August 27, 2003

American Splendor

Harvey Pekar is a file clerk from Cleveland, Ohio. For many years he has been writing a comic book about his life called American Splendor (originally illustrated by his friend R. Crumb). At first glance, the title seems ironic. The comic is full of frames of Harvey walking down streets of urban decay, his hands in the pockets of his jacket, his back humped, his head down. The stories center around the simple activities of his life like puttering around the house, going to the grocery store, or pondering the futility of his existence.

It seems a strange thing to turn into a movie.

The film blends scenes with the real people involved, actors playing the same characters, and finally animated versions of the characters as drawn by the artists of the comics. All these layers are blended so seamlessly that watching the film feels almost like reading a comic and having the pictures come alive in your head.

Like the comic, the story is just about Harvey's life. How he met his third wife, how he came to be a regular on David Letterman's show (I actually remember seeing some of these back in the 80s when I was watching Letterman avidly), how he survived a fight with cancer.

Harvey is a gruff, depressed character. He questions whether his life has any value. And yet he is not resigned to his existence. He changes things, and the changes are in the baby steps that all of us are able to make in real life. There's no magical breakthrough that transforms Harvey into a prom queen, but he is transformed through small personal changes and nudges from the people around him.

In the end, the title doesn't seem ironic at all.

While Harvey Pekar didn't originate the mundane autobiographical form (witness Pepys' Diary), the influence of American Splendor the comic on our popular culture is clear.

In a lot of ways, American Splendor is like a good blog, wresting beauty and meaning from the events of everyday life. And indeed, Harvey, his wife Joyce, and their daughter Danielle all have blogs! (Thanks to Jeff at Beans For Breakfast for that piece of info.)

Posted by jeffy at August 27, 2003 06:19 PM

I was a BIG FAN of Crumb's work, growing up in Cleveland, and even lived in a nearby neighborhood to Pekar. I can't believe I missed Harvey Pekars comics, especially since I was a total "underground comic" freak in the late 60's-70's. I think it all started with Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural, I remember finding a big "I'M TRUCKIN' YOUR TRUCKIN' WE GOT THE TRUCKIN' BLUES" graphic patch with 3 guys walking, and the oversized bottoms of the feet almost appearing to be the focal point of the pic, even getting my mother to sew it on the back of my army fatigue jacket, and VAGUELY REMEMBERING, BEING IN A POT HAZE, my buddies and I, occasionally chanting: "I'm truckin' - You're truckin' - We got the truckin' blues".
WATCHING THIS MOVIE INSPIRED UNCONTROLLABLE RAPID FIRE FLASHBACKS, of highschool, pot dreams, exaggerated nippled breasts, on usually homely women or even animals in the underground comics of times - drive-ins - with fritz the cat or two lane blacktop on the screen and me in the backseat with steamed up windows and some once forgotten babe. AHHH, AS MICK JAGGER ONCE CROONED -
WHAT A DRAG IT IS GETTING OLD...Kids are different today...I hear evíry mother say...
Mother needs something today to calm her down...
And though sheís not really ill....
Thereís a little yellow pill....
She goes running for the shelter of a motherís little helper....
And it helps her on her way, gets her through her busy day

Posted by: CLEVE-2-PHX DON at February 16, 2005 04:31 PM
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