Why We Won't Be Reviewing The Quitter

Why We Won't Be Reviewing The Quitter

The three people on The A.V. Club staff who regularly read and review comics--that would be myself, Tasha Robinson and Keith Phipps--are all, naturally, Harvey Pekar fans. As such, we couldn't be happier about the recent success that Pekar's had. The American Splendor movie was legitimately great--the filmmakers showed an innate understanding of what Pekar's life's work has been all about--and with the current boom in "art" comics and graphic novels, publishers have been lining up to sign Pekar to multi-book deals. As Pekar himself will tell you, it's not enough to quell his fears that he's going to die destitute and leave no legacy, but even he admits that he's living as comfortably as a guy of his talents should expect.

So, good for Pekar. But too bad his work's been so crummy lately. Tasha filed a justly middling review of last year's big book Our Movie Year, which compiled a bunch of scattershot, repetitive strips that Pekar wrote around the release of the American Splendor movie. And both Tasha and I were so stunned by the mediocrity of Pekar's much-hyped new graphic memoir The Quitter that we decided not to review it. Dean Haspiel's art is just fine, and there are some revelations in The Quitter about Pekar's boyhood--especially his reputation as the best fighter on the block--that fill in some gaps in his biography. But the book is too long, too unfocused, and it ends the same way all of Pekar's stories do these days, with the author bitching about his bank account. Plus, there are a handful of panels where the first-person captions directly repeat information from earlier in the book. Apparently, nobody edited this thing.

In a way it's tough for Pekar and comics creators like Pekar, whose strengths don't lie with long-form narratives. Graphic novels are what mainstream publishers know how to market to bookstores and critics, but some of the masters of the comics medium–R. Crumb, Los Bros Hernandez, Pekar, others–either excel in short stories or open-ended serials, which aren't as sexy or emotionally direct as something like Blankets. Even Pekar's previous big, sustained narrative project--Our Cancer Year--wasn't as spry and well-shaded as his best vignettes. (For more on this dilemma, look for an upcoming A.V. Club interview with Seth, where we discuss how varied creators are handling the graphic novel boom.)

Anyway, Tasha and I saw no reason to put down one of our heroes in a permanent, archived way. The only reason I bring up the book here in blog form is that I've been reading a lot of rave reviews for The Quitter, and I've seen comments on comics message boards along the lines of, "I've never read any Harvey Pekar, but I'll be sure to pick this up!" So, to all of you who are intrigued by Pekar and lured by The Quitter, let me urge you, please: Start here. Then go here. And maybe here. (I can't vouch for that last one personally.) Pekar's responsible for some of the best comics in the history of the medium. Don't quit on him because of The Quitter.

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