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.
(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.
“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.
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.