December 10th, 2008


The Daily Iowan on Jonathan Ames and THE ALCOHOLIC

Coming through all the confusion
Jake Jensen - The Daily Iowan
Issue date: 12/10/08 Section: Arts/mp3s

Not everyone can have Jason Schwartzman act out his life on television. Or edit an anthology of transsexual memoirs, start a "World's Most Phallic Building" contest for the online magazine Slate, write a graphic novel, and box under the pseudonym the Herring Wonder in his spare time.

Jonathan Ames is not everyone.

The multitalented writer will read at Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., at 7 p.m. today, his first time in Iowa City since teaching at the Writers' Workshop in the fall of 2007. He is promoting his latest work and first graphic novel, The Alcoholic, but the 44-year-old said it's unlikely he will read from it today.

The logistics of showing the graphic novel's illustrations while reading the text was too difficult, he said. Instead, he will read from two of his previous essays, one of which is recreated in The Alcoholic, and take graphic-novel-theme questions from the audience.

A comic-book fan since childhood (he cites The Avengers and Spider-Man as favorites), Ames said he wrote the story as a graphic novel because his friend, comic-book artist Dean Haspiel, was eager to collaborate.

"It wasn't like I had the idea of, 'How is the best way to tell this,' " he said via phone from his home in Brooklyn. "To meet the need to collaborate with [Haspiel], I came up with this story. I never considered it for any other medium."

In The Alcoholic, a down-and-out struggling writer - (not so) curiously named Jonathan A. - deals with the titular affliction, as well as self-identification, heartbreak, romance, and sexual repression, a common theme in the Ames canon. There's also a Monica Lewinsky encounter thrown in just for good measure.

Despite sharing a name with its protagonist, The Alcoholic is fiction, he said.

"He looks like me, and a few of the things [actually] happened," he said. "But I changed so much that, really, it is fiction. A lot of it is emotionally autobiographical, though. I've experienced heartbreak. I've experienced despair. I've experienced dejection and self-loathing."

The Alcoholic may keep Ames busy for now, but the new year looks to be just as full for the writer. Currently, he is turning his short story "Bored to Death" into a television show. The actor lucky enough to portray Ames? Jason Schwartzman.

July will see the publishing of his next book, The Double Life is Twice as Good, according to the writer's website.

With such a full a schedule, it would be understandable if Ames ran out of inspiration before he can say "World's Most Phallic Building." But the writer offered a succinct way to keep one's creativity thriving.

"Every day, you wake up confused in a new way," he said. "[You have to use] those confused ideas."