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Book Review < Back

Why Did Pete Duel Kill Himself?

Credits: Written and Illustrated by Mark Kalesniko
Publisher: Fantagraphics Books


Pete Duel, best known as the star of TV's ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, killed himself on December 31st, 1971, with a shot to the head. At night, watching snow fall and trains rush by, young Alex Kalienka wonders why.

A young boy with a problematic attention span (which gets him sent to a Special School and labeled a 'mental retard' by his former schoolmates), Alex has reached the age where he starts to feel pain, real pain in the form of all of the subtle and overt indignities inflicted upon as at the incurrence of adolescence. A bit too sweet for his own good still, little Alex is surrounded by a world that's getting a little older and a little meaner without ever properly explaining or justifying itself to him.

WHY DID PETE DUEL KILL HIMSELF? feels like thinly-veiled autobiography. Kalesniko just-barely changes his stand-in's name and chooses to draw himself as a big-eyed puppy, a metaphor that in clumsier hands would've felt horridly contrived. It worked for me, though, as Kalesniko navigates the painful and awkward waters of youth without becoming self-pitying, condemnatory, or too lost in his own navel-gazing. If WHY DID PETE DUEL KILL HIMSELF? had a sound, it would be 'ouchie'.

This loose confection of stinging childhood episodes will make your toes curl into little foot-fists as Alex gets the wind knocked out of his sails repeatedly while maintaining a firm belief that when he's grown up, the world will be better. The real lesson, as Pete Duel knew, is that it doesn't. We all just get a little tougher and a little meaner to get by.

-- Matt Fraction

Matt Fraction splits his time between motion graphics and design house MK12, writing comics, and reading comics. He is the author of the graphic novels The Annotated Mantooth and Last of the Independents, both available from AiT/Planet Lar. He can be found on the web at mattfraction.com. His wife is hot.


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