DRAWN & QUARTERED
COURTESY DC / VERTIGO
Harvey Pekar celebrates a small victory in life in his latest edition of "American Splendor."
Harvey Pekar draws us back with more stories of "American Splendor"
Getting the toilet to work. Trying to take a nap. Searching for your kid's lost glasses. Accidentally cursing in front of strangers. Remembering that time you were laughed at in class. Commiserating with a friend over the phone. In line at the supermarket. The victory of finding lost mail. Fighting to save Earth from the ravages of the sky-spinning Silver Surfer and his awesome master Galactus, the "Devourer of Worlds."
All of the above are comic book stories. Guess which one is a movie opening soon? The others are subjects in Harvey's Pekar's "American Splendor: Another Day" (DC/Vertigo), straight from the streets of Cleveland.
If it sounds vaguely familiar, that's because an earlier iteration of Pekar's sad-sack, working-class intellectual ruminations formed the basis of the 2003 movie "American Splendor," for which Paul Giamatti, playing Pekar, won a pile of prestigious acting awards. The movie also earned an Oscar nomination for writing, for which Pekar achieved an entire new truckload of things to worry about.
That's because Pekar is a world-class worrier. Add to that an uncertain income, a complete inability to manipulate his environment and an intense awareness of incipient foibles and you have, well, "American Splendor," the comic book hatched a quarter-century ago with friend and illustrator Robert Crumb, in which Pekar relates the little details of his life as a veterans hospital file clerk in Cleveland, all with biting insight, a rueful sense of inadequacy and a fanatic's obsession with the mundane. It's the sort of thing that makes comics worth reading -- not to escape reality, but to confront it headlong.
COURTESY DC / VERTIGO
Dean Haspiel illustrated the story and the book cover.
In this new collection, Pekar is a little happier with life -- or, actually, less unhappy. Things actually work out on occasion. Stuff like getting a toilet unclogged becomes a shining victory in the uphill slog for self-worth.
As usual, his tales are illustrated by a grab bag of guest artists -- Dean Haspiel seems to have become the house artist of choice, his ziggy, splashy brush strokes like lightning bolts from Pekar's id -- some of whom fit the material and some who, well, don't. I was rather surprised that "Love and Rockets'" Gilbert Hernandez's sure, smooth hand was an awkward fit: Perhaps Pekar's style needs a jittery, neurotic pen. On the other hand, Rick Geary, with his obsessive line-shading curlicues, was just right.
The book ends with some color plates that appear to be rejected cover designs. The actual cover, Haspiel's sketchy Pekar sitting up in bed in his undershirt, is both underdeveloped and boldly stated, which is a more accurate billing for the styles within.
If more comics were like "American Splendor," there would be more comic readers.