The graphic novel The Beats: A Graphic History by author Harvey Pekar, editor Paul Buhle, and illustrator Ed Piskor is an astonishing look into the lives of those who helped to form the Beat generation, including Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and even the women of the Beats, known as the Beatnik Chicks (160). The graphic novel follows the life of Jack Kerouac after he moved from Lowell, Massachusetts to New York in 1939, where Kerouac would enjoy jazz music and later meet many of his future Beatniks.
The graphic novel takes a turn with the later chapters of the novel by focusing more on the unknown elements of the Beats generation, including the Beatnik Chicks, who Kerouac had met either in New York or San Francisco, and even small timers like artist Jay Defeo and writer Michael McClure. The graphic novel is highlighted by Pekar’s writing that emphasizes the disillusionment with society that many people felt during the Beats generation, which could explain the reason the Beats generation was able to gain so much traction during its time.
In Pekar’s writing of the graphic history novel, The Beats: A Graphic History, there seems to be very little bias throughout the book, which highlights both the dark and light sides of Jack Kerouac, who dealt with drug addiction and anger problems throughout his life. Pekar’s writing also gives the impression that he is advocating freedom, individuality, and the evils of societal temptations. The astonishing writing and illustration in the graphic novel would make it a useful tool for upper level high school students or college freshman.
The graphic novel is also unique as one of the few graphic history books based on the Beats generation both written and illustrated in a graphic novel form, since many books on the subject are just in the written form. The author of The Beats: A Graphic History, Harvey Pekar, was born in Cleveland, Ohio on October 8, 1939, and was the oldest son of immigrants from Poland, Saul and Dora Pekar. As a child, Pekar learned Yiddish as his first language, which allowed him to read and appreciate books in the language.
After graduating high school from Shaker Heights in 1957, Pekar attended Case Western Reserve University, where he dropped out after a year in college to join the United States Navy. After being discharged from the United States Navy, Pekar returned to Cleveland, where he worked various odd jobs before finally being hired to work at the Cleveland Veteran’s Administration (V. A. ) Hospital. Pekar held his job at the Cleveland V. A. until he finally retired in 2001, and worked the job even after he became famous.
Harvey Pekar was best known as an underground comic book writer, which differed from other mainstream comic writers for their often socially relevant and satirical in nature writing. Harvey Pekar’s most famous creation was his autobiographical comic book series from 1972, American Splendor, which Pekar collaborated with his longtime friend and illustrator, Robert Crumb. American Splendor told the story of Pekar’s everyday life in Cleveland, as he worked at the V. A. , and detailed the numerous wild relationships that Pekar had with colleagues and patients.
Pekar’s major success didn’t come until the early 2000’s, when the film adaption of American Splendor was released in 2003, which led to the re-release of Pekar’s autobiographical comic series by DC Comics in 2006. When writing the graphic history novel, The Beats: A Graphic History, Pekar consulted with biographies and other written works about the lives of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S. Burroughs, including the novel On the Road by Jack Kerouac, which highlighted Kerouac’s travels with friends across the United States.
Pekar also interviewed many of the men and women from the Beats generation, who detailed the lives of the main characters featured in the book. After being diagnosed with cancer for a third time, Harvey Pekar died on July 12, 2010 from an overdose of antidepressants. The editor of The Beats: A Graphic History, Paul Buhle, was born in Champaign, Illinois on September 27, 1944, and has since become a Senior Lecturer at Brown University and the author and editor of many historical books, including the Histories of Radicalism in the United States.
After graduating from the University of Illinois in 1966, Buhle became the spokesmen for many antiwar organizations, including Students for a Democratic Society, which fought the threat of nuclear war and the arms race during the Cold War. Buhle also received his Master’s degree from the University of Connecticut in 1967, and his Ph. D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1975, where Buhle was involved in the civil rights movement. Paul Buhle started his career as an editor with the journal, Radical America, which highlighted the activities of the Students for a Democratic Society and lasted from 1967 to 1999.
Buhle also became the founding editor of Cultural Correspondence from 1977 to 1983, which was a journal that emphasized the study of pop culture. Paul Buhle became the editor of The Beats: A Graphic History in 2008, and helped Harvey Pekar refine his writing of the graphic history novel. The illustrator of The Beats: A Graphic History, Ed Piskor, was born in Homestead, Pennsylvania on July 28, 1982, and grew up reading Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, which influenced Piskor’s interest in alternative comics.
After graduating high school, Piskor attended the prominent art school, Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art, where Piskor met distinguished artists Tom Yeates and Rick Veitch. Piskor’s first major successes as an artist were his comics Deviant Funnies, and the autobiographical comic Isolation Chamber, which highlighted Piskor’s tendency for dark humor. After Piskor’s successes as a standalone artist and writer, he shortly began working with the well-known writer Harvey Pekar as an illustrator of Pekar’s American Splendor: Our Movie Year.
Piskor worked with Pekar on his later comic books, including Macedonia, which was released in 2007, and The Beats: A Graphic History In the graphic history novel The Beats: A Graphic History, Harvey Pekar’s depiction of the Beats generation was a wellbalanced, seemingly void of bias masterpiece that detailed the lives of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and many other Beatniks. Pekar’s graphic novel, which was published in 2009, depicts Jack Kerouac as a man who had inspired a generation of young men and women, but also as man with deep flaws.
Pekar made sure that the reader was able to see both the good and the bad sides of Kerouac, and the other Beatniks, who suffered from alcoholism, drug addiction, and even sex addiction. Harvey Pekar’s writing also depicts the women of the Beats generation, known as the Beatnik Chicks, and highlights the contributions that women had on a generation of young men and women during the 1950s and 60s (160). The well-known female artists Jay Defeo is even featured in a chapter that showcases the struggles of female artists during a time where women were struggling to find there place in society (171).
These chapters highlight Pekar’s writing as being void of bias, but Pekar’s does seem to show his hero worship with his love of poetry and jazz from the Beats generation by mentioning that great jazz and poetry had faded after the 1960s. In The Beats: A Graphic History, Harvey Pekar’s writing gives the impression that he is advocating the philosophy of freedom, which is highlighted by Pekar’s depiction of Jack Kerouac’s and the other Beatniks’ free spirited attitudes during an era of American history that was very authoritarian.
The philosophy of freedom is emphasized throughout the whole graphic novel, but especially with the free spirited attitude of William S. Burroughs, who constantly moved around the United States looking for new opportunities in life, including operating a 99-acre marijuana farm in Texas and writing about his life with drug addiction in the book Junkie, which he had wrote in 1950 (19, 85).
Pekar also highlights the philosophy of freedom by mentioning Jack Kerouac’s free spiritedness with life, which is emphasized with Kerouac’s lifestyle of moving with the flow. Kerouac’s life was full of spur of the moment decisions like taking a job as a security guard in San Francisco and moving to Mexico, where Kerouac fell in love with a 28 year-old prostitute named Tristessa (32). In Pekar’s writing, the reader is able to appreciate the philosophy of freedom, and fully understand what freedom meant to the Beats generation, who felt alienated by society.
In The Beats: A Graphic History, Harvey Pekar’s writing gives the impression that he is advocating individuality, which is highlighted by Pekar’s depiction of Jack Kerouac and the other Beatniks as unique individuals instead of the cookie cutter characters from the 1950s. Jack Kerouac is one of the most unique individuals from the 1950s and 60s, and his individuality is emphasized with his writing of On the Road, which was written on a 120 foot long roll of paper (23).
Kerouac’s individuality is also emphasized by his personality, which focused on a free spirited attitude towards life instead of strict rules. Pekar also highlights individuality with Allen Ginsberg, who was a gay man at a time when gay men were being persecuted and beaten for their individuality (53). The last philosophy that Harvey Pekar seems to be advocating in his writing is that of the evils of societal temptations. The evils of societal temptations are emphasized in Pekar’s writing as alcoholism, and drug and sex addiction.
The evils of alcoholism are best seen in Pekar’s writing with Jack Kerouac, who died in his prime from cirrhosis of the liver due to excessive alcohol intake for many years. Drug addiction is also seen throughout the graphic novel, but especially with William S. Burroughs, who while under the influence of various drugs murdered his wife, Joan Burroughs (85). Sex addiction is also seen throughout the graphic novel, and is highlighted by Pekar’s mentioning of the countless number of deaths caused by sexual transmission, like AIDS that took the lives of many of the free spirited Beatniks.