PORTLAND MERCURY review, 9/25
Recently, Jonathan Ames told MTV that he was inspired to try his hand at writing a comic book after reading Brian K. Vaughan's Y: The Last Man series. Now, coming full circle, on the back of Ames' just-released graphic novel The Alcoholic, there's a blurb from Vaughan, who calls the book his favorite original graphic novel of the year.
The Alcoholic's protagonist is a fictionalized version of Ames, coyly named "Jonathan A," who struggles with alcohol through high school, college, and a successful writing career, never quite getting his drinking under control, and losing control quite a bit. It is a deeply personal, deeply self-involved narrative of addiction and abuse that's saved from the charge of self-indulgence by two things: Ames' sense of humor, and Ames' willingness to illustrate the humiliating depths of self-delusion and depravity to which his not-quite-autobiographical character will sink. These two elements intersect at a book reading, where Jonathan tells the story of how he shat his pants after eating a bad fish sandwich. The story goes over well at the reading, and afterward he goes to the bar, where he drinks heavily and does some coke. The next morning he gets a phone call: It's September 11, 2001. He wants to help, to give blood, but he knows he's still got cocaine running through his system. It's an incredibly well-constructed segment, juxtaposing humor, disaster, and an aghast self-awareness.
The book is drawn by Dean Haspiel, whose lit-comics cred includes work done on Michael Chabon's The Escapist. Ames' writing is strengthened by the addition of a visual component, which serves to keep the famously self-involved author's verbosity in check. Take this, from a scene in which Jonathan has dinner with Monica Lewinsky: "When she said that the kielbasa looked delicious, it was like all sound drained out of the very noisy restaurant. The whole table went into collective shock... we all thought the same thing: Monica thinks that a penis looks delicious!" A spectral Jonathan hovers over the table, where he's "astrally projected" himself in mortification, while a steaming, phallic sausage curls limply on a plate. Haspiel's unfussy drawings bring equanimity to Ames' extremes of humor and humiliation, for an end result that revisits and, remarkably, revives the old cliché of the drunken, debauched writer.