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American Splendor – the film

Having read a double anthology of American Splendor comics, I had to also watch the film of the same name, from 2003. It’s a wonderfully creative and entertaining effort – highly recommended, even if you don’t care even a little bit about underground comics.

Pekar wrote comics about his own life and had various artists illustrate them, so when you read his work, you see him depicted differently depending on who did the drawing. The film emulates this. It stars Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis as Harvey and Joyce, but the real Harvey and Joyce are also in the film, as are animated versions of the characters.

Today there are so many movies based on comics, but mostly they are all about superheros saving the world from evil with plenty of special effects. Harvey Pekar was more of an anti-superhero. He worked what he called a “flunky” job as a file clerk. He was obsessed with collecting jazz records. Even when his comic-writing work began to gain in popularity, he wasn’t making much money from it. He had problems with relationships, and problems coping with his every day existence. He wasn’t saving the world. Instead, he was just trying to get by.

The film is charming and funny and sad and clever all at the same time. It is also ambitious but in a much different way than the epic and bombastic superhero flicks which dominate today. I have no idea how I missed this movie when it came out. Brilliant work.

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