Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Our Movie Year

Harvey Pekar was well known for his autobiographical comics, particularly his decades long series American Splendor. He became a fixture on Late Night with David Letterman, and eventually his idiosyncratic voice was portrayed in the 2003 film American Splendor directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini and starring Paul Giamatti. This movie won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and the FIPRESCI Prize at the Cannes Fim Festival and also brought Pekar an unprecendented level of fame and attention. This graphic novel mostly chronicles the year the movie broke.

With its pages, Harvey worries about his post-movie life, fearing all the attention will go away and he will be seen as a flash in the pan. He also details his many travels (sometimes telling the same tale more than once), brushes with famous folk, and obsesses over care for his cats, house, and bills while he is gone. Ironically, maybe the most affecting stories, about a vet visit for a cat and another about a saltwater aquarium doomed by a power outage, have nothing to do with the movie. Also, the last third of the book contains a number of various and sundry works Harvey wrote about celebrities and musicians from the past as well as his selections for the movie soundtrack, making for an interesting, if disconnected, hodge-podge.

This book was illustrated by an all-star team of Pekar's collaborators, including R. Crumb, Frank Stack, Gerry Shamray, Gary Dumm, Ed Piskor, and Dean Haspiel. Their different styles cast different tones for the stories and events, echoing the look of past American Splendor comic books and also the metanarrative of the film. Pekar, who wrote the stories in this book, died in July of 2010, and his life is properly celebrated in this obituary.

Reviews I have read of this book have been on the negative side, perhaps due to comparison with the usual high standards set by Pekar's other works. The Onion A.V. Club's Tasha Robinson wrote, "The results are scattershot and even sometimes impersonal, which is unusual for Pekar's work. It seems incongruous that his world-hopping and his celebrity encounters should so often be humdrum, while his detailed recounting of an hour spent waiting for a tow truck is so involving." The reviewer at Grovel commented on how the book is uneven but "despite its faults this is a great companion to the movie, not least of all because it goes further behind the scenes than even the movie itself did." Kevin Forest Moreau concluded that this book was a weak offering in the American Splendor corpus, "somewhat intimidating and, yes, padded."

This book was published by Ballantine Books.

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