Goodreads: American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar
Series: American Splendor
It’s the 1970s in Seattle and Harvey Pekar is working a menial job while selling jazz records on the side and trying to sell the comic books he’s writing.
Presenting everyday moments to illustrate that anyone can be the star of a comic, that you don’t need to Superman to have a story, is an intriguing intellectual project. Even if we accept that Harvey Pekar can never really represent everyone, that he represents a certain segment of the population, perhaps the working man or the stifled intellectual, it’s still new to write a comic about your experiences waiting in line at the grocery store. But “new” and “intellectually interesting” do not always translate into an engaging read.
Some of the stories in this collection captured me more than others, but largely I did not care for the depiction of Pekar–angry, abrupt, cheap, and dishonest–and I hardly cared to hear about the random, mundane moments of his life. They are so mundane that they could, in fact, happen to anyone and that’s what makes them boring. Maybe I’d be interested in a friend recounting this tale, but I hardly care about the details of character-Pekar’s life. He waited a long time in line at the store. Fascinating.
Additionally, the comics often feel text-heavy, as if we don’t really need the illustrations. Sometimes Pekar is pictured just standing at the frame, talking. For the whole comic. Yes, we can decode his body language, but the images seem so secondary that I find it tempting to gloss over them and just read the story. I generally prefer comics where the images and words really work together and comment on and subvert each other. Of course the images and text have to be working together here, but nothing about the presentation really inspires me to read closely and discover how.
In the end, I understand what Pekar is doing. I understand this was a new concept when it was first published, that the team of artists he employs each create character-Pekar in different ways, that Pekar really wants to highlight the heroism of the “ordinary” person. But, as a reader, I just was not hooked.