. Pekar's work is mostly autobiographical but The Quitter is seriously close to the bone. No frills. Dean Haspiel's hard-edged drawings apply black humour to 50s B-movie noir figures and landscapes. This ain't no Sweet Smell of Success though, but a discomfiting memoir that brings you layers of self-loathing, and fesses up to the bad things one does as a youth (like beating up guys for peer cred). Pekar's persistent fear is that he might not make enough money to get by. The young Pekar tends to fuck up in minor ways and loses jobs. The Quitter lends some insight into the tedious casual labour that young people do and then moves on to the lives of working stiffs in offices. The older Pekar is still anxious about paying the bills, providing for partner and daughter, despite some success and cult fame as a comic book auteur. The Quitter's characterisations are sharp and unfussy. It would be easy to blame the parents. But there's no bitterness with the neurosis. Vivid sketches include his downbeat Mom (it's all going to turn to custard, always), lonely ex-Navy cousin who lodges upstairs, and his angry father who thinks everything America is shit compared to the European. No immigration clichés here. The Pekars came to Cleveland from the shtetls of Poland. At times you'll have your head in your hands in despair like Pekar, though you might also gnaw at your cuticles. Music is not quite a saving grace but the love of jazz records and writing about them helps to validate Pekar in a more respectable way than kicking the shit out of other tough nuts in school and the neighbourhood. The Quitter flipped some backpages to melancholia and the crack-ups of mundanity.

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