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Monday, July 14, 2008

 
American Splendor Season 2 #4 -- Latecomers to the world of independent and autobiographical comics could be forgiven for thinking that being in its "second season" means American Splendor is a relatively new comic. DC/Vertigo began publishing Harvey Pekar's everyman autobio series in the wake of the brilliant American Splendor movie, but rest assured, Harvey's been doing this for decades, and his writing is as sharp and insightful as ever.

I first read American Splendor in the late 1970s or very early 1980s, back when Harvey was publishing the title himself while he toiled in his day job filing at a VA hospital. That era provided him with plenty of stories about the weird and wacky people he encountered every day, but latter-day Harvey has retired from that job (as seen at the end of the film), and his comics these days often involve his daily routine, his health, and the people he meets as a result of the interest in the man and his writing that followed the movie's release.

These Vertigo issues (of which there are now eight, four each in two "seasons") don't have the same rough-hewn, streets-of-Cleveland feel to them that his earliest efforts did. Harvey's settled down and happily married, now, and while the artists chosen to illustrate his scripts these days generally don't have the brilliant artistry R. Crumb brought to the earliest issues, they do generally all tell his stories well and occasionally add genuine artistry to the proceedings, as with the story in this issue drawn by Rick Geary, one of the artform's greatest living cartoonists.

Transmetropolitan's Darick Robertson draws a story in this issue, his style actually fitting quite well with Pekar's story; it's one of those familiar tales where Harvey makes a small mistake with big consequences and is bailed out by unexpected decency and humanity from a stranger. Unlike his work on Transmet or The Boys, Robertson actually brings a real and welcome underground vibe to the tale, which could easily have fit in any one of the first half-dozen issues of Harvey's original, self-published comic books.

I should mention that this really is a great issue of American Splendor not just for longtime readers, but also for anyone new to the series (or the genre of autobiography) and wondering what it's all about. In an unusual narrative choice for this series, the entire issue is kind of a "concept album," with different artists (among them Ty Templeton and Dean Haspiel, in addition to the ones already mentioned) taking on different chapters, but one idea holding the entire thing together. Being Harvey Pekar, the high concept is nothing out-of-this-world, just a thoughtful writer applying an idea to his art and seeing it through with pleasing and entertaining results.

Being "only" a writer, Pekar has never really been acknowledged as a superstar of alternative comics, although most people with even a passing interest in the artform have certainly heard his name or sampled his work in some way by now. But his choices of collaborators have always been intriguing and wise, and his entire body of work is one that should be respected, explored and enjoyed. This issue is a fine example of why.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Roger Green said...

I thought the movie insured his superstar status. Anyway, i didn't start reading Pekar until maybe '83 and I haven't since '93. Always enjoyed him. Loved the movie.

15 July, 2008 06:04  
Blogger Alan David Doane said...

The Vertigo American Splendors have been a blast, and Ego and Hubris: The Michael Malice Story is a recent Pekar project that I had a great time reading.

One of the best things to come out of the movie is the number of volumes reprinting early AS volumes; my fave is Bob and Harv's Comix, the volume of exclusively Crumb-drawn stories, but they all have something to offer.

15 July, 2008 06:29  

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