Thursday , October 29 2020
Harvey Pekar hits the slicks!

“From Off The Streets Of Cleveland!”

The August 15th issue of Entertainment Weekly has a six-page color strip, “My Movie Year,” by Harvey Pekar and longtime artist Gary Dumm describing the history of his American Splendor comic and the movie adaptation slated for release across the U.S. this August/September. The autobiographical Clevelander has been doing half-page mini-review strips for the mag for several months now, but this is the first “feature-length comic” that he’s ever had published in a slick national mag.
It’s typical Pekar – delivered in his trademark self-deprecating yet assured voice – skidding through the years to arrive at the point where the much-discussed movie adaptation actually comes to fruition. Listening to a “Fresh Air” interview earlier this week with actress Hope Davis (who plays Pekar’s wife/collaborator Joyce Brabner in the flick), I found myself chuckling at her description of Harvey on the set, scrounging up free grub with the cast and crew. In his strip, the writer also describes his near daily visits: “I used to go down to the set frequently because I liked hanging out with the cast and crew and getting free eats.” Which, I guess, goes to show how close to the mark his comics really are.
I’m looking forward the film. In a year that’s seen too many half-baked comic book adaptations, American Splendor promises to be the real deal. Two trade collections of Pekar’s work have been re-released recently to go along with the movie buzz: one, American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar, reprints the first two collections of Pekar’s comics from the late seventies/early eighties (American Splendor and More American Splendor), while the second, The New American Splendor Anthology, contains more recent work by the man. Both books are recommended, as is Bob & Harv’s Comics, devoted just to Pekar’s collaborations with cartoonist R. Crumb. (Commenting on James Urbaniak’s portrayal of Crumb in the film, Pekar notes: “Some people thought, based on Terry Zwigoff’s excellent documentary of Crumb, that he was kind of a cold guy. But he was always warm, understanding and helpful to me. I thought James caught that side of him very well.”) All three collections are remarkably consistent: the works of a man unsentimentally inspired by the beauty and humor of mundane day-to-day life.
Where mainstream comics typically parcel out creative responsibilities, Pekar is unique among alt-comics creators who more often handle both their own writing and illustrating. Of the artists who’ve worked with him, Crumb, Gary Dumm and former undergrounder Frank Stack have arguably had the most successful collaborations, capturing his hangdog characters and Cleveland setting so convincingly that most longtime readers are wondering if the movie’ll be able to suitably replicate ’em. From what I hear, the filmmakers are successful, though they’ve reportedly taken liberties with the material, compacting plot details to better “manage” Pekar’s sprawling life story.
A lot of regular comic book readers don’t get Pekar, finding him either too meandering or trivial or self-obsessed (or all three). Perhaps – but he’s also cantankerously funny, wise and has an eye for material that no one else in comics quite sees. He’s a master at capturing the way people talk and present themselves, and if you’re unfamiliar with his work, the EW strip provides a good, breezy introduction to his wooly brand of graphic storytelling.

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.

Check Also

Cover Savage Legion

Book Review: ‘Savage Legion” by Matt Wallace

Matt Wallace, author of Savage Legion, first entered my radar with his seven wonderful ‘Sin …