Pekar was best known for his autobiographical American Splendor series, which chronicled his ordinary life in Cleveland, Ohio. Pekar believed that regular life was apt fodder for literature, and he wrote countless stories for the graphic novel form about waiting in line at the grocery store, meeting his three wives, adopting a foster child, finding two other Harvey Pekars in the phone book, and battling cancer. As Pekar says: “Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.” In the comic book world, Pekar was a curmudgeonly but indepensible figure, and his world has been drawn by all the illustrative greats, most famously by R. Crumb.
I was introduced to Pekar and his work during my freshman year of college. I was stuck in the obligatory freshman English course, not having scored high enough on my AP tests in high school. Overall the experience was pretty dull, but during my second semester, I was lucky enough to have as my instructor a MA student who had an obsession with comic books. He devoted our entire coursework to the form, having us read the excellent The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and American Splendor. We then watched the critically acclaimed 2003 film adaptation of the comic, which I then ran out to buy for my own. And while I’m still not the biggest comic fan, Harvey Pekar’s work opened my eyes to the genre, and made me respect it as a serious literary form.
And so before you run out to your bookstore and buy American Splendor, check out the trailer to the movie. It stars Paul Giamatti and is soooo good.