Propaganda finds the best book about an alcoholic dog ever published: Alex

Published On October 9, 2008 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Reviews

Alex

by Mark Kalesniko

Fantagraphics

alex cover.jpg

Alex is an incredibly depressing, utterly miserable book with a central character you should find uttely deplorable and without a single redeeming feature, whose existence is a pointless, alcohol fuelled waste and whose relationships are, without exception, toxic.

But it’s also one of my favourite books and never, ever fails to make me amazed at how good a writer and artist Mark Kalesniko is as he makes me care deeply about this utter trainwreck of a person.

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(This is Alex. Alex’s life is not going like he planned. From Alex by Mark Kalesniko)

Alex is a frankly mesmerising read. It’s said that the dog faced central character of Alex Kalienka is Mark Kalesniko’s alter ego. I really hope not, for his sake.

Because Alex is a mess. Alcoholic, at war with himself, everything and everyone, desperately unhappy with how his life has gone and back in his home town of Bandini after fifteen years in LA living his dream of working for Mickey Walt Studios, only to discover he couldn’t cope with that either. He’s home, without hope, angry at life and trying his best to crawl into a bottle and immunise himself against the world.

alex 6 copy.JPG

“Reminding me that I have no future, no present and a past I detest” – Alex on old friends and his hometown.

As the story opens Alex wakes up on a park bench after another night on a bender, wondering what the hell he did to get there and why the hell he’s carrying his old high school yearbook.

Through the course of the book he is presented with the answers to both of these as he stumbles through his shattered life, bumping into old school-mates, friends, teachers, enemies and unrequited loves. Each meeting only makes Alex’s situation worse and he spirals down to what must be his inevitable self-destruction. Yet, just as all seems without hope he suddenly rediscovers his art and starts to slowly draw some hope from that. But alas, life isn’t done kicking Alex when he’s down.

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I adore Alex. In the same way that the most miserable, depressing music can profoundly affect you when your not in the best of moods, the misery and torment of Alex has a strangely edifying effect upon me. I read it for the first time when it came out over ten years ago and instantly got it. It’s a difficult read, but hugely rewarding. Not to mention very funny. That’s right. Funny. Kalesniko isn’t afraid to milk Alex’s disaster of a life to comic effect and has a powerful command of slapstick that he uses so well throughout.

And his art. Wow, his art. Look at the three examples on the page here. The linework is incredibly spare but there’s not a wasted line on any picture of Alex and everything tells you just what you need to know about his utter psychological breakdown. But then you look at that final page and notice the incredible detailing and the wonderful layout. That happens time and time again. A page will just amaze you, first with it’s structure, then with the emotional intensity of his character work and finally with the level of detailing.

So, if you are going to get just one book on an alcoholic dog make sure you choose Alex. Then again, if you want a book that will utterly absorb and involve you as it drags you as far down into someone’s depression and failure as you can really bear and yet also manages to make you laugh then you also need to buy a copy of Alex. It’s stunning.

Richard Bruton has gone for a drink. But everything is fine. Please don’t worry about him.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton

– Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he’s written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard’s day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children’s graphic novel library in the country.

5 Responses to Propaganda finds the best book about an alcoholic dog ever published: Alex

  1. Kenny says:

    I agree wholeheartedly – a great book. A second is supposedly due late this year or early next from Fanta. And whilst it is different in tone – more observational, less quasi autobio his second book Mail Order bride is utterly fantastic also. Nice pick Richard.

  2. Chris Midweeker says:

    I’ll third you both, Kalesniko is one of the most under-rated creators on FGB’s books, and I’d also recommend his other book, Why Did Pete Duel Kill Himself?, although it’s sadly out-of-print.
    Good to see there’s a new book coming, I reviewed both Alex & Mail-Order Bride for the recent 500 Essential Graphic Novels book, and re-reading both got me wondering what had happened to him. Another one to add to the list – hasn’t this year been amazing for original graphic novels?

  3. Mike Cane says:

    Wow. I’ve got to read that. You’re missing an important dimension of it, however. The Bandini reference.

    http://mikecane.wordpress.com/2007/04/16/the-song-that-makes-me-cry/

    You will love John Fante’s books.

  4. Chris Midweeker says:

    Thanks Mike, I’m a big Bukowski fan, but this guy’s new to me. I’ve just ordered a copy of the Bandini Quartet, so we shall see!

  5. Pingback: Mark Kalesniko’s art blog | The Forbidden Planet International Blog Log