Thursday, August 28, 2008

Book Review: The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames

The danger with autobiographical works like The Alcoholic is that they tend to run the risk of forgetting about the audience. Some author/artists (Milk & Cheese creator Evan Dorkin springs easily to mind) delve into this territory with good intentions, but invariable end up obsessed with nothing more than their own shortcomings and failings. The reader is reduced to nothing more than a reluctant therapist, or even worse, a captive audience to one artist’s obsession with hating himself.

Not all works of this nature fall into this trap, however, and The Alcoholic manages to maintain a level of entertainment and engagement from beginning to end. Author Jonathan Ames exposes his life long struggles with love, friendship, relationships, and drugs, but always with an eye towards examining human nature as well as his own motivations.

Dean Haspiel’s art, angular and classic without abandoning realism for style, is the perfect compliment to Ames’ story, and never distracts from the book’s focus by battling the author for the reader’s attention.

Much like American Splendor (on which Dean Haspiel also collaborated), The Alcoholic’s narrative comes across as a self-explorative train of thought as, the author explores the path his life has taken. Ames bares his soul to himself as well as the reader, and examines his past mistakes and blunders without ever sounding preachy or whiny.

Ames also manages to keep a level eye on his life as a whole, and doesn’t hang too much significance on any one event. As a resident of New York during 9/11, Ames shares his experiences and emotions about that tragic event in US history. However, he doesn’t make it the focal point of the book, nor does he use it to bookend the narrative. He displays it for what it was; a traumatic world event that affected him directly forced him to reevaluate his personal behaviors yet again, but than eventually moves on with his life. An event like 9/11 is an easy device for a writer to manipulate an audience’s emotions with, but Ames treats it with the respect and perspective that it deserves.

An autobiographical graphic novel about heartbreak, depression, self-loathing and addiction, The Alcoholic winds up being a tad more uplifting and inspirational than one might expect, and possibly more than the author intended.

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