Jonathan Ames writes about himself a lot, usually mercilessly. His latest, The Alcoholic, is a lacerating graphic novel about booze. He called in from the set of an HBO pilot he’s writing and producing.
What’s the HBO pilot about?
It’s called Bored to Death. It’s based on a short story I wrote. It stars Jason Schwartzman, who plays ”Jonathan Ames.” After a breakup, he’s kind of distraught, and he puts an ad on Craigslist masquerading as a private detective, and he actually gets a case. Today we’re shooting him as he meets his client for the first time.
Your character in The Alcoholic — ”Jonathan A.” — writes pulp mysteries, although you don’t, yet. Is this a straight-up mystery series?
I’m not making fun of the genre, but it’s a half-hour comedy with noir elements. You might call it ”noir-otic.”
Why make The Alcoholic a graphic novel, and not a novel novel?
Because my illustrator, Dean Haspiel, kept wanting to collaborate with me. So I was like, ”Okay, Dean, let’s collaborate!” One day, he took me to lunch at DC Comics. I originally had the idea for a six-part series called The Alcoholic, about an alcoholic on a bender, where each monthly comic book would end in a cliff-hanger, like, ”There’s the Alcoholic hanging from a fire escape!” or ”There’s the Alcoholic running down the street in his boxer shorts!” But DC knew my reputation as a novelist, so they said I should write it up as a graphic novel.
Give me an example of something in The Alcoholic that’s true and something that’s not.
Two things that are true: I really did have encounters with President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. And one thing that’s not true is that I was not fired from an all-girls school.
I’m wondering how much trouble you get into when you half-fictionalize your life like this. Are your parents still alive?
So is it awkward when they read The Alcoholic and see that you’ve imagined them dying in a car crash many years ago?
I know, it’s a little spooky. They haven’t read it yet; I gotta get it to them. My parents are such huge figures in my life, but I wanted this character to be alone in the world, and not have parents to lean on the way I lean on mine.
How much do you drink now? How’s that going?
Oh, it’s going fine. I drink plenty of water, and coffee. [Pause]
You’re totally off booze, or would you rather not say?
I’d rather not say. Like I said, it’s a work of fiction. [Laughs]