The Beats: A Graphic History

Paul Buhle, Editor, Ed Piskor, Illustrator, Harvey Pekar, Text by (Art/Photo Books)
Paul Buhle, Editor, Ed Piskor, Illustrator, Harvey Pekar, Text by (Art/Photo Books) et al. Hill and Wang $22 (199p) ISBN 978-0-8090-9496-7
Reviewed on: 01/12/2009
Release date: 03/01/2009
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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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