Just for the record, Jonathan Ames does drink. "I drink all sorts of things, primarily water, coffee and kombucha, which is very trendy of me—the kombucha, that is. I do try not to drink coffee after about 5 p.m."

That's a typically quirky answer from Ames, the New York City-based writer who's making his comics debut with the upcoming graphic novel The Alcoholic, (due in September) a memoir of Jonathan A., a New York-based writer whose beverage of choice is booze. Carrying on the tradition of mixing fact and fiction from his novels and stories, Ames offers the ugly tale of a self-obsessed, hard-drinking man who stumbles mightily at every roadblock.

"I wanted to play around with what is real, what is not real, and calling the character Jonathan A. was a way to do that—does A stand for alcoholic? Ames? Asthmatic? American?" Ames said. "F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote somewhere that his protagonists were like his brothers—his good brother, his wayward brother and so on. My characters are like that... or they're like cousins. We share DNA, but we also differ. So I'm quite similar to Jonathan A., but my life, is much more complex and strange."

That's hard to imagine, as The Alcoholic begins with a drunken Jonathan A. waking up in the company of a horny octogenarian dwarf, and goes mostly downhill from there. It's the story of a man trying to overcome the hardships of life—his parents' tragic death, a bad break-up, 9/11—as much as he's trying to overcome alcohol (and, later, drugs). Ames said it's part of a series of projects he's done on alcoholism, including his novel Wake Up, Sir! and the short story Bored to Death, which is being made into a pilot for HBO.

"I'm not a temperance advocate, per se, but alcohol is certainly a tricky substance, and it has given many people a lot of problems, a lot of heartache (especially the people who love people with drinking problems)," Ames said. "I quote that old proverb in the book—the man takes a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes the man. I think that sums things up quite nicely. If you can just stay at the first level—a man takes a drink—then you're okay. But that's not always so easy to do."

The Alcoholic ended up as a graphic novel (published by Vertigo, which recently announced a plan to put more focus on original graphic novels) through Ames's friendship with artist Dean Haspiel, a fellow Brooklynite. "I was sitting in a cafe in Brooklyn,” Ames said, “and he came up and introduced himself to me, said he was a fan of my writing, and then we fell in love, and eventually adopted several children. We were kind of like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, except nobody knew it," Ames joked. More seriously, he added, "After meeting at the cafe, we became friends. One of those rare after-age-35 new friendships."

After they'd known each other a while, Haspiel convinced Ames to meet with Vertigo editor Jonathan Vankin, who had been looking to bring more literary talent to comics. Originally pitched as a six-issue series about a drunk, The Alcoholic mutated into a graphic novel, and Ames set about learning how to write in the medium. "Jonathan Ames is a true renaissance man," Haspiel said. "He is an incredibly talented writer, orator and entertainer, and Ames has the unique gift to command any storytelling medium. Plus, Ames is a quick learner, and he took a crash course on comics by reading Alison Bechdel's Fun Home and Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra's Y: The Last Man. I had no fear that Ames wouldn’t conquer the difficult challenges the comics form presents, and when his first draft of The Alcoholic arrived, I was blown away."

That—and the book's barrage of bizarre scenes—may have stemmed from Ames's stated goal: "to constantly give Dean fun things to draw, and knowing his style, I tried to create scenes that he would like—adventure scenes, fight scenes and scenes with pretty girls." Haspiel, in turn, said he loved to draw Ames's "beautifully aquiline nose." That feature is one constant as Jonathan A. goes from a beer-guzzling high schooler to a bald, lonely middle-aged man. While not all of the tragic story is true, much of it is, Ames said, including "my encounters with President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, a good deal of what happened at the all-girl's school and what happened on the island of Bequia."

In crafting all those varied visuals, Haspiel, who previously illustrated Harvey Pekar's The Quitter for Vertigo, said he relied heavily on photos and descriptions from Ames. The angular-yet-lithe style is typical of Haspiel, though he specifically composed pages to match the narrator's inebriation. "I chose strange angles and various design techniques to create the verisimilitude of being drunk or high on the page," Haspiel said. "I briefly toyed with the morbid idea of getting perpetually drunk and drawing the entire book on bar napkins in watering holes for a year, but inherently knew I'd churn out crap, and put the kibosh on that notion right quick." The book does incorporate a bar napkin in the cover, a striking image that came out of last-minute frustration, Haspiel said.

Though Ames wasn't a fan of comics before working on The Alcoholic (he said he enjoyed Maus and is "a compulsive doodler of odd little tormented male figures"), he's considering future graphic novel projects. He also has a story (illustrated by Nick Bertozzi) in the upcoming comics anthology Next-Door Neighbor, which is edited by Haspiel; it's currently being published online by Smith Magazine.

"There's a purely nonfiction story I may write in graphic novel format, which would be an adaptation of one of my stage monologues, The Story of My Son," Ames said. "But it's quite a long process, this comics business—first you write it and then the artist takes quite a long time, and then there's the waiting after that for the book to come out. It's not what you call immediate gratification publishing, but I do like the end result."