Rarely does a collaboration produce a graphic novel of such literary and artistic merit.
Ames (Wake Up, Sir!, 2004, etc.) has distinguished himself as both a novelist and an essayist/journalist with a confessional intimacy and self-deprecating humor that sometimes blurs the line between memoir and fiction. He has found his artistic match in Haspiel, who brought a revelatory new dimension to the graphic memoirs of Harvey Pekar (The Quitter, 2006). Here, the whole is even better than the anticipated sum of its parts, with Ames exploring darker depths than he has in previous work, matched by Haspiel’s noir-ish black-and-white illustrations, which make the lacerating, brutally funny story of a lovesick, self-destructive writer come alive on the page. With a protagonist named Jonathan A., the narrative invites the reader to identify the fictional novelist with his creator, though the string of mysteries penned by A. don’t match the literary output of Ames. Yet it matters little what of this is “true” in the factual sense—the drugged-out debauchery, the coming-of-age sexuality, the opening tryst with an elderly woman that launches a series of flashbacks—for the truth of art rather than autobiography provides the richness here. In the wake of September 11, the self-absorbed narrator finds revelation outside himself: “It’s perhaps too apt a metaphor, but collectively man was like a giant alcoholic—he knew better but he couldn’t help but destroy himself and everything around him.” The protagonist’s attempts to come to terms with the tragedy as well as his addictions include cameos by President Bill Clinton and (hilariously) Monica Lewinsky. If the dinner with the latter never happened, it should have. There’s also an orgy instigated by students at the school where the writer attempts to find refuge, and where he discovers that five women can’t help him forget one. And there’s a tender undercurrent throughout of a boyhood friendship complicated by suppressed homosexuality.
Could be the most compelling and provocative work from either collaborator.