From past reviews, I have made sure readers knew that not all comic books are about superheroes or life-and-death situations. Some comic books are about everyday life, printed to be reflections on mishaps and happy times.
This week I was handed “American Splendor” by Harvey Pekar. This comic book series was written by the late Pekar and includes a variety of artists. The title tells what the short comic stories are about: American life, particularly in Cleveland, Ohio.
Reading this comic, you might think, “What is so important about Pekar’s mundane interactions, multiple divorces and his lost path in life?” I thought this. What I discovered at the end of reading this issue was this piece — Pekar’s decision to make this — was a statement against the Big Two (DC and Marvel.) It also was an art statement.
Pekar, who said he couldn’t draw, met with Robert Crumb — founder of the underground comix movement and artist of Fritz the Cat — and they published the first “American Splendor” in 1976. In a quote from “A Book Called Malice” by Brian Heater, Pekar describes why he wanted to start a new comics way of life:
When I was a little kid, and I was reading these comics in the ’40s, I kind of got sick of them because after a while, they were just formulaic. I figured there was some kind of a flaw that keeps them from getting better than they are, and then when I saw Robert Crumb’s work in the early ’60s, when he moved from Philadelphia to Cleveland, and he moved around the corner from me, I thought “Man, comics are where it’s at.”
I know this review is another unusual one, as I am commenting on the history of this comic, rather than the comic itself. This is because the premise is what makes it so important — it is like looking back on famous movements in literature, such as the Romantics and Transcendentalists, and seeing their impact on the industry. The work of Pekar and Crumb paved a way for today’s artists, who often turn to self-publishing as a means to get their work in the spotlight.
As I said, the stories are a bit mundane but the art is fantastic. All these stories are about Pekar in some way, and it is interesting to see how each artist portrays the subject. It not only comes from the shading and style but how unique Pekar looks to each artist.
Acquiring copies of “American Splendor” is like picking up a classic: A book that sits on the shelf after being read as a reminder of the past and an inspiration for the future.
Comic Book Wednesday showcases a variety of visually based books that fit into this wide category, to give a taste of this other form of reading.