Panel to Panel
By Nathan Patton
The drink, lost loves and thinning hair
A good story and exceptional art
Authors: Jonathan Ames and Dean Haspiel
“The Alcoholic” is acclaimed novelist Jonathan Ames’ first graphic novel and it shows. But even if he hasn’t yet learned how to utilize the medium to its full potential, his symbiotic collaboration with cartoonist Dean Haspiel delivers a fascinating read and one of the best graphic novels of last year.
The book focuses on Jonathan A., a writer with bad luck and even worse decision-making skills. His love affair with alcohol begins in high school with the taste of a single beer and the change in him that it brings. We follow the evolution his alcoholism as it takes control of his life and starts making those bad decisions for him. Page after page, bad choice after bad choice, we root for him to finally straighten out. But life keeps kicking him down and escape is always the easiest decision.
Despite the title, the book isn’t solely about Jonathan’s battle with alcoholism. We also witness him dealing with death, illness, lost loves and thinning hair with equal amounts of seriousness and humor.
And unlike in a lot of fiction, there’s nothing glamorous about his drinking. Most of the time, we see the effect rather than the cause. He has severe stomach problems and constant blackouts as a result of his addiction. And yet, he can’t seem to stop himself even while being fully aware of his problem.
The author plays coy with just how autobiographical the book is, but I suspect the name of the protagonist is a perfect gauge of how much truth to the story there is.
Ames’ writing is witty and never boring, but he relies way too much on distracting narratives and storytelling devices, none of which are necessary because of his collaborator. The most valuable player of this book is clearly Dean Haspiel. Even if Ames doesn’t always allow the art to do its job, Haspiel still manages to bring a weight to the expressions and situations that couldn’t have been gotten from a novel.
While Ames’ has a long way to go before he’s mastered the medium, he has proven that he is a fantastic storyteller and, along with Haspiel, has delivered an exceptional first graphic novel.