The Beats: A Graphic History

The Beats: A Graphic History

by Harvey Pekar, Ed Piskor
     
 

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In The Beats: A Graphic History, those who were mad to live have come back to life through artwork as vibrant as the Beat movement itself. Told by the comic legend Harvey Pekar, his frequent artistic collaborator Ed Piskor, and a range of artists and writers, including the feminist comic creator Trina Robbins and the Mad magazine artist Peter

Overview

In The Beats: A Graphic History, those who were mad to live have come back to life through artwork as vibrant as the Beat movement itself. Told by the comic legend Harvey Pekar, his frequent artistic collaborator Ed Piskor, and a range of artists and writers, including the feminist comic creator Trina Robbins and the Mad magazine artist Peter Kuper, The Beats takes us on a wild tour of a generation that, in the face of mainstream American conformity and conservatism, became known for its determined uprootedness, aggressive addictions, and startling creativity and experimentation.

What began among a small circle of friends in New York and San Francisco during the late 1940s and early 1950s laid the groundwork for a literary explosion, and this striking anthology captures the storied era in all its incarnations—from the Benzedrine-fueled antics of Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs to the painting sessions of Jay DeFeo's disheveled studio, from the jazz hipsters to the beatnik chicks, from Chicago's College of Complexes to San Francisco's famed City Lights bookstore. Snapshots of lesser-known poets and writers sit alongside frank and compelling looks at the Beats' most recognizable faces. What emerges is a brilliant collage of—and tribute to—a generation, in a form and style that is as original as its subject.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Editor Paul Buhle's graphic history The Beats--with riffs from cats such as Harvey Pekar and Trina Robbins--burns like a Roman candle.” —Vanity Fair

The Beats is as fresh and pertinent as the latest scholarly history, only far more entertaining.” —Studs Terkel

“A new angle on a familiar story . . . [The Beats] gives the hipsters back their body language. In a book that is largely about license and the enlightened rebel, it is easy to find reflections of both in the graphic form.” —John Leland, The New York Times Book Review

“Well researched and . . . absorbing.” —Richard Pachter, The Miami Herald

“Eye-catching . . . An illustrated look back at a very real part of American pop-culture history, when beat culture of the '40s and '50s--sandwiched between the improvisational nature of jazz and the recklessness of rock 'n' roll--began to speak to a part of a generation at odds with mainstream society. One word sums it up: Cool.” —Cary Darling, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The Beats: A Graphic History is everything a radical history should be: critical, admiring, quirky and apologetic . . . From cover to cover, The Beats is a wonderful history of a complicated and misunderstood cultural movement--its achievements, its place in history, its flaws and its brilliance. The graphic novel format is perfect for the subject--straddling the line between respectability and disreputableness just as the Beats themselves did.” —Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing

“History with a deeper perspective . . . This fearless, substantial history entertains as it uncovers.” —Carlo Wolff, The Boston Globe

“Combines nuts-and-bolts prose with outstanding art . . . The Beats manages to make the scene new again on the sheer strength of artistic play.” —Richard Gehr, Columbia Journalism Review

“This lively graphic history spotlights the 1950s youth revolt that said no to conformity and opened the way to a new world of unfettered imagination.” —Franklin Rosemont, cofounder of the Chicago Surrealist Group

“Capturing the flavor of that poetic era with style and wit, The Beats is a slice of countercultural history that's enhanced by its unique visual format.” —Paul Krassner, author of One Hand Jerking: Reports from an Investigative Satirist

“This graphic history has a grittiness and attention to difficult anecdote that brings a classic American romantic venture, with all its deviant sexual and economic ‘crazy wisdom,' down to the gritty realism of pen-and-ink earth.” —Edward Sanders, author of America: A History in Verse

“Turns hipster history into a digestible, fun read.” —Kathleen Pierce, Lowell Sun (Massachusetts)

“At its best, which is quite good indeed, The Beats reflects the creative energy of the movement it chronicles.” —Peter Gutiérrez, Graphic Novel Reporter

The Beats stands as an ambitiously constructed, clever tribute.” —Matthew Schniper, Colorado Springs Independent

The Beats serves to introduce an American cultural phenomenon to a new audience while giving some of its less well-known players fresh exposure . . . The comics celebrate the individuals that made up the anti-establishment of the times and whose art and social action outlives them. The stories are drawn by an eclectic mix of cartoonists and told by characters--including Pekar--every bit as individualistic as their subjects.” —Cabbage Rabbit, Cabbage Rabbit Review of Books & Music

“A well-informed, engaging, and dynamic presentation of the core precursors and descendants of the Beat ethos in both literary and popular American life . . . Belongs in every library where any Beat literature has a home. This is a perfect gateway to both the art and the era for today's teens to access the Beat world.” —Francisca Goldsmith, School Library Journal

author of One Hand Jerking: Reports from an In Paul Krassner
Capturing the flavor of that poetic era with style and wit, The Beats is a slice of countercultural history that's enhanced by its unique visual format.
John Leland
…the medium provides a new angle on a familiar story, in a voice more directly empathetic than those of many prose histories. It gives the hipsters back their body language. In a book that is largely about license and the enlightened rebel, it is easy to find reflections of both in the graphic form. The panels, which are flat and often horrific, capture the dullness and insanity not only of the lives the Beats sought to escape but of the ones they made in their place. The Beats here inhabit a world that looks a lot like Harvey Pekar's Cleveland. No wonder they had to go go go and not stop till they got there.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Well researched and earnest, this book might work best as a superficial Cliffs Notes on the beats, but in no way does it inspire or open the mind as the works of the authors covered do. Much of this volume feels like leftovers from coauthor Pekar's American Splendor, and one wonders if that magazine's "drab and normal" style of illustration is appropriate for the more adventurous/experimental/flamboyant beats. Nor does it help that the art used on the best-known authors (Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs) feels rushed, with little detail and little variation. Because Joyce Brabner's script about "Beatnik Chicks" takes a genuinely critical eye to an aspect of the beats others prefer to ignore-their rampant sexism- it's probably the best and most passionate writing in the collection, with Jerome Neukirch's art for the bio of proto-beat Slim Brundage being the artistic standout illustrations. Lance Tooks, Peter Kuper and Nick Thorkelson also make strong contributions, while Jeffrey Lewis's story on poet/musician Tuli Kupferberg is a wonderful puzzle piece to work through; it's the most ambitious entry and may be the truest to the artistic vision of the beats themselves. (Mar.)

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School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up–Buhle has brought together a heady group of writers and artists to create a well-informed, engaging, and dynamic presentation of the core precursors and descendants of the Beat ethos in both literary and popular American life. The first half of the volume, drawn by Piskor, interweaves the development, achievements, and interactions of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and, to a lesser degree, William S. Burroughs. Details such as Kerouac’s left-handedness and Ginsberg’s changing physique across his life span are shown, while snippets from their writings are suitably incorporated into the text, which is both discursive and critical. The remainder of the volume comprises 22 pieces, most by Pekar, exploring related figures, like Michael McClure and Lawrence Ferlinghetti; contemporaries whose personal circumstances varied enough from the core of Beats to demand artistic and life expressions that differed from the canonical Beat identity, including LeRoi Jones, Diane di Prima, and Kenneth Patchen; and related arts including visual and jazz. Joyce Brabner, Trina Robbins, Peter Kuper, and Lance Tooks are among the 17 contributors to the volume, which belongs in every library where any Beat literature has a home. This is a perfect gateway to both the art and the era for today’s teens to access the Beat world.–Francisca Goldsmith, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia
Kirkus Reviews
An illustrated tour of the world of hepcats, bongo bangers and other denizens of the bohemian 1950s. The culture of the '50s really began in the '40s, when Jack Kerouac started palling around with Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and others of their experimental, countercultural ilk. Fittingly, Pekar (Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History, 2008, etc.) and Buhle (American Civilization/Brown Univ.; editor: Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography, 2008, etc.) begin this pen-and-ink survey of Beat Generation icons with that trio. Their exploits will be well-known to readers familiar with their contributions to literature. In the hands of the profoundly dyspeptic Pekar, however, the less-than-appealing aspects of the three-Kerouac's alcoholism and right-wing extremism, Ginsberg's pederasty, Burroughs's bad aim with a pistol-are laid bare. But we still read their work and that of many of their contemporaries, and one of the best things about this collection by various hands-including art by noted underground cartoonist Jay Kinney and text by surrealist doyenne Penelope Rosemont-is that it elevates lesser-known figures tied to Kerouac and company. Among those are Kenneth Rexroth (who pointedly asked not to be numbered among the Beats, but has been labeled so evermore all the same), Diane Di Prima, Michael McClure, Kenneth Patchen, Amiri Baraka (then LeRoi Jones), Gary Snyder, Philip Lamantia and even Tuli Kupferberg, beatified octogenarian and rabble-rousing Fug. Again, this roster will harbor no surprises for those who know the Beats, but those who do not may be surprised at how varied the movement was-and how different its East and West Coast branches were. The only seriousdrawback is that few of the drawn figures look much like their real-life counterparts. Instead, it seems, they are shifted one contemporary to the left-Ginsberg looks like William Gaines, Kerouac like Gregory Corso, Patti Smith like Joan Baez, and so on. A worthy introduction to the makers of Howl, Naked Lunch, On the Road, Turtle Island and a small library's worth of enduring books.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780809016495
Publisher:
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
04/13/2010
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
208
Sales rank:
557,739
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

Harvey Pekar is best known for his graphic autobiography, American Splendor, based on his long-running comic-book series that was turned into a 2003 film of the same name. Paul Buhle is a senior lecturer at Brown University.

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