Monday , April 22 2024
Harvey Pekar’s quirky slab-o'-life comic finds its way to a big mainstream comics publisher, DC Vertigo.

Comics Review: Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor

So I'm sittin' in the tub with the first three issues of Harvey Pekar's new American Splendor run for DC/Vertigo – and I realize that I've just gotten my right page-turning hand wet. I'm in the middle of a wordy piece proselytizing about "regionalism," and I want to get to the next page, but I also don't want to get the comic page wet. I look to see if I can reach the bath towel, but I can't without sitting up and possibly splashing, so getting the glossy black-and-white mag even wetter.

I wave my page-turning hand in the air, hoping to dry it off, but it's no good. The tips of my fingers are still moist. So I finally bite the bullet and tenderly touch the edge of the page, darkening it about a 16th of an inch from the edge, and flip to the next page. "That worked out okay," I think in relief, and I continue to read, enjoying Pekar's use of a major comics company to promote a quirky political agenda.

Okay, enough of that. By now, most regular comics readers know where they stand on the matter of Harvey Pekar: either they dig his naturalistic slab-o'-life vignettes or they don't, finding his obsessive focus on the minutia of average American life tedious. Me, I continue to find him amusing (as when our man wrestles with plunging an overflowing toilet) and occasionally touching (as in a bare-bones consideration of his parent's Alzheimer's affliction).

If his mundane moments occasionally provoke a huh? (watching a fat lady struggle with noshing on a cupcake while trying to read The Da Vinci Code in the train station) more than an oh, yeah, the majority of 'em work at showing tiny pockets of truthfulness. And if too many would-be autobiographical comics artists have unsuccessfully attempted to replicate our man's telling eye for detail, well, that's hardly Harvey's fault. The guy remains a comic book treasure.

Per his usual Splendors, the new series features art by a variety of comics folk (most consistently repped: old reliables Greg Budgett & Gary Dumm, Dean Haspiel and Ty Templeton), with a few surprises in the mix. Never thought I’d see the day when Richard "Den" Corben illustrated an American Splendor tale, but his "Halloween Glasses" has an enjoyably funky look, even if his version of Pekar looks like no one else's. Eddie Campbell provides his own distinct flare to a two-page supermarket conversation that got me wanting to see a copy of Juke-Box Comics, a series that purportedly centered around big-band leaders solving crimes.

Ty Templeton's art on "What Happened to Your Parents?" is beautifully matched to the story's solemn reminiscence, while Haspiel catches that silly moment of triumph over bathroom plumbing with marvelous physical expressiveness. (Haven't read his full GN collaboration with Pekar, The Quitter, but here he adds a visual dynamism to the proceedings that makes me want to see more.) Perhaps the strangest collaboration in the first three ishes is with Britisher Hunt Emerson, whose frenetic Mad Comics art-style would seem to be at odds with Pekar, yet it still manages to work. No sight of Pekar's best-known collaborator, Bob Crumb, in the new series, which is a shame since the thought of this underground icon appearing in a title under the DC logo tickles the hell out of me.

Much of the focus in the first three issues is on Pekar's anxiety-ridden relationship with his foster daughter Danielle (wife Joyce barely makes an impression), particularly well-played in the Haspiel-illustrated "The Day's Highlights," which centers on our hero's parental fretting about Danielle's whereabouts when she doesn't answer his check-in call. In "Snow Chaos," Harvey has to venture out into a winter snowstorm to pick Danielle up from a friend’s house; as illustrated by Chris Samnee, both the claustrophobia and stress of driving through a northern city winter are effectively evoked. It drolly ends with Harvey awkwardly apologizing to the mother of Danielle's friend, who inadvertently caught the brunt of his swearing over the cell phone: "Honest, M'am. I wasn't swearing at you. I just lost it and I was swearing at the world . . .” We all kin relate, Harv . . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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