This is the name of the comic book written by and about blue-collar no-life Harvey Pekar, which first appeared in 1976. Pekar was inspired to write comics, having always been a fan, by the success of his one-time neighbour, Robert Crumb. When Crumb visited him in 1972, Pekar gave him some stories based on his life as a hospital file clerk, which Crumb illustrated. Four years later these were pulled together into the first American Splendor book. A new issue of these comics has appeared roughly once a year since that time, but until retirement Pekar never made enough money (or perhaps never had the inclination) to leave his original job.
The comics have been illustrated by Crumb, Frank Stack, Val Mayerik, Paul Mavrides, Don Simpson and many other big names in comic books. Pekar originally published his own work, but American Splendor has more recently been published by Dark Horse Comics. It slowly gained a cult following, and Pekar's work was eventually adapted into two plays - in one of these Dan Castellaneta, the voice of Homer Simpson, played Pekar. Pekar himself was invited to appear on David Letterman's show several times, being brought in essentially to make fun of his whining. After going off the handle one too many times, he was banned from the show, only to be brought back a few years later. His appearances have been put to print in the comic itself.
The comics to some seem pretty dull, but Pekar and his artists manage to find humour in the everyday aspects of life, and to make sympathetic as a character a man who sometimes was not.
Pekar's life has now been turned into a film of the same name, released in 2003. The film has won several awards, including the Sundance Film Festival's Grand Jury Prize and the Cannes International Film Festival's Fipresci Award.
The film mixes the reality of Pekar's life with pictures from his comics, showing how very much the comics were taken from scenes in his life and how characters from his life became mythologised. It brings to the fore how dull Pekar and his friends and co-workers are, while at the same time displaying real warmth towards them, just as the comics managed to do originally. The appearances on Letterman, using footage from the original shows, are particularly interesting.
Cast and Crew
Paul Giamatti - Harvey Pekar
Hope Davis - Joyce Brabner
James Urbaniak - Robert Crumb
Judah Friedlander - Toby Radloff
Directed by Shari Springer Bergman and Robert Pulcini.
Written by Shari Springer Bergman and Robert Pulcini, with excerpts from writing by Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner.
The film is 101 minutes long.