Best of American Splendor by Harvey Pekar
Reviewed by John Glover, Reference Librarian for the Humanities
Harvey Pekar is one of the people who helped begin the gradual broadening of acceptable subject matter for comics in the U.S. Starting in the 1960s, a number of comics creators began producing "underground comics" -- comics which had nothing to do with the typical subject matter of comic books. Harvey Pekar entered this arena in 1976 with his autobiographical series American Splendor.
This volume contains stories culled from recent decades of American Splendor. One of the most striking things about the book that's visible right away is the variation in the artwork. Pekar is a writer, not an artist, and has frequently been quoted as having said he "couldn't draw a straight line." Various artists have illustrated his stories over the years, and this book is a showcase of styles, from the rounded, almost kanji-like drawings of Frank Stack to the thin line realism of Joe Zabel.
The stories themselves vary quite a bit in nature, but all revolve around Pekar's life in Cleveland as a file clerk at a V.A. hospital. They have all the pluses and minuses of stories of anybody's daily life, but in each Pekar finds something meaningful to say that elevates it above the status of mere episode. The author is known for being downbeat and combative, and many of these stories deal with the pains and anxieties of real life, with no positive resolution. If you enjoy the fiction of Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, or perhaps Charles Bukowski, you might enjoy these stories of Harvey Pekar's life.