Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Quitter

Written by Harvey Pekar
Art by Dean Haspiel

I don't know how many times I considered buying this autobiographical novel (autobiographic novel?  what do we call graphic novels that aren't novels?), but kept leaving it behind.  After recently reading one of the Vertigo American Splendor books, I didn't have a particularly strong desire to read more of Pekar's work, but I figured that since this was a more focused project, it may be interesting.  Plus, I've been enjoying Haspiel's other Vertigo books of late, so I thought it was time to give it a try.

The Quitter is designed to be more of a straight autobiography, and so I'm sure it covers a lot of ground that Pekar has explored before.  For that reason, I can understand how he chose to keep the focus so tightly on his own aspirations (and his propensity to abandon them at the first sign of adversity), and therefore gloss over his marriage, and barely even mention his child.

When we meet young Harvey, he's the target of some pretty intense bullying, as one of the few Jewish kids left in a burgeoning black neighbourhood.  Harvey learns to fight, and when he moves to a safer school district, he becomes the bully.  From there, we watch two Harvey's develop, and the two are kind of incongruous.

There is the loud, brash Harvey, who has a habit of goofing off at his jobs, and gets reprimanded or fired frequently.  This Harvey is the one that would fight you in the street as soon as look at you.  The other Harvey is a nervous wreck, who will drop courses after one bad test, and who is so frozen by anxiety that he gets discharged from the Navy after only being in it for a matter of days.  It's interesting to see how Harvey operates in the world, knowing that he's always in such conflict with himself (and suffering the shame and negative self-image these problems entail).

Pekar does a good job of presenting his issues in this comic, and he uses a strangely casual, conversational tone to tell his tale.  It's odd to see his older self narrating this tale, and frequently braking the fourth wall to directly address the reader.  Haspiel deserves a lot of credit for holding this book together, and for subtly aging Harvey as he passes through the different phases of life.  This graphic novel is not as mundane as Pekar's other work, and therefore works as a solid introduction to his vast body of work.

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