We’ve Got THE BEATS

We’re preparing for first publication elsewhere (newsprint lives!) a review of the Harvey Pekar-Paul Buhle collaboration The Beats: A Graphic History (Hill and Wang, hardback, $22) . Our love for all things Beat made its arrival an event, especially after Pekar’s honest and enlightening history of the SDS . (Frankly, we found the last run of Pekar’s American Splendor series from Vertigo in 2008 something of a disappointment…it was as if Pekar had exhausted the ways to make his  stories relevant).  The Beats‘ first section was somewhat unsatisfying. Sure, we love Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg. And the way Pekar has made no-man-is-an-island connections between them emphasizes the communal effort that made Beat literature a true movement. But in light of all the excellent (and not so) biographies of these three and books on the Beat generation in general, we were a bit disappointed in the simplistic, boilerplate hash of their lives. Buhle and Pekar acknowledge as much in the book’s intro:

“The book before you is a comic art production with no pretension to the depth of coverage and literary interpretation presented by hundreds of scholarly books in many languages, a literature also constantly growing. It has a different virtue, curiously in line, somehow, with the original vernacular popularization of the Beats.”

So we were ready to forgive the summary treatment, especially if the book introduces a new generation to an important artistic, political and social movement that could inspire them to resist the contemporary brand of square American conformity. As we read on, any reservations we might have had disappeared. The book’s second hundred pages entitled “The Beats: Perspectives” places a heavy emphasis on the era’s poets and the important role of women to both its creative achievement and social consciousness. Poets Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, Robert Duncan, Gregory Corso, Charles Olson and others, not all of them necessarily pegged as Beats, are given brief, respectful treatment. Joyce Brabner’s “Beatnik Chicks” is an eyes-open view to the contributions and hardships, not to mention stereotyping, faced by women of the movement. Pekar and Mary Fleener’s chapter on poet Diane di Prima, first seen in Everett Rand and Gioia Palmieri’s spring 2008 edition of Mineshaft (a great publication true to the underground comics and literary spirit…it regularly features R. Crumb, Bill Griffith, Kim Deitch and others…find it here). Fleener’s spiritualistic surrealism is worth the hardback’s $22 tariff by itself. In other words, we highly recommend The Beats for both old hands and initiates alike.—Cabbage Rabbit

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