Graphic novel fans need no longer speculate about "the missing years of Harvey Pekar." In The Quitter, the author of the American Book Award-winning series American Splendor tells the story of his troubled teenage years. This book-length autobiographical comic presents the enigmatic, sometimes self-destructive Pekar as a self-doubting work-in-progress.
The New Yorker
Pekar’s downbeat chronicle of his life, “American Splendor,” has achieved classic status, but this memoir of his early years is less consistently effective. Pekar is a master of moments captured in a few frames, and his talent seems less suited to a longer narrative. Still, he retains his ability to make the reader sympathize and wince, as when his Communist mother doesn’t understand his need for emotional support after some black kids beat him up. He writes about becoming resigned to boring jobs, wiping out of the Navy, worrying about money. “I still wonder today how I’m going to get by the next several years,” he says, and the book is really an acknowledgment that sometimes all a person can do, his whole life, is get by.
Pekar's work, memorialized in the movie American Splendor, is an ongoing chronicle of his life in all its quotidian glory. Until now, he's only written nonfiction vignettes of his life as a jazz-loving slacker. The strength of Pekar's work is in his depiction of moments, but you have to read a great deal of it to understand the overall arc. This autobiographical full-length comic amends that problem, providing the missing overview: a searingly honest memoir of a smart but troubled boy who depends on quitting any time he might fail-a strategy that eventually leads to a near-nervous breakdown after he joins the navy. But Pekar doesn't dwell on his anxiety with the look-at-me tantrums of Philip Roth or Woody Allen-he's not that indulgent. Pekar's frequent artistic collaborator Haspiel provides the square-jawed, nebbishy characters, drawn with a fat, '60s line, giving a sharp-edged sense of the frustration and tension of an immigrant midcentury boyhood. This book is full of the deeply flawed but sympathetic characters that populate Pekar's work: his hard-working but oblivious parents, an overrated tough guy Pekar beats up, the jazz writer who gives him an outlet away from being a street tough. Pekar's work dignifies the struggle of the average man, and this book shows how that dignity is earned. (Oct.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Pekar digs deep into his childhood to find the roots of his desperate fear of failure. Anyone who's read even a few pages of Pekar's voluminous ongoing graphic biography, American Splendor, knows that they're not dealing with a happy man. What they might be a little taken aback to learn, after reading this book, is just how exceptionally angry he is. This is a guy who grew up using his fists almost as often as his tirade-prone mouth. Given a bright, dramatic graphic treatment by Haspiel, this depicts Pekar growing up after World War II in Mount Pleasant, a Jewish and Italian Cleveland neighborhood that was becoming predominantly African-American. Pekar, just about the only white kid on the street, routinely gets into street fights. By the time he gets to high school, far from developing a sensitive artistic temperament, all he wants is to be a fighter, and he goes out of his way looking for guys to wallop. At the same time, his crippling insecurities start to take hold, and he begins to sabotage himself time and again, all to avoid failure. Once out in the working world, he keeps screwing around and acting the clown, behavior that could come as a surprise to those familiar only with his more dour later work (Pekar, it seems, wasn't always a grumpy old man). Eventually, the more familiar elements of his life are brought together: the brief flirtation with beatnik hipsterdom, the series of dead-end jobs, the continual, torturous worry about money and respect. It's all handled with Pekar's usual self-mocking, breezy forthrightness, as though he's got no time to mess around by playing nice. One frame shows him peering anxiously into his mailbox, wondering, "Boy, I'd a thought someone would'vewritten me a letter about my new book by now."A lean and angry work, anchored by a mellowing sense of self-discovery.