Harvey Pekar's ongoing cold war against himself and a world that abides such an infuriating creature turns hot in his gripping new coming-of-age graphic novel, The Quitter.
Pekar, the cantankerous retired V.A. hospital file clerk best known for his pioneering, autobiographical comic book series "American Splendor" and the award-winning film of the same name, this time turns his obsessive attention and compulsive honesty on his own origin tale: an account of his neurotic and unexpectedly violent upbringing in the '40s and '50s as the child of Jewish-Polish immigrants on the mean streets of Cleveland.
Making confident use of the graphic novel format — the comic book-derived, adult-oriented, long form medium he helped develop over the last thirty years — Pekar weaves together brisk narrative, compelling storytelling, and penetrating, almost clinical, psychological observation into a sophisticated, satisfying whole. Artist Dean Haspiel deftly conjures into visual form the writer's scenarios and provides an additional, independent layer of commentary on the Pekar persona in a vivid, detailed style that beautifully synthesizes caricature, realism, and lurid comic-type action.
The book's opening is a telling example of the format's possibilities. An illustration of the contemporary Pekar shambles wordlessly across frame one, stops and turns away from us in frame two, ponders pensively in frame three, then in frame four, dressed in his traditional checked work shirt, faces the reader with his right hand jammed into his pocket, his left hand outstretched — at once plaintive and matter-of-fact — and says (in bubble caption), "I was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 8, 1939, five weeks after the World War II started. [new bubble] For what that's worth to anyone."
In just four images and a few words we know much about Pekar and the tale ahead: he has a lot on his mind, he is (with some reluctance) going to tell us about it, he is well aware of the possibility that we may not give a fig, and he — an aging, ethnic, urban Midwest, blue-collar type — is going back to the beginning, HIS beginning, and we can follow along if we like.