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The Beats: A Graphic History Paperback – 30 Sep 2009

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Souvenir Press Ltd (30 Sept. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0285638580
  • ISBN-13: 978-0285638587
  • Product Dimensions: 15 x 1.3 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 556,952 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


The best thing about this collection... is that it elevates lesser-known figures tied to Kerouac and company... A worthy introduction to the makers of Howl, Naked Lunch, On the Road, Turtle Island and a small library s worth of enduring books. --Kirkus Reviews

About the Author

Among the contributors Harvey Pekar created American Splendor, his graphic autobiography, which was drawn by Ed Piskor among others. Peter Kuper draws for Mad magazine while Jeffrey Lewis is a singer-songwriter, as well as an artist.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Sam Quixote TOP 500 REVIEWER on 7 May 2012
Format: Paperback
Harvey Pekar presents a brief introduction to the artistic movement from the mid-20th century known as The Beats, focusing on the three major writers of this movement: Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. Pekar also takes a look at some of the minor artists while providing an historical context of this period.

The best parts of this volume are the appraisals of the lives of Kerouac/Burroughs/Ginsberg. While I knew something about these writers' lives already and have read their major works, I still learned some things about them I didn't before reading this. Kerouac was very conservative despite his reputation for being free-wheeling, and he was misogynistic, homophobic, and racist, all of which were odd stances as he was bisexual himself and had many Jewish friends (Ginsberg for one).

Burroughs' life was as sordid as I remembered it though I hadn't realised his own son's had been quite so horrific as well. I liked how Ed Piskor drew him throughout as a kind of vampiric zombie - Burroughs didn't seem like a nice person despite the art he produced.

Ginsberg's life was full of political activism and he could rightly be considered a celebrity because of his work and his connections to just about everybody within the Beat movement. He also comes across as the nicest person the group, a man with demons of his own but who didn't deal with them destructively nor allow them to destroy him.

The second half of this 200 page comic takes up the rest of the Beats, none of whom I recognised and shows you how well-researched and fascinated in the subject Pekar was.
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Format: Paperback
I bought this recently for my younger brother who is a huge Beat poet fanatic and I knew for sure that he didn't have it in his collection. I found the idea very original and as I had a lot of spare time one afternoon and I hadn't had the chance to hand it over to him yet, I started flipping through the pages and soon found myself caught up in Jack Kerouac's story. The illustrations are brilliant, oftentimes very funny, and provide a lot of information for someone new to the subject, such as myself. It was fascinating to see how the relationship between Kerouac and his intellectual circles developed, how keen they were on experimenting with all kinds of substances back them and how that inspired them, I found W. Burroughs to be a shocking, yet intriguing character too - I didn't know that he had killed his wife in an accident while playing William Tell...

It's a smartly written and well documented book, disguised as a comic, and is definitely easy to digest.
My brother has it on his Beat Generation shelf now, along with Burroughs, Ginsberg and Kerouac and other authors I might just find the time to investigate myself now that I have started and acquired a taste.
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By Amazon Customer on 20 April 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An amusing and informative, if somewhat superficial (as is necessary to fit so much into 1 book) look at some of the key characters of the beat generation. Pekar's writing is great as ever and the artwork seems to fit the subject matter perfectly.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jesper Deleuran on 19 Nov. 2009
Format: Paperback
Having read some of Harvey Pekars other books with pleasure, especially the ones with artwork by Robert Crumb, being interested in comic books in general, and especially having been interested in the Beat Generation and the Beat writers and their work since I read Ginsbergs "Howl" in 1964, I thought that this book sounded like one I ought to have in my collection of Beat litterature.
I am sorry to say that it is a disapointing experience. The text is a brief introduction to the writers and the movement, a little unacurate here and there, but all in all a sober but short and not very exciting introduction and not much more. If you have read about this subject before, you don't learn anything you didn't know in advance. And I don't know how well it works as an appeticer for the newcomer.
My main complaints is about the poor graphics, and that's bad in a supposedly graphic novel.
The artist are not able to make a satisfying likeness to the real caracters. They couldn't even be used as caricatures, as they don't look like the persons they are supposed to portray. If it wasn't mentioned in the text who the persons on the pictures are, you wouldn't have a clue.
And the artist seem to lack a proper knowledge of the human anatomy. Sometimes the arms are too long for the body etc. For instance in the story about Kerouac, he can't decide wether kerouac is lefthanded or righthanded. In one picture he writes with his left hand, in the next he writes with his right hand. That's defenitly not a good thing in a cartoon.
So all in all, I cannot recommend this book. There are a lot of books about the Beat generation and the Beat writers, and lots of books with photos with the persons involved. I will anytime recommend readers with an interest in this subject to use their money on some of those instead of wasting them on this book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 27 reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Can't Beat This 29 Mar. 2009
By J. Brennan - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In The Beats, as in Students for a Democratic Society and Macedonia, Pekar is dealing with pivotal events that shaped his life and times on and off the streets of Cleveland. In this these works are essential companions to American Splendor. Readers are fortunate that a talent like Pekar is allowed a platform to explain why what happened to millions in his era happened. It would be hard to truly understand Pekar and the peers he generally speaks for, common folk, without some background on the context.

Pekar puts on the same glasses he uses to discern his own life to discern this group. His vision is intentionally stripped of fawning, platitudes, and the intellectual apologetics that often dominate accounts of the more famous beat characters. The fusion of music, literature, film, politics, and just enough, but not too much mass media, is what grabbed us and changed our lives. Pekar tells the story the way we heard the story, and saw parts of it, in the 50's, 60's, and 70's. Other than in often hard to find Beat writings, which tended to make big names like Kerouac seem a constant romantic wanderer, minimizing the sad, right-wing, drunken momma's boy, all we heard were bits and pieces about their lives. Certain books we were fortunate enough to find, like Lawrence Lipton's The Holy Barbarians, focused on Beat unknowns and presented a lifestyle that was alluring as well as repellent. (Though Ginsberg is inspiring at times, Burroughs makes me want to get a government job and go to church.) This tension made most of us, after brief flings in hippiedom, spend our lives as VA file clerks, teachers, social workers, nurses, small business coffee house and used bookstore owners. Pekar eloquently depicts this tension in simple panels, such as on page 20, with Kerouac's mom saying, "Welcome back!" on one of the many occasions when Jack returns broke to her door. Page 59 has him afraid to visit with Allen Ginsberg, who is hiding in the bushes because momma would be upset, as well as the stress, decadence and death that plagued these writer's lives. There is great power in reading about these events in Pekar's pithy prose and seeing them in the artist's panels. It all appears very intentional, without a wasted word or drawn line.

Pekar, as always, speaks more for the majority that didn't make it so big. This book really gets going on page 95 when Pekar and partners get into the lesser known, but perhaps even more essential, beat community. Pekar reminds us that with or without the three "giants" of beatdom there was a vibrant San Francisco scene that was flourishing long before a handful of screwed up guys hit town from New York. We get introduced to folk like d.a. levy from Cleveland, outstanding, and Slim Brundage from Chicago, fantastically portrayed by Jerome Neukirch. I had never heard of him before and just ordered a book of his writings from Amazon-thanks Jerome. Joyce Brabner does a great job on Beatnik Chicks. I enjoyed her feminist point of view on the "top guys" and only wish there was more from her perspective. Tuli Kupferberg helped write about himself, and that was great. These are just some of the folk that made this a real movement, who were into community organizing, the people, and not just out for themselves. Pekar and crew do here what was done in Pekar's Macedonia. They don't just focus on the train wrecks but on the folks and places that are doing things right, staying out of war and creating spaces for us to get involved with making the world a better place. The Beats: A Graphic History is an inspirational five star book.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A Decent Introduction 25 May 2009
By Fred Davis, Awakening Clarity Now - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The less you know about the Beats, the more you'll like this graphic history. I say that as someone who read a lot of Beat literature, met a number of the characters in this book, and knows quite a bit about them.

First, let me say that I am something of a Harvey Pekar fan (more was than am, I guess) and have been since the late 80's, when I came into touch with American Splendor, his graphic magazine, or comic book, whichever you choose to call it. What he was doing then was genuine art, real genius, truly pushing out the edges of graphic presentation.

This book is a far cry from art, but overall, with the particular exception of the shameless self-promotion by an otherwise old favorite--City Lights Bookstore--it's a fairly pleasing blend of craft and commerce. My rating would be 3 1/2 stars if Amazon allowed it.

One proofreader's note. If Mr. Pekar is going to take multiple stories and present them as a single bound volume, he might want to figure out a way to not repeat himself. That's sloppy editing which creates trying reading.

If you know the history of the Beats and want a walk down memory lane, this is nice, shady, if unsurprising street on which to do so. If this is all essentially new to you, and you want to find out something about an extremely important literary and cultural tsunami that occurred in mid-twentieth century America, and that is still causing waves, give this book a read. The graphics, while uninspired, make it an easy dose of art history to swallow.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Not a satisfying survey 12 July 2010
By Christopher - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Pekar's text is ok. Nothing stands out in memory, though, after reading. I can't say I'm any more knowledgeable about this generation than I was before reading (which is to say: not knowledgeable at all).

That paired with the completely uninspired drawings makes this a 'not recommended' work. Most frames have no information... just a character standing in the center, sometimes with a vague expression, sometimes with an arm raised, sometimes talking to another character. No background scene worth noticing. Completely dead, in comic terms.

I appreciate the effort though. Hopefully a future artist and editor will give this the revamp it deserves.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Definitely a must read. 19 May 2010
By Mad Dog - Published on
Format: Paperback
Nicely written and illustrated, The Beats gives an abreviated history of The Beat Generation, starting with Cassidy, Kerouac, Burroughs, and Ginsberg, then quickly branching out from there.

It is Pekar's history and makes a nice primer for those interested in exploring the Beat Generation further. But as a work of comic litterature it is nothing special. It is for the most part a simple history.

What makes it worth the price of admission is the piece by Joyce Brabner (Pekar's wife) called "Beatnik Chicks". The other stories are essentially illustrated history (and certainly never rise above that). Brabner, on the other hand, writes an bitter, ironic commentary on role the women who were left behind played. You think Kerouac was a hero? Babner paints him as a deadbeat father, and she's probably right. Ditto for most of the other major male figures.

Normally, *being a male*, I might be inclined to attribute at least some of Brabner's rage to reverse sexism, historical revisionism, and contextural distortion; but while they might have revolutionised litterature, Babner doesn't excuse them from being a bunch of mysogynist bastards. Her story is honest and passionate and angry and tragic -- ironically the very things the Beats espoused in their work, and all elements sadly missing from the rest of the book.

It's a good book, but more work of Brabner's caliber would have made it a great book.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A Real, like, Jumble, Maaaannnnnnnnnn 9 Aug. 2010
By The Passionate Ornithologist - Published on
Format: Paperback comics, but often the info given is wrong. Pekar needed a copy editor and fact checker badly. C'mon ALAN Ginsberg!? ALAN? Everyone knows it's ALLEN. The chronologies/time lines are all mixed up on many of the Beats featured. A real disappointment for a terrible perfectionist/sometime Beat aficionado like myself. C'mon Whalen wasn't in Japan until the 90s, he lived around the corner from me in S.F. The Burroughs caricature is ridiculous making him look like some hobo (the guy wore freakin suits, not t-shirts w/ holes, and he didn't hold anyone up w/ a gun--read the books and bios and interviews). Anyway...wish I felt I was being nitpicky but I'm not. I was particularly interested in the "Lamantia" section (why not "Philip Lamantia"?). Books on the shelf feature Ur-Vox and Nancy his wife wrote it, so you know it's factual. The other sections are terribly brief (Snyder's ends in 1974). Guess it can't be comprehensive, the book would be 10 times bigger (w/ ten times more factual mistakes).

I get the feeling the artists were not chosen for their personal knowledge of the Beat Generation, or its members.
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