The Beats: A Graphic History by Harvey Pekar and Ed Piskor

The Beats: A Graphic History by Harvey Pekar and Ed Piskor

“...the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” - Jack Kerouac's On the Road 

The Beats: A Graphic History tackles the generation of post-World War II writers who revealed an untold side of America while pushing censors' boundaries with their writing style.

Harvey Pekar is a perfect candidate to explain the details of the lives of Jack KerouacAllen Ginsburg, and William S. Burroughs. A comics writer for decades, Pekar was also a jazz obsessive. Jazz was an essential ingredient in forming Beat philosophy. Kerouac actually crafted his run-on sentences hoping to mimic the music's long solos. 

 Ed Piskor's artwork contains the right mix of accuracy and caricature when depicting such bizarrely compelling personalities. This allows the reader to easily keep track of several important figures in this cultural movement. He does the same in his own gorgeous and informative Hip-Hop Family Tree series. Piskor shows how comics can be a tool for education and simultaneously look cool.

In one of the book's best anecdotes, Ginsburg visits Kerouac's mother's house to see Jack. He fears ringing the doorbell because Kerouac's mom intercepted a personal letter between the two writers, finding it scandalous. Piskor illustrates Ginsburg hiding in the bushes while his boyfriend talks to Jack, but the fully-grown Kerouac refuses to come outside. Like a teenager, he exclaims, "Are you kiddin'? My mom would flip out."

Other artists who have collaborated with Pekar in his American Splendor comics tell lesser-known stories surrounding the Beats, offering a more complete picture of the movement. Anyone who wishes to learn about these and other influential figures from this period should start with The Beats: A Graphic History, then move on to some of the original texts cited throughout the book.