Denver-based cartoonist Karl Christian Krumpholz has been creating his signature series 30 Miles of Crazy for a number of years. Chronicling the various denizens of the bars along Denver’s historic Colfax Avenue, 30 Miles of Crazy has always tilted towards the sordid and the strange. But, in Krumpholz hands, it has done so with an aspect of love, if not reverence, for these weird, besotted folk who, in the grips of booze and other psychoactive substances, froth at the mouth while speaking the truths from which those far more sober shy away.
In his latest release from Tinto Press, An Introduction to Alcohol, though, Krumpholz turns his razor-sharp reportage style onto himself. Here, Krumpholz recounts his relationship with his father, which, in turn, recounts his relationship with booze.
Unlike many autobio comics, An Introduction to Alcohol is a beautifully rhythmic work about reconciliation with the past. The book takes place directly after Krumpholz’s father has died, and he and his wife have returned to Northeast Philadelphia for the funeral. Fittingly, they end up in a bar and the rest of the story is a series of flashbacks, each one concerned with Krumpholz’s father’s drinking. As reportage, these flashbacks must be viewed as being filtered through the lens of Krumpholz’s own issues with his father, but, even still, they all ultimately convey a love for a man whom he struggled to understand, no matter how brutal the memory is.
An Introduction to Alcohol is paced in a way the pulls apart the emotions that Krumpholz feels for his father. The flashbacks gain momentum as they unfold. Innocuous and sad at first, they expand out into destructive and violent scenes that are raw and unsettling for any person who has ever been the victim of abuse. The memories finally contract, though, into a moment of connection and understanding where his father actually acts as a father and helps his young son understand the experience he has been through.
Though its protagonists are wildly different in terms of personality–Krumpholz, a Doctor Who and Dungeons and Dragon sort of kid, and his father, a jock who doesn’t spend the time to understand his son’s interests–there’s a sort of inevitability to the story as Krumpholz lays it out. The framing device of his recollections occurring in a bar as he slugs down drink after drink brings everything full circle.
Morality is ambiguous in this book. There is no didacticism or preaching to be found in its pages. Krumpholz’s choices of what to leave in and what to leave out tell the story he wants to tell about his father. At times he crams his pages with panels and text, at other times he lets his stylized cartooning do the emotional lifting. The varied rhythmic result provides the perfect beat for the story. Krumpholz is as much musician as he is cartoonist; his layouts are intricate solos within the larger theme of the song.
Part therapy, part eulogy, An Introduction to Alcohol is absolutely deserving of the “Best of Show” award it won at the last Denver Comics and Art Expo (DINK). It highlights all that is good about Krumpholz as a cartoonist and a storyteller and a son and a man. It’s one of the best things he’s done, and, given how good he is, that’s saying a lot.
You can grab a copy of An Introduction to Alcohol directly from Tinto Press.