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American Splendor

I never imagined I would find myself writing a graphic novel. After all, I was never really into comics as a kid nor did I get excited by more literary comic book efforts as an adult. It wasn’t until Jacob Yerex read my little book, Squeeze Box Man and suggested it would work really well as a graphic novel, that I really turned my attention to the genre.

Not so long ago, I had lunch with my friend Scott Childs, and when I told him about what Jacob and I were doing with Squeeze Box Man, he loaned me a copy of an anthology called The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar, a book that combines two comic anthologies, American Splendor and More American Splendor – sort of an anthology of an anthology.

As I began reading this book, I found myself drawn right into Harvey Pekar’s world. Pekar wrote these comics and had various artists, such as R. Crumb, Greg Budgett, Gary Dumm, Gerry Shamray, Kevin Brown, Sean Carroll, Val Mayerik and Susan Cavey do the artwork.

Harvey Pekar lived in Cleveland. His comics featured himself in his day to day life. He wrote about is work as a file clerk, about writing comics and collecting jazz records, about his relationships with women and his marriages, about his friends, and people he met along the way.

The stories seem sometimes insightful and at other times mundane. Sometimes the stories are simply Pekar talking to the audience, leaving the artist to cope with a total lack of action. R. Crumb nailed it in his into to this anthology, when he wrote, “Pekar has proven once and for all that even the most seemingly dreary and monotonous of lives is filled with poignancy and heroic struggle.” I strongly empathize with this as my own Lazy Allen stories deal with a guy who used to be something, who used to lead a band, now working the line in a bottling plant, drinking heavily after work, night after night after night.

I gobbled up this anthology, which to my mind is simply brilliant. I enjoyed the different artistic approaches taken by the various illustrators as well. I enjoyed the variety and found all the illustrations to be compelling.

There is a film based on American Splendor, with Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis. I’ve not seen it but at risk of ruining things, I’m going to watch it soon. Here’s the trailor. It’s from 2003 – it takes me a while to get around to things.

…and here’s Harvey Pekar on Letterman.

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