Hey gang, and welcome back to Shelves and Stacks. As always, I'm your host Jamie Thomas and I just finished watching my new favorite movie.
Made back in 2003 by HBO Films, American Splendor is the (mostly) accurate tale of underground comics writer Harvey Pekar, creator of the titular autobiographical comic. Aside from being a wholly enjoyable film with a plethora of clever written and visual tricks ( Gotta love cartoon Harvey berating the genuine article in the grocery line whilst internally ranting about the shopping habits of Jewish grandmothers), American Splendor is an origin story. Sure, it tells the tale of how Pekar became a celebrated comics curmudgeon, but that's only half the story. Ya see gang, American Splendor tells the story of how the autobiographical comics genre stayed afloat and became one of the most popular and widely used today.
Alright, everyone, gather round the Way Back.
|Tezuka sensei noticed me!|
While Mr. Tezuka is indeed known as the father of the medium, our focus today is on artist and writer Shinji Nagashima and his work Mangaka Zankoku Monogatari, or if you prefer, Cruel Tale of a Cartoonist. Published in 1961, Nagashima's work was one of the first widely known autobiographical works to be told in the comics medium and with a title like that, it would have been in good company amongst the underground comics written and drawn by Pekar and his peers during the 70's. Aside from Cruel Tale, Japan was also home to fellow mangaka Keiji Nakazuma and his ground breaking work, Ore wa Mita (known in English as I Saw It.). Published in 1972, I Saw It presented readers with first hand accounts of the devastation of the bombings of Hiroshima. This work was immediately followed by Nakazuma's most famous piece, Barefoot Gen, which expanded upon the themes and concept of I Saw It, further reminding us all of the devastating horror that is war.
Also released in 1972 was Justin Green's Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary, in which the author relates his befuddled youth growing up in a combination Jewish/Catholic household while battling the early onset of Obbsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Sounds like it'd be enough to drive anybody looney.
So, what's all this got to do with our man, Harvey Pekar? Jump ahead four years, and join me deep in the heart of Cleavland, Ohio.Don't look at me like that, just go with it. At least it's not Jersey. Anyway, once upon a time in this humble burg lived an average joe fed up with being called a curmudgeonly old grump.
|Whoops! Heh heh...Wrong comic.|
|There we go.|
Handsome fella, ain't he? You see, back in 1976, Harvey Pekar was a twice divorced file clerk with so many chips on his shoulder he'd have gotten his own cookie endorsement deal!
Ya know! Cookies! Chips...Like chocolate...?
Anywho, Harvey blundered along in life until he met up and coming underground cartoonist, Robert Crumb. For those of you who don't know Crumb,you can check out some of his work here:
For the record, you probably shouldn't read these in any place with small children, grannies or employers lurking about. Trust me on this.
So, after reading some of Crumb's early work, Harvey's preconceived notions that comics were just for kids was shattered, and since he felt he "couldn't draw a straight line", Harvey wrote out a few pages worth of daily observations, and passed them along to Crumb, who happily illustrated them. So, from 1976 to 2008, Harvey's ramblings became known to the public as American Splendor, immortalizing Harvey as a surly everyman, and paving the way for hundreds of cartoonists including: Art Spiegelman (Maus), Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis), Craig Thompson (Blankets), and even his old pal Robert Crumb, just to name a handful.
While snooping around for this article, I rediscovered James Kochalka and his long running journal comic American Elf.
|And NOBODY likes a quitter! Well, except for A.A.|
|Life is fraught with technology and toilets.|
Despite their self depreciating humor, Pekar and Kochalka do allow themselves moments of quiet dignity, pondering life on and off the page.
|By the way, this sequence is beautifully executed in the film. It's my favorite scene.|
Long of the short of it, Harvey Pekar's a legend for a reason. he kept a niche genre afloat, glorifying it, and inadvertently inspiring some of the greatest cartoonists of our time. It's pretty tough to find free pdfs or scans of American Splendor online, but if you'd like to give Harvey's work a read, check out The Pekar Project:
It reads just like Splendor, and it's free. So, win win. Also, if you dig Kochalka's American Elf, check it out right here:
If you'd like to learn more about Maus, Persepolis, and Blankets, check out this Shelves and Stacks rerun, (and your local libraries and book/comic shops):
And, if you'd like to check out even more online auto bio comics, check out this list from Comics Alliance:
I recommend DAR by Erika Moen.
|Pffft! Hahaha...Funny Money!|
This has been your weekly dose of Shelves and Stacks, as always I'm your host Jamie Thomas giving credit to all the owners of these fine, fine images I purloined for this post, and reminding you to keep scribbling away in your journals, kids. You never know when you'll pull a Pekar.