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The Beats: A Graphic History Hardcover – March 17, 2009

3.4 out of 5 stars 27 customer reviews

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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.)
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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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; First Edition edition (March 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809094967
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809094967
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,140,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Paperback
Ok...cool 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 Faucheuse...wow. 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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I bought this in a wave of re-discovering Burroughs. At least this book didn't use modern sensibilities to wash over Burroughs. Can't believe all the apologists out there. Burroughs was awesome, but he was the king of "Don't be me!" And I have this next to my collection of Burroughs books.

This is a good graphic representation of the lives of a bunch of writers who more or less re-shaped modern literature for better...or worse for America. Makes them more human versus the "Gods" some rabid fans who are often college professors put them out to be!
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