Tuesday, 19 November 2019

American Splendor

Been spending the last few months reading as much of Harvey Pekar's American Splendor as I can, and have come away with a couple of conclusions.
a) I really wish I'd paid attention at the time and bought this stuff when it came out and b) it's one of the greatest comics ever done by anybody ever.
An 'autobiography as it's happening', Pekar began charting his own life in comic form in 1976, and at first read, it's a slightly difficult book to tune into. Where's the punchlines? Where's the endings? Where's the neatly wrapped up conclusions?
Well, Harvey's life wasn't like that, and neither is anybody else's.
And the more you read American Splendor, smiling with recognition at some stories, wincing at his brutal self-honesty in others, the more you do tune into the rhythm of his writing, and suddenly see yourself in his everyman kvetching.
That fact that he, along with the various artists who illustrated his scripts, was doing this for decades, mostly unappreciated and basically inventing a new genre by himself, is amazing to me and like I say, I really wish I'd paid more attention at the time.
Here's one of my favourites, beautifully illustrated by Gerry Shamray from tons of photos he took of Harvey. All human life is indeed here. As am I. As you are if you look hard enough.


  1. Pretty existential and occasionally funny. The 'high point's of Pekar's career came when in the mid '80s he was invited to be on "The David Letterman Show" and Pekar insulted the DL, saying he was just a shill for General Electric, the company which sponsored the mega-hit talk show. Letterman was not amused and Pekar was not invited back again. I remember his "My Cancer Year" storyline. Sad stuff.

    Gene Poole

    1. Gene

      That General Electric incident was just one of many appearances by Pekar on Letterman's show, and he did appear again on the show, though only after a long break. Letterman always seems to have spoken well of him.
      You can read more on the subject at https://www.phactual.com/the-story-behind-harvey-pekars-infamous-last-letterman-interview/

  2. I never got into this. Brooding & narcissistic. Give me Bruce Jones any day!

    Chris A.

  3. Brooding & narcissistic sums it up for me...;)

  4. I'd never heard of him till The Comics Journal devoted an issue to him and the comic - then lucked upon a comic shop that had ever issue up till then (#9).

    One thing that I liked about it was than it gave a properly realistic rendition of working-class life In America - unlike a TV show or film, which for drama's (or comedy's) sake had to take licence and exaggerate or stylise things here and there, this was how things really are/were.

    Of course, Harvey was hardly your normal Everyman, but then if he had been he probably wouldn't have created the thing in the first place. I'm glad I came across it when I did; had I seen it when it first came out, the failure to appreciate it (and there would have definitely been one) would have been my loss.

  5. I saw the movie when it came out, enjoyed it, and then forgot all about it. Then picked a few up, and as I say, couldn't stop.
    So I absolutely didn't get it for a long time, and I understand those who don't, but I see a disturbingly large amount of myself and my life in Harvey, which as far as I'm concerned, is the mark of a great writer.
    No, he wasn't really the everyman, but then neither were his work colleagues he immortalized. They were eccentrics if anything, which may've been part of his point.