Monday, September 8, 2008

Graphic Novel Monday: The Quitter, by Harvey Pekar

The Quitter, written by Harvey Pekar and illustrated by Dean Haspiel. Published 2005 by DC Comics. Nonfiction. Memoir.

You may know Harvey Pekar from the hit movie "American Splendor", which came out in 2003 and starred Paul Giamatti as the cantankerous file clerk from Cleveland who writes autobiographical graphic novels illustrated by such luminaries as R. Crumb and Joe Sacco. The Quitter is the story of his childhood and early adulthood, from school and the Navy to adulthood and writing comics.

Pekar grew up in a blue-collar section of Cleveland in the 1940s and 1950s, son of Jewish immigrants from Poland who ran a store and tried to stay true shtetl life while young Harvey just wanted to fit in. Despite being blessed with a near-photographic memory, Harvey struggled in school, got into fights as a way to prove himself. He was bounced out of the navy and worked a series of jobs, all the while nurturing his love of jazz music (and getting paid to write about it) and hanging out with beatniks.
to Polish

The Quitter is illustrated in black and white with chiaroscuro, angular characters and scenery. Haspiel does a nice job creating mood and capturing the look of the 1950s. Pekar's language throughout is raw and honest; he beats himself up and tries to lay bare his flaws, but still comes across as a pretty likable, ordinary guy. If you've seen "American Splendor" you will recognize his voice immediately. Even in print he speaks in his own distinctive cadence- rough around the edges but smart and world-weary yet optimistic. I could almost hear Pekar speaking the lines as I read; his gravelly voice seemed to come right through the pages.

The Quitter is a great book- a very important graphic novel by a very important underground comics writer- but like many, not one for the kids. It's a distinctively grown-up story about growing up, making your mark and coming of age in America. Pekar's life story is fascinating and unique yet ordinary at the same time and his story touches on themes like immigration and finding one's place in the world- things we all can relate to. "Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff," Pekar says. Definitely recommended reading!

Rating: BUY

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.