I’m going to start this with full, shameful disclosure – I was aware of Jonathan Ames before I found myself reading The Alcoholic. I was even aware of The Alcoholic. I was aware of Dean Haspiel. I was aware of Bored To Death, and You Were Never Really Here. But I was only aware. I never dug any deeper, or looked any further. But don’t worry everyone, I’ve been made to deeply regret that.
The Alcoholic follows an, er, alcoholic, Jonathan A. Waking up from a big night out with a homeless pensioner trying to get into his pants, and hiding from the police who turn up by burying himself in a pile of sand under a boardwalk, Jonathan tells us exactly how he came to be there. From his very first drink as a teenager, through high school romance, broken friendship, family death, grief, his gorgeous relationship with his great aunt, 9/11, heartbreak, obsession, and shame, his flashback exposes us to every defining moment, accompanied by every weird, terrible and fantastic emotion. Waking up in trash cans, shitting himself, rehab and relapse – we’re taken along for the ride on everything, his own understanding seeming to unfold just as ours does.
The perfect magic here, is that in every deeply melancholic event that charges his addiction, every quietly sad interaction with the other players on his stage, there’s so much laugh out loud humour. There’s so much warmth, and so much to connect with. You root for him. You get angry with the negative influences in his life, you get angry when things don’t go his way, and most of all, you get angry at him for keeping himself from his own happiness. And still you laugh. You laugh when he calls up his ex to leaving bumbling, embarrassing voicemails, just like you might have done. You laugh when he leaves his body to watch Monica Lewinsky sit next to him in a restaurant eating a sausage, just like you might have done. You even kind of laugh when he gets to college and enters his self-proclaimed Hemingway phase, fighting his way round bars and turning up to lectures with a shiner. Maybe not like you might have done?
Dean Haspiel’s art lives in absolute symbiosis with Jonathan’s writing, each enhanced by the other. Perfect juxtaposition between soaring heights and crippling depression exist in the same panel, the “yeah, I guess I could do one more line” and the waking up in bed with ten girls and no job, the nervous excitement of sexual encounter, and crippling embarrassment when it all falls apart in the instant. The daydreams and fantasies, the comical facial expressions, every detail and cast extra crowding him in to accentuate what is ultimately his seclusion in addiction. The striking black and white, the hide and seek, and the isolation in scenes like Jonathan envisioning himself buried under the World Trade Centre debris remind me of Blankets by Craig Thompson, and that is no bad thing.
On the surface, The Alcoholic is a fairly straight-forward tale of the existence of an addict as he tries to be better. But truly, it’s a deeply moving account of the very little things it takes to knock a life off-track and into a garbage can full of puke. The sweet fragility of humanity as written by Jonathan Ames, portrayed through the striking art of Dean Haspiel.
So basically, what I’m saying is, don’t be made aware of this book by this review and not read it; I’ve been stupid enough for us all. Sophie Francois