There was the time Richard Harris was drinking in a pub with his new friend, Robert Mitchum. An aggressive man intruded and demanded an autograph from Mitchum, who took the proffered book and signed it, "Up your arse - Kirk Douglas." Another time Harris and Peter O'Toole bumped into each other going into a building to meet the same girl. They decided to have a contest: first one to reach the girl's balcony by climbing side-by-side drainpipes would get the girl. O'Toole won, because Harris's drainpipe broke, sending him tumbling into the alley. And then there's the time O'Toole went drinking with Peter Finch, and when the pub owner told them it was closing time and he'd have to cut them off, O'Toole wrote a an outrageously large check to the barkeep to buy the pub so the pair could continue drinking (the next morning, O'Toole raced to the bank to stop the check before the pub owner could cash it).
These are just three of the dozens of alcohol-fuel exploits recounted in the darkly funny Hellraisers: A Graphic Biography, which is based on Robert Sellers' book, Hellraisers: The Life and Inebriated Times of Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O'Toole, and Oliver Reed. The story is perfectly rendered by illustrator JAKe, who has the ability to draw uncanny likenesses of the actors with thick, raw, and seemingly haphazard lines of ink. The storyline itself is hallucinatory, like a severe case of the DTs, with scenes from movies dissolving into boozed and drugged reality. I credit Sellers and JAKe's skills for the fact that I never once got lost or confused while reading this very experimental graphic novel. In the hands of less talented creators, this book would be a boring mess. But it's the exact opposite.
After witnessing the four flameouts, I was left wondering why these four actors, who had so much going for them, ruined their lives by indulging in herculean binges of alcohol and drugs, and deeply hurting their friends, wives, and children through abuse, neglect, and infidelity? In his introduction, Sellers' answer is that they didn't believe that they'd ruined their lives. "These were men who enjoyed life better with a drink in their hand."Hellraisers: A Graphic Biography
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.