THE ALCOHOLIC OGN
Writer: Jonathan Ames
Artist: Dean Haspiel
Publisher: Vertigo/DC Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee
As an avid reader of all things Vertigo, I've tried to do my damndest to keep up on their periodical releases of Original Graphic Novels (OGNs) that have been streaming out from them for the past several years. Just like with the monthly series the imprint produces, it's rare that I find any of these to not be worth the time and money investment. Sure, most of these tend to fall in the "middling" area, becoming the kind of read that was nice for an enjoyable afternoon walk through and that you put back up on the shelf possibly to revisit in a few years at a slow time - your CAIRO's or SILVERFISH's and SLOTH's and so on - but still worth the effort all the same, especially when you occasionally get something classic like PRIDE OF BAGHDAD or IT'S A BIRD out of the pack to really show you how these can pay off if you're willing to give them a try.
Well, THE ALCOHOLIC here is a might bit better than middling, though it's definitely not a PRIDE OF BAGHDAD. At the end of the day, it's just another great installment of this line of OGNs that has rarely disappointed me.
THE ALCOHOLIC is a story about a man so real he has to be fake, Jonathan A., who is, as they say, "a real piece of work." A writer by nature and desire, Jonathan A. is as confused as they come - sexually, commitmentwise, socially - which makes him a walking disaster of a man as he tries to deal with all his conflicts and awkwardness, let alone the titular addiction that plagues him throughout his life as well. What really makes this book work while it plays out, through the words of the Jonathan A. in front of us, is how dreadfully upfront he is in describing his life and inadequacies to us. The brutal honesty of his life and the situations he's found himself in because of his somewhat destructive and gullible nature make everything so horrifyingly hilarious until you sit back and think about how, well, how fucked up these events kind of are. Watching as Jonathan goes from sexual confusion and inadequacy as an adolescent, combined with his reliance on substances to confront those and the world around him and seeing how it all culminates in a man still trying to find himself as he nears middle age really does makes THE ALCOHOLIC a fantastic exercise in demonstrating human weakness and drama at its finest.
All that said, though, there were a couple points of this work that I thought were a little off. One is that I think parts of this book, and Jonathan's life experiences that show up, may have been a little too much. We already have possible homoerotic tendencies, alcoholism, adequacy issues, drug use, abandonment issues due to his parent's deaths, and on and on and on...and then there's a problem with flatulence at one point due to his tension. Really? After all that, all the deep issues, we basically work our way down to bowel problems from it all to go with it? Sure, it leads to some funny bits, as something like that usually tends to do, but with everything already piled up as is I really don't see the need to go towards material like that. Also, it seemed to me like some of the spoken dialogue was more an afterthought than anything, that the word balloons in some of these conversations were more there just to get through a couple seconds of a scene than to really drive any of it. More a nitpick than anything of course, but given how word heavy this book is from the captions already, it just seems futile to fill it with some verbal minutia. I wasn't exactly thrilled with some of the real life events pushed into the story as well, but I mean more the Monica Lewinsky appearance than anything. Ames’ use of the 9/11 attacks was a very poignant one, of course, and he did well to have his own Jonathan A. take stock of his life and that around him, but the Lewinsky spot seemed more there for an anecdotal sex joke than for any real point. Again, all little nitpicks, but these are few things that took me out of an otherwise captivating personal tale.
Getting back to the positives of THE ALCOHOLIC, I have to sing high praise of Dean Haspiel's pencil work. I've always been a fan of his, mostly from exposure to his corroborations on Harvey Pekar's comics, but his style of cartooning is a perfect match for a work like this. Doing what a cartoonist does best, everything is rendered down to the perfect point of "detailed simplicity". Just the right number of lines are put into each of the scenes to pull of the mood in the setting, or the emotion on all the characters faces, or the right shading for atmosphere (with big ups to Lee Loughridge for dropping the grays); just the right amount of everything is put into each panel for them to be at their most effective and then move on. Add in a little creativity with the panel work to stop them from looking a little too standard with a little overlapping here and a dab of juxtaposition over here - just enough to give the eyes a curve ball to look at but nothing overly liberal to completely distract- then you have yourselves pitch-perfect art to go with the story being told, an event that always makes an already good read even better.
Just like its lead, THE ALCOHOLIC isn't perfect by any means, but it'll draw you in just the same. Jonathan Ames has made Jonathan A.'s life such a train wreck of emotion you can't help but feel sorry for him and pity him while at the same time chuckling at the kind of foolhardy situations he finds himself in because of his transgressions. THE ALCOHOLIC will show you just how dark things can get and just how quickly they'll come to drown out the light if you let them, all while making you HAHA! at the absurdity of it all. This is life at its most unhinged, and it's at least worth that afternoon to watch unfold, for better or worse, for your viewing pleasure. Pop the top and enjoy.