By Ben Boruff
The problem with this graphic novel is not that Andrew Peters is not a decent man. He is.
The problem is that I don't care.
T.J. Kirsch's Pride of the Decent Man is a 96-page graphic novel about the life of Andy Peters, a man who spent time in prison for attempting to rob a grocery store with his friend Whitey. Kirsch is a talented artist, and this graphic novel enhances his already impressive resume as a comic artist. Bold backgrounds push raw, unpretentious characters toward the reader. The comic's apt artwork, however, is weighed down by its unceremonious narrative.
I believe that criminals should not be vilified. I believe that a prison sentence does not define a person. And I believe that, as a nation, we desperately need more effective and more widespread prisoner rehabilitation and reentry programs so that we can minimize recidivism and better the lives of those who have made mistakes (and who have already paid the price for those mistakes). I also believe that Andrew Peters' story does not make a compelling case for any of those ideas.
The story—which is told primarily through glimpses into Andy's personal journal—begins with advice from Andy's grandmother ("We have to hold on to the good times in our lives") and moves quickly toward childhood trauma and subsequent criminal activity before eventually revealing Andy's two-dimensional teenage daughter. Domestic abuse, economically driven criminality, personal redemption, and effective parenting are all socially relevant and emotionally heavy topics, and Pride of the Decent Man refuses to explore any of them thoroughly.
The narrative is just bones. It lacks the meat and muscle needed to be compelling—or even coherent. Andy's opinion of Whitey, for example, bounces wildly from blame ("Whitey f***ed everything up") to unexplained acceptance ("the first thing I wanted to do was go have a beer with him when I was released"), which is somehow both cliche and inconsistent. Andy's apparent transformation in prison might have been one of the more compelling aspects of his character if the story bothered to explore it. As a character, Andrew Peters has the trappings of Neil Gaiman's Shadow from American Gods, but Andrew lacks Shadow's grit and relatability.
My perception of Andrew parallels my perception of the comic's title, which I do not understand. At least, I don't think I do. Maybe "pride of the decent man" refers to the protagonist's revelation that he has a daughter. Maybe it refers to his desire to be a "good" father. Maybe it refers to his journey toward redemption. Maybe it refers to his lingering childhood traits, like his inherent passivity or his desire to be a writer. Maybe it is a positive spin on the idea that "pride comes before the fall." Maybe it's a bit of all of these things, like a sort of vague repository for an assortment of Hallmark morals.
Or maybe it's a brilliantly provocative title, artfully designed to make the reader think about the complexities of living a decent life in a deeply indecent world.
Maybe. The one thing I know is that Andy is, as he says, "not a bad guy." That point is clear. So to all who want to read a story about a decent man, I encourage you to read about Andrew Peters. He is a decent man.
Pride of the Decent Man
Writer/Artist: T.J. Kirsch
Publisher: NBM Publishing