Thursday, 25 September 2014

Holiday Reading Part 1: The Beats: A Graphic History by Harvey Pekar and Ed Piskor

The Beats: A Graphic History is a graphic novel that chronicles the life of the three main players of the Beat Generation (Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg) as well as other lesser-known players. It's drawn in the style of American Splendour graphic novels and is cool in the same way. I always enjoy reading novels and it's especially effective with the beats in capturing their wayward style and jazzy conventions. 

The main three dudes lives are teased out, starting with a details of Jack as a kid til death, then Allen from Howl through his activism to death, and William's life kinda jumping all over the place (it skips all his former years and details of his junky-ism which I guess you can read in Junky anyway...). It's obvious the authors favour Jack and his life style and it makes sense because he was the most quintessentially beat - he travelled often, bummed out at his mothers often, drank often and eventually became a bit of a dickhead - but hey, that's Jack for ya.

The most interesting part is all the other players they give detail to. Some only get four pages while others are illustrated and written by guests. Players include Kenneth Roxroth, Michael McClure, Philip Whalen, Gary Snyder, Robinson Jeffers, Robert Duncan, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, LeRoi Jones/Amiri Bakara, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, City Lights Books, Kenneth Patchen, Philip Lamantia, Diane di Prima, "Beatnik Chicks" (Hettie Jones, Joan Kerouac, Joyce Johnson and Carolyn Cassady), Jay Defoe, d. a. levy, and Tuli Kupferberg. (Sorry for the extensive list, it's more for my sake than anyone elses, if you're interested in the subject I'm sure googling any of these people would come up with interesting results).

As you might have been able to tell by scanning that list, there are very few women. Thank god for the chapter of "Beatnik Chicks" or I would have probably hated this book. The chapter talks about the misogyny of the era and with the men even though it was, in parts, during the Hippie movement. It a little bit freaks me out that "free love" was such a huge thing when it's clear women weren't being respected like they should but, whatever, moving on...

This is a super great book for anyone interested in the beat movement as a whole. There's so much information available and it's great that Harvey and Ed have highlighted people who might not otherwise get much exposure in the mainstream. This book made me realise that poetry (most of the beats were "poets") can really be anything and I'm keen to check out some of the poets interested in nature like Gary Snyder, Michael McClure, Robinson Jefferson and Diane di Prima.

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