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Beef With Tomato

Review

Beef With Tomato

Any creative endeavor can be a journey in and of itself, for both the creator and the audience of the finished product. Make the core of that creation something autobiographical, and the stakes of the journey and its outcome increase exponentially. Dean Haspiel has taken a semi-autobiographical premise and crafted something monumental with his latest work, BEEF WITH TOMATO. Readers might only know Haspiel from his previous work, like THE QUITTER with Harvey Pekar, or THE ALCOHOLIC with Jonathan Ames. This multi-layered collection of graphic shorts lets readers get to know Haspiel from an intrinsic, unfiltered perspective by the author and artist himself.

With a wonderful introduction by the aforementioned Jonathan Ames, the mood is set for the reader right way. The first half of this book is presented in the traditional graphic novel style, yet Haspiel utilizes many creative methods of visually telling a story within the confines of a page. The panels rarely contain the action being depicted, and the words are placed deliberately around the sweeping imagery. This allows the reader to seamlessly understand the pacing of each vignette without getting tripped up on the tone or feeling of the book on a whole.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For more on Dean Haspiel, join our intrepid reviewer Jeff Ayers over at Fanboys Inc., which features a five-part interview with Haspiel and compatriot David Greenberger.

Chronicling Haspiel’s journey from Alphabet City to Brooklyn, the first story, “Awful George,” sets the stage for the rest of the book, pulling our hero from the Manhattan ghetto to Carroll Gardens in nearby Brooklyn. It’s only the first depiction of a number of encounters that Haspiel has on the streets of Brooklyn, thanks to his penchant for cycling around on “a set of crummy spokes.”

These stories, some only a few pages long, give the perceptive reader a better view of this creative soul, both  through the way the lines make up the art and the words make up the prose. Subtle nods to his muses sprawl naked across the page, like the exhibitionists from "Boy Loves Girl Hair." The art has a familiar, old school feel to it, but not for the sake of noir. It is indicative of the stark shadows of Alex Toth, the manic lines of Will Eisner, and even the grand scenery of Jack Kirby. In fact, Haspiel injects some of Kirby’s famous “crackle” in the final panel of “Awful George.”

The writing too, holds nuggets of insight. Alliteration and acute observation pepper each story with purpose --- as expected from a self-proclaimed lover of Shakespeare, horror movies, and conversation. One of the standouts from this collection is titled “Snow Dope,” and it paints an incredible picture of Haspiel’s character, along with the city he resembles and resides in, with beautiful prose and imagery in the space of only four pages.

The setting of this book is predominantly Brooklyn, with some stories drifting back to Alphabet City and beyond, as tales from Haspiel’s childhood crop up from time to time. The scenery takes on its own character, and Haspiel does an incredible job of making that seem effortless in the telling of each story --- not an easy thing to accomplish, and often the downfall of many writers. His prose, coupled with the tactful imagery, paints a fuller picture than is realized upon first glance. The themes explored here also act as characters in their own right --- tales of love lost, soul searching, weird encounters and wild nights take on a life of their own with the author’s careful craftsmanship.

The second half of the book departs from the format of the first --- it operates more like a collection of personal essays, with a few cartoons thrown in for good measure. This half takes on a slightly darker tone, dealing with more death and loneliness, but still retains the air of self discovery and life-affirming observation that the first half sets up. Stories like “The Plate” show how vulnerable we all are through Haspiel’s eyes as he details a breakup, and “Scatological” is an amalgamation of interaction proving how truly weird the human experience can be.

BEEF WITH TOMATO starts out with a stolen bicycle and a move to Brooklyn, continues with tales of whiskey-fueled nights in a post-9/11 NYC landscape, and ends with an essay about feeling at home wherever you are --- set against the backdrop of a bustling artist community in Upstate New York. Through it all, this strong semi-autobiographical work does what any book, regardless of premise or plot, should achieve: It asks the reader to identify. Haspiel expertly portrays a sense of self-inspection and a love for the world around us through his prose and his drawings, without ever losing a sense of wonder.

Reviewed by Jeff Ayers on September 22, 2015

Beef With Tomato
by Dean Haspiel

  • Publication Date: October 13, 2015
  • Genres: Graphic Novel, Literary
  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Alternative Comics
  • ISBN-10: 1934460818
  • ISBN-13: 9781934460818