Giraffes in my Hair: a Rock ‘n’ Roll Life


By Bruce Paley & Carol Swain (Fantagraphics Books)
ISBN: 978-1-60669-162-6

Biographies are usually about interesting people and/or interesting times. Or at least famous ones. That makes this fascinating new book relating the incredible life-on-the-edge of ordinary hippie Bruce Paley an engrossing double-threat. Paley isn’t a superstar, he’s just a guy who turned 18 during the Summer of Love, bummed and scammed his way across America, saw some bands, met some girls, narrowly dodged the Draft and had a few memorable experiences along the way.

Captivatingly illustrated by Paley’s partner Carol Swain in her trademark monochrome line and textures style, we see his highs and lows: life as heroin addict, hookers and Black Panthers, getting by in crappy jobs, following the ever-changing music scene and even the rare brushes with real fame we’ve all experienced: in this case a short, intense friendship with doomed rock star Johnny Thunders.

Paley isn’t a particularly likable guy, but he and his life are real and human and worth recording – and this small saga of someone surviving some of our most turbulent times is a magical testament to creativity, durability and human adaptability. This is a captivating story and a brilliant use of our medium…

© 2009 Bruce Paley and Carol Swain. All rights Reserved.

Best of American Splendor

Best of American Splendor 

By Harvey Pekar and various (Titan Books)
ISBN 1-84576-096-4

Harvey Pekar is something of a conundrum. By his own reasoning and admission he is a fairly ordinary working stiff, just trying to get by. For all of his life he has had a “real job” and a “real life”. His comic scripts are introspective, and let’s be honest, not illustrated in a manner guaranteed to suck in the average comic fan, but his comics are always beguiling, intriguing and utterly readable. By telling tales and sharing thoughts he has managed to make an everyday world extraordinary.

This compilation features strips from 1990 to 2004 and is the usual, unusual mix of self-exploration, reminiscence and social trivia blended with some more of his compelling potted histories and commentaries of historically “lost” figures from literature, sports and music. This ability to impart his obvious fascination and empathy for other creators unjustly forgotten and critically downtrodden (like himself?) may simply point to personal bias. Maybe he is championing those he feels have been similarly mistreated, or does it perhaps go deeper than that?

Here is a creator inarguably obsessed with achievement and the justice of recognition, but he is not saying “Hey, look. You’re doing to me what you did to them!” Here is someone who simply perceives genuine worth that needs to be revered and shared, just doing his bit to make it right.

As for my earlier crack about the art, please don’t misunderstand. The artists are not pikers, they just aren’t cranking out your everyday fancy-dan, computer-coddled, mutant fan-boy fodder. The illustrators here include Dean Haspiel, Josh Neufeld, Joe Sacco, David Collier, Gerry Shamray, Sam Hurt, Joe Zabel, Gary Dumm, Paul Mavrides, Alex Wald, J. R. Stats, Jim Woodring, Carole Sobocinski, Scott A. Gilbert and even Spain. If you read comics broadly rather than stockpile fanatically, you will know most of these names. Hopefully you also know their other work.

The stories themselves range from slice of life single gags, to the familiar recollections and ruminations, from short yarns describing the authors’ close brushes with fame and security, to the extended and deeply moving “TransAtlantic Comics” co-pencilled and inked in two sections by Frank Stack and Colin Warneford. This gem alone is worth the price of admission. The stories set at comic conventions where Pekar was in attendance are horribly familiar and should serve as a warning to any comic collector who retains a semblance of rationality.

If graphic novels are ever to attain the critical, let alone popular acceptance of their picture-free namesakes, it is going to be because of creators like Pekar. I’m unsure of the value of a review such as this, in a venue like this one, to change the minds of notoriously close-minded comics fans, (and yes I regretfully include myself in that description) but I live in hope. Perhaps I’ve convinced you to try something a little different. To paraphrase this most extraordinary man himself, and his philosophy on Jazz, “You either get it or you don’t”. You should get it.

© 2005 Harvey Pekar LLC. All Rights Reserved.

The Quitter

By Harvey Pekar & Dean Haspiel

Vertigo

The cartoon phenomenon that is Harvey Pekar once again breaks boundaries in an industry that operates so much these days on the assumption that most creators do their best work in the first flush of youth.

The Quitter is a bleak, coldly funny and often painful self-examination of a troubled and driven young outsider Everyman in a society gradually becoming a bit of a disappointment. All the trademark Pekar concerns are present: success with women, financial security, success in relationships, history, literature, success in a culture that won’t tolerate failure – or even mediocrity – and respect, all viewed through the fresh eyes of a troubled adolescent.  Pekar’s subtle mastery, gloriously illustrated by the simply magical black and white artwork of Dean Haspiel, is to convey these dark themes in a compelling and frankly joyous manner.

Always gripping, never depressing, and utterly absorbing, The Quitter is, as its hype describes, some of his best work yet, and I’m fervently praying that there’s much, much more to come.

© 2005 Harvey Pekar & Dean Haspiel.  All Rights Reserved.