Harvey Pekar always brags about comics’ untapped possibilities, but in his latest book he is, quite literally, all talk. “You can do anything with words and pictures,” he declares. “I decided that comic stories could be as long and complex as prose stories.” It’s a particularly ironic comparison because The Quitter, a rambling, 100-page Pekar monologue illustrated by Dean Haspiel, reads more like an illustrated novel than a graphic one.
Pekar’s never been particularly optimistic, but his American Splendor comics break up the monotony of his neuroses with plenty of deadpan humor and a rich cast of eccentric friends and co-workers. In contrast, The Quitter, Pekar’s tale of his glacial rise from poor Cleveland palooka to working-class hero, is pure, unfiltered despondency. Telling his story almost exclusively through narration, with few supporting characters and little dialogue, accentuates Pekar’s self-inflicted isolation, but doesn’t make reading about it any more pleasant.
Nor does it make The Quitter a particularly revelatory combination of words and pictures; deciding comic stories can be complex doesn’t automatically make them so. Here, the medium’s potential, like Harvey’s talent for football, is squandered. Pekar’s mother always warned him to prepare for the worst so he wouldn’t be surprised when it happened. Fans anticipating The Quitter would be wise to do the same.