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Monday, February 13, 2012

"The Quitter", Harvey Pekar's unexpected victory

The Quitter- Harvey Pekar, with Dean Haspiel

I don't believe Harvey Pekar needs to be introduced, at least to anyone with a little interest on comic books/graphic novels. After launching the series “American Splendor” in 1976, in collaboration with cartoonist Robert Crumb (among others) he became an underground celebrity. If you want to know more about it, I vividly recommend you to watch "American Splendor", the excellent 2005 movie with Paul Giamatti as Pekar.

Pekar became a reference in the comic books world with his biographic, realistic, everyday life stories. "The Quitter" follows that path. It's a personal trip to his childhood, adolescence, manhood, with glimpses of his later years, told by the older Pekar, narrator and interjecting presence.

Autobiographies could be very boring if they can't connect with the reader. But that is not the case with "The Quitter". First, because Harvey Pekar, if anything, should be remembered as a particularly good storyteller, making this memoir intriguing and attractive to read. Second, because of the excellent (especially with facial expressions, revealing so much) work of illustrator Dean Haspiel, who's remarkable and varied talent mixes wisely with the narration. And third, because the book might be an autobiography on the surface, but it is done through a very specific prism: failure and the fear it provokes.

As told by himself, Pekar's life can be resumed as a succession of activities and possibilities that turn wrong, the majority of them with our unlikely "hero" quitting when shortcomings have or might appear. Sports, the Navy, many part-time jobs, college... Everything turns into a failure, everything slips away. With that structure, it could have worked as an humorous (grim humour of course) novel, but the suffering, the anxiety confronting or advancing each situation is so real, that "The Quitter" quickly reveals itself as a dramatic and mundane tale of human condition. Pekar is a very contradictory character: full of ambition and ego, but frightened to death to do what it takes to achieve his goal because of the chance of failing. Aren't we all a bit like him (at least sometimes)?

Of course, we know the end of the story (jazz, meeting Robert Crumb, working together), and how his lack of persistence eventually gave Pekar finding the are where he could excel: the graphic novels world. But even then, when in the hands of another author that would become a succeeding example of finally finding what one has been looking for (sort of an "American dream" tale), Pekar manages to  bring doubt, uncertainty and fear for the future. Would the success last? For how long? What if...?

Don't have many complaints to point out to "The Quitter". Its an absorbing, vivid and direct portray of someone so recognisable as a person that immediately connects with you. If any, I would have liked a much longer story, developing much further his latest years. Or a more detailed account of the "pivotal persons" of his life, which are almost non-existent. But I guess that's another example of Harvey Pekar's unexpected victory. He managed to do what he wanted with his art, the same as he did with his life.

SCORE: 7,25/10

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