Sunday, April 22, 2012

THE BEATS, A Graphic History

I hate to publish a less than positive review of work by any writer or artist I generally admire. However, I am so glad that THE BEATS will not go down as Harvey Pekar's last work, because it really was uninspired and not very good.

When I first heard about this book, it was described to me as a volume that looked upon the writers and artists who are known today as "the Beats" in a less than positive light, showing what lowlifes they truly were. If that had been the case, then the book would likely have been a better read.

All of the fans of the Beats (and I include myself among them) first look upon that lot as adventurous sorts out to prove themselves as rebels and to live outrageous and courageous lives. However, the more I read of them, and the more of their work that I read, it became obvious to me that they were--by and large--a bunch of creeps. Frankly, I would not have wished to have spent any time in the company of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, or the rest of the bunch.

They were--for want of a better term--scum of the Earth. They were not only devious in their dealings with society at large, they were deviants in almost every way one can imagine. They swilled too much alcohol, took too many illegal drugs; they stole money, food, cars--anything they needed. Some of them were murderers, or were comfortable being in the company of murderers--basically they didn't seem to care. A disturbing number of them were rapists and child molesters.

THE BEATS, quite the disappointing biography.
If a book had been written specifically listing these facts and rubbing the collective noses of their fans in this hard evidence, then the book might have been a success.

Alas, it did not really do these things, and the final product was rather bland. Instead of creating a work of insight and courage, Pekar and company ended up leaving us with what amounts to a boring drone of a book. It doesn't help that the artwork--mainly by Ed Piskor--is similarly uninspired. Piskor's graphics were pretty much as boring as the text, which is a shame. So much could have been done with the subject matter if only the contributors had been able to peel themselves away from the worship and awe with which so many of us use when regarding the Beats.

In point of fact, the Beats were a nigh-worthless lot of lucky criminals and assholes. That they found fame and success and were later to stand with the highest of the high is strange and wonderful in many ways, and stunning in so many others. I wish that had been the book Pekar and his collaborators had produced. If so, it would have been fun to read instead of merely boring.

The only section of the book that does break out of the mold set by Pekar was the piece focusing on "the Beat Chicks" by Joyce Brabner. She did in that one small section what I wish all involved had done when offered this chance to shine a new and more vicious light on that circle of crazy friends.

As I said, I'm very happy that this was not Pekar's last word. just sent me an email that HARVEY PEKAR'S CLEVELAND has shipped. In a day or so I'll have his newest graphic novel, one dealing with his lifelong city of residence and from which I have read excerpts. It stands to be a real gem of a book, and a fitting addition to the Pekar bookshelf.


MarkGelbart said...

Before he died, Pekar did an episode of Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations," on the Travel Channel.

They toured Cleveland together.

If you haven't seen that one, you might want to catch it.

Cable series like that get rerun millions of times.

HemlockMan said...

Nope, I never even heard of that! Of course I was away from the comic book scene for so many years and so completely that I would have missed any ads or promotion for that.

I'll look around for that episode.

I can't wait to get my copy of CLEVELAND. I'm hoping it arrives today.