This graphic novel finds Haspiel, fairly fresh off Harvey Pekar's The Quitter, back in the role of depicting a writer's early days. In this case, Ames has added a thin layer of fiction--his Jonathan A character ends up writing a series of detective novels and presumably some incidents and characters are invented or exaggerated. But you wouldn't really know it, because Ames displays such an assured tone and some of the details are so peculiar they almost had to come from real life, like when Jonathan buries himself in sand under the boardwalk to hide from police, or when he wakes him naked in a trashcan. Haspiel is a good choice here because he's a clean storyteller who gives plenty of room for Ames' narration, but also knows how to really sell each scene with big facial expressions and body language. He gets the comedy across without being too goofy about it, essentially.
It is a story only partially about the hard-drinking life of a writer. To be more accurate, it's the hard life of a writer, with lots of drinking involved and making it harder. But Ames is very aware his difficulties are mostly self-created; he comes from a loving family of some means. The core of his drinking is his insecurity and pain over the end of his friendship with Sal back in high school. Though there are some very funny misadventures for Jonathan throughout the novel, it's this sincere, tender, mostly platonic love Jonathan has for Sal that makes the book so poignant. Not surprisingly, Vertigo has made little of this central theme of the book in favor of selling it as the wild times of a drunk author. One thing they've done well, however, is to package this like a real novel, with non-comics art and photography on the jacket and blurbs from respected writers and performers. This one has some real crossover potential.