Cartoon Alley: Reviews and commentary #9… by Leo Hupert

The Beats — A Graphic History

Published by Hill and Wang
US$14.95 (NZ$33.95)
Text by Harvey Pekar et al
Art by Ed Piskor et al
Reviewed by Leo Hupert

Got to say what strikes me most about this book is Harvey Pekar’s thinly concealed dislike of the beat poets Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and their hero Neal Cassady. I don’t blame him. The way they’re portrayed in this book – and I’ve no reason to doubt any of the facts presented – they don’t come across as at all likeable, let alone charismatic. Kerouac and Ginsberg appear obsessed with taking drugs and having sex – preferably with Cassady.

Perhaps Ed Piscor’s artwork lends a good deal of doom and gloom to Pekar’s straight-up no-nonsense writing style, yet the second section of this book, written and illustrated by a number of writers and artists backs up Pekar’s unspoken opinion. Phrases like ‘The beats, including Kerouac and Cassady, have a well-earned reputation as misogynists’, Kerouac, ‘bisexual in practice, was homophobic’, ‘I found Kerouac and his buddies loathsome’ and ‘these self-styled Odysseans’ would fascinate their buddies with ‘epic tales of road trips told in run-together sentences laced with amphetamine argot and jazz jargon’ leaving behind abandoned children and their mothers. You get the picture?

The book devotes 50 pages to Kerouac, Ginsberg gets 30 pages and William S Burroughs has only 20 pages probably because his interests were more clearly defined – boys and drugs.

The rest of the book, some 100 pages, comes under the heading The Beats: Perspectives and deals with lesser known Beat Generation high-flyers like Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, Robert Duncan, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, LeRoi Jones, Charles Olson, Robert Creely, Kenneth Patchen, Philip Lamantia, Gary Snyder, Diane de Prima, Slim Brundage, Jay DeFeo and Tuli Kupferberg.

Chapters have also been allocated to Bay Area poets, San Francisco’s City Lights Bookshop, Beatnik Chicks, Art Beats, Jazz and d a levy. The Pekar and Piskor team cover 10 of these chapters and, refreshingly, a number of other writers and artists take up the reins. The more notable being Jay Kinney, Summer McClinton, Peter Kuper, Mary Fleener, Jerome Neukirch, Trina Robbins, Anne Timmons and Tuli Kupferberg on himself.

As an introduction to the Beat Generation writers this book does the job well. I would have been nice to see someone more qualified to take up the artistic responsibility, someone like Robert Crumb who was very much in the thick of it at the time. Piscor, as the introduction points out, is far too young – so wasn’t around at the time, and perhaps that is evident in his work. However, a number of those who contributed to Perspectives were there and their contributions carry an authenticity, a vitriolic cynicism which would have been good to see more of. So in some ways the book represents a missed opportunity, while still being a worthwhile read.

I’ve got to add, as a declaration of disinterest, that I’ve not read Junkie or Howl and, in the past, have started but been unable to get far with Naked Lunch and On the Road despite unrestrained encouragement from someone I once helped out after their car broke down. Those few exhausting days were a blur of activity, driving from house to house, meeting people, borrowing money, spending the money, spreading good cheer, making phone calls (no cell phones then), buying flowers to appease girlfriends left waiting, writing letters explaining complicated arrangements and all the while gathering information for the great New Zealand novel – the one that needs must be written and all the while being told to read On the Road. Got to say I was glad when the car was fixed and they did get on the road.

Progress No 8

by Jared Lane
Reviewed by Leo Hupert

I‘ve just had the distinct pleasure of reading Jared Lane’s Progress Nos 1 through to 8 and I have to encourage everyone to buy copies of each issue. In fact buy lots of copies and give them away to friends. Progress is a brilliant, beautiful work, and easily the best I’ve seen coming out of New Zealand.

The A4 size, black and white, magazine features two continuing stories – ‘Living With The Abyss’, a futuristic tale set in a Christchurch of three million people and ‘The Kaiapoi Kid.’ ‘Living With The Abyss’ has been the main feature in each issue and The Kaiapoi Kid started in No 6 with a three page preview in No 5.

‘The Kaiapoi Kid’ is set on the South Island’s West Coast in the early 1880s. The gold rush has stopped rushing and things are getting grim particularly economically. The Kid is on the run, he meets up with an associate named Hayes at a played out mining town pub.They are both wanted for treason. There’s a girl and a Chinaman and a Maori hotel owner, the promise of treasure, and, of course, it’s raining. There are horses, rivers, boats, trains, mines, mystery, guns and beer and it’s raining and wet. Did I mention it’s raining?

Lane has a great touch with local scenes. The panels of Greymouth, buildings with their wooden floors and walls, pot belly stoves, churches and the vegetation are all unmistakably in New Zealand.
There’s heaps of history. There are a few panels with speech bubbles in Chinese and a few more in Maori with translations at the end of the story – a nice touch.

‘Living With The Abyss’ follows the life of university student Nathan. After he broke up with his girlfriend Jasmine, Nathan got a job as a cleaner at university. At the end of his shift he discovers a partially built robot who claims to be Jasmine, even looks like her and, well, he can’t leave her there, especially since she’s recognised him and is asking him to get her out of there… and it takes off from there.

Lane’s work is always, through all issues, fantastic. His style changes over the years. In fact, he challenges readers to identify influences. I’m not going to make a list but I will throw a few suggestion into the box. First off 2000AD, all of it. Perhaps Barry Linton, and seeing Lane has spent some time in Australia, I think I see bits of Ron Cobb and the first panel in chapter 3 reminded me of Ken Maynard.

Issues 1, 2, 3 and 4 have back up one-shots which further illustrate Lane’s talent in storywriting and art. If forced to be critical I could only point to literal errors in the early issues and some are still there in the later issues. Oh and the artwork in the latest issue No 8 appears larger, bigger. There appears to be a little less background detail and more white spaces. Not that that is a bad thing, Lane uses white and black with confidence and certainty. He doesn’t hold back and it looks great.
Can’t wait for Progress No 9.