Comics / Comic Reviews / DC Comics

The Alcoholic, We Are What We Do


By Henry Chamberlain
February 9, 2009 - 10:20

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"We are what we repeatedly do," said Aristotle and Jonathan Ames answers back with The Alcoholic. The title alone declares confession and that is what Ames does in his writing complimented by the art of Dean Haspiel. I say there can never be enough auto-bio comics since everyone has a story to tell. When a memoir is told as a graphic novel, you have that added punch of graphics and text intermingled. In this book, Haspiel is the perfect drinking buddy to Ames as he acts as his wingman. In collaborative efforts, sometimes the art and writing seem to rival each other as in a face off between such heavyweights as Harvey Pekar and Robert Crumb. In this book, the writing leads the story.

One page melts into another as Ames and Haspiel work together beginning with an unfortunate coupling of a drunken middle-aged Ames with an elderly dwarf which leads to some pivotal flashbacks. We see Ames's first sexual connection is after yet another night of heavy drinking with his best, and only, friend in high school. The interlude between the two boys disturbs them both while blazing individual paths that each must take to its logical conclusion years, decades, into the future. As we all are, by eighteen, Ames is equipped with the talents and torments that will last a lifetime. He already knows that he wants to be a writer, having found inspiration from Hunter S. Thompson and Jack Kerouac. He also discovers the pleasures of the opposite sex.

Ames goes on to Yale, a number of girlfriends, a decent social life and even a couple of Hemingway-like bar fights. Maybe it's his troubled youth or it's in his DNA but misgivings prevail. He graduates with a low C average, works at the main library on campus and continues to dream of becoming a writer. Then, only two months after graduating, his parents are killed in a car accident. Ames now enters the next phase of his life as he befriends his great aunt in New York and keeps searching for meaning in his life.

In the next decade, Ames becomes a famous mystery writer. He is more comfortable with himself but he has not moved past the bottle. As an adult, he is still as vulnerable as he was at his first kegger. It is no surprise that, at middle-age, he finds himself utterly, and understandably, transfixed by a pretty girl of twenty-three. The romance appears quite joyous as it develops over nine months but what keeps it moving beyond the physical is not addressed. Like Montaigne, Ames is an astute confessor, knowing what details to hold back and what to imply. When his lover decides to move because of a job offer, whatever substance the relationship had evaporates.

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Will their love last?

His lover is never given a proper name since it's too painful for Ames to provide her with one. He can only name her by the city she happens to live in as her work moves her across the country. For awhile, she is known as "San Francisco" and lastly as "Seattle." That she may have only been a small comfort, Ames won't admit but that's all she proves to have been. She seems most profound as a metaphor for what Ames yearns for in life.

The fleeting entanglements, concerns and preoccupations of a celebrated alcoholic writer. Some things are too hard to admit but they can at least be implied. Ames, like any writer worth his salt, can lay himself bare while not revealing everything. His name in the book, afterall, is slightly altered to "Jonathan A." providing poetic license. And, from this experience, Ames is all the better and wiser for it.  With the drinking, there also came from it even more writing. As the rest of the Aristotle quote goes, "Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit."   

Rating: 10 /10


Last Updated: June 23, 2021 - 00:45

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