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The Beats: A Graphic History Paperback – April 13, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Well researched and earnest, this book might work best as a superficial Cliffs Notes on the beats, but in no way does it inspire or open the mind as the works of the authors covered do. Much of this volume feels like leftovers from coauthor Pekar's American Splendor, and one wonders if that magazine's "drab and normal" style of illustration is appropriate for the more adventurous/experimental/flamboyant beats. Nor does it help that the art used on the best-known authors (Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs) feels rushed, with little detail and little variation. Because Joyce Brabner's script about "Beatnik Chicks" takes a genuinely critical eye to an aspect of the beats others prefer to ignore—their rampant sexism— it's probably the best and most passionate writing in the collection, with Jerome Neukirch's art for the bio of proto-beat Slim Brundage being the artistic standout illustrations. Lance Tooks, Peter Kuper and Nick Thorkelson also make strong contributions, while Jeffrey Lewis's story on poet/musician Tuli Kupferberg is a wonderful puzzle piece to work through; it's the most ambitious entry and may be the truest to the artistic vision of the beats themselves. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Grade 10 Up–Buhle has brought together a heady group of writers and artists to create a well-informed, engaging, and dynamic presentation of the core precursors and descendants of the Beat ethos in both literary and popular American life. The first half of the volume, drawn by Piskor, interweaves the development, achievements, and interactions of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and, to a lesser degree, William S. Burroughs. Details such as Kerouac's left-handedness and Ginsberg's changing physique across his life span are shown, while snippets from their writings are suitably incorporated into the text, which is both discursive and critical. The remainder of the volume comprises 22 pieces, most by Pekar, exploring related figures, like Michael McClure and Lawrence Ferlinghetti; contemporaries whose personal circumstances varied enough from the core of Beats to demand artistic and life expressions that differed from the canonical Beat identity, including LeRoi Jones, Diane di Prima, and Kenneth Patchen; and related arts including visual and jazz. Joyce Brabner, Trina Robbins, Peter Kuper, and Lance Tooks are among the 17 contributors to the volume, which belongs in every library where any Beat literature has a home. This is a perfect gateway to both the art and the era for today's teens to access the Beat world.–Francisca Goldsmith, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia END --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; First Edition edition (April 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809016494
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809016495
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #461,247 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By J. Brennan on March 29, 2009
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!
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Fred Davis, Awakening Clarity Now VINE VOICE on May 25, 2009
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Christopher on July 12, 2010
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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Mad Dog on May 18, 2010
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.
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