AMERICAN SPLENDOR (First Ballantine Books Printing, 2003; Softcover)
Collects selections from American Splendor #1-11 (cover dates May, 1976- 1986)
Writer: Harvey Pekar
Artists: Kevin Brown, Gregory Budgett, R. Crumb, Gary Dumm, Gerry Shamray, Sean Carroll, Sue Cavey, and Val Mayerik
I have been going through a rough patch in my personal life over the past few months. I won't go into the whats or whys or wherefores of it all, suffice it to say that life is a strange thing and that there are no guarantees. A friend of mine repeatedly urged me to check out the works of Harvey Pekar. He told me that his life mirrored mine at the moment and vice versa. I trust the opinion of this friend, as he turned me on to Bukowski and is an artist who has produced work which I hold in extremely high regard.
Harvey Pekar is the star and hero of his own strip, the autobiographical American Splendor. While I know nothing about underground comics (or comix, as the kids who are now grandparents called them at the time), I can appreciate how far ahead of it's time this comic was. I am confident in saying that Pekar invented an entirely new language for comic books. Nothing out there at that time read like this. It was so far ahead of it's time that it reads as contemporary with 2016 eyes. I read things in the here and now and also consider the work within the context in which it was published, and this holds up on both counts.
Pekar is a well-intentioned (if self-defeating) free thinker who is his own best friend and worst enemy in one. In that regard he is exactly like the rest of us, at least those of us who are humble and like the simple life. Like Pekar, I toil in a seemingly menial job but am content with the living that I have eked out because of it. I would rather have relative financial security and let my mind soar at work than be stuck doing something “important” which would yield only less happiness for me. My only ambition in this life is to be happy, or as close to happy as I can be within the context of my circumstances. Also like Pekar, I value truth and loyalty over flash and hype in people. Pekar cannot fathom why virtues are not more valuable than monetary success, and he's right. A great artist whose work brightens the world can be poor while someone who does things to screw people over gets rewarded financially. Don't both things add value to life? One adds cultural value, the other financial value to a company's bottom line. What does that say about us as a society when we view and reward the one which is worse for everyone more favorably?
Pekar writes about ordinary life, which sounds boring on paper but in reality is the real heavy, kids. Waking To The Terror Of The New Day is profound. An Argument At Work is one of the many reasons that this book spoke to me. Leonard & Marie was touching. Stetson Shoes spoke to me for a reason I won't share here. I'll Be Forty-Three On Friday (How I'm Living Now) is the best story in the book. Pekar makes nothing seem like something important. Maybe it is because real life is important. Folks tend to sweep the little things under the rug when they should maybe stop and pay attention, because the little things become the moments that define us. At least that is the realization that I have come to over the past few months. The big picture versus the little picture. Focus on the one and you lose sight of them both.
Pekar touches on many themes such as race, socioeconomic circles, gentrification and integration and the effects thereof, and other truths. The lighter fare offsets the heaviness or preachiness of the weightier topics, resulting in a well-balanced slice of life.
The art is a mixed bag. While I am admittedly of the Adams/Kirby/Ditko/Steranko school of thought most of these cats carry the story forward well enough. A few of them are very good, with ideas far outside of the box of what comic books could look like during this time frame.
Middle age is a strange thing. I am no longer a young man ready to inherit the world, nor am I ready to give up on it. I'm not old enough to reap the rewards that old age brings. Middle age is like you're here, only here isn't necessarily what you once thought it would be, and even if you wanted it it may not be where you belong anyways. If there are answers to what life is, I certainly haven't found them yet. Harvey Pekar might have, though. He at least tries to point you in the right direction. Maybe further reading of his work will reveal the answer.
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5.
The OCD zone- This is much wider than a standard trade paperback.
Linework restoration: I haven't done any comparison with the original comic books and therefore have no comment.
Paper stock: Thick uncoated stock.
Binding: Perfect bound trade paperback. It should be noted that this is a library copy and has been read countless times and has held strong.
Cardstock cover notes: Thick cardstock cover which has weathered repeated handling and hands far less careful than mine countless times.