American Splendor is a series of autobiographical comic books written by Harvey Pekar and drawn by a variety of artists. The first issue was published in 1976 and the most recent in September 2008, with publication occurring at irregular intervals. Publishers have been, at various times, Harvey Pekar himself, Dark Horse Comics, and DC Comics.
Dark Horse Comics
|Publication date||May 1976 – September 2008|
|No. of issues||39|
|Main character(s)||Harvey Pekar|
|Written by||Harvey Pekar|
|The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar||ISBN 0-345-46830-9|
|More American Splendor||ISBN 0-385-24073-2|
Despite comic books in the United States being traditionally the province of fantasy-adventure and other genre stories, Pekar felt that the medium could be put to wider use:
When I was a little kid, and I was reading these comics in the '40s, I kind of got sick of them because after a while, they were just formulaic. I figured there was some kind of a flaw that keeps them from getting better than they are, and then when I saw Robert Crumb's work in the early '60s, when he moved from Philadelphia to Cleveland, and he moved around the corner from me, I thought 'Man, comics are where it's at'.
Pekar's philosophy of the potential of comics is also expressed in his often repeated statement that 'comics are words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures'. In an interview with Walrus Comix, Pekar described how the idea of producing his own comic book developed. In 1972 when Crumb was visiting him in Cleveland, Pekar showed him his story ideas. Not only did Crumb agree to draw some of them but also offered to show them to other artists to draw. By 1975, Pekar decided to produce and publish his own comic book.
The stories in American Splendor concern the everyday life of Pekar in Cleveland, Ohio. Situations covered include Pekar's job as a file clerk at a Veteran's Administration hospital and his relations with colleagues and patients there. There are also stories about Pekar and his relations with friends and family, including his third wife Joyce Brabner and their adopted daughter Danielle. Other stories concern everyday situations such as Pekar's troubles with his car, money, his health, and his concerns and anxieties in general. Several issues (#14, #13, #18) give accounts of Pekar's becoming a recurring guest on the NBC television show Late Night with David Letterman, including a 1987 interview segment in which Pekar criticized Letterman for ducking criticism of General Electric, the parent company of NBC. American Splendor sometimes departs from Pekar's own life, with stories about jazz musicians (#23), the artists for his comics (#25), and a three-issue miniseries American Splendor: Unsung Hero (#29-31), which chronicles the Vietnam experience of Pekar's African-American co-worker Robert McNeill.
As Pekar was not an artist himself, and was incapable of "drawing a straight line", according to a line in the film version of his story, he recruited his friend, underground comics artist Robert Crumb, to help create a comics series. Besides Crumb, other notable American Splendor illustrators include Alison Bechdel, Brian Bram, Chester Brown, Alan Moore, David Collier, Gary Dumm, Frank Stack, Drew Friedman, Dean Haspiel, Val Mayerik, Josh Neufeld, Spain Rodriguez, Joe Sacco, Gerry Shamray, Jim Woodring, Joe Zabel, Ed Piskor, and Greg Budgett. Later issues employed a new crop of artists, including Ty Templeton, Richard Corben, Hunt Emerson, Eddie Campbell, Gilbert Hernandez, Ho Che Anderson, and Rick Geary.
Pekar produced seventeen issues of American Splendor from 1976 to 1993 — usually each May — which, except for the last few issues, he also self-published and self-distributed. By keeping back issues in print and available (contrary to the industry practice of the time), Pekar continued to receive income on previously-completed work, although at the time some of them were published, according to his Comics Journal interview, he was losing thousands of dollars per year on the books. Starting in 1994, additional American Splendor were published by Dark Horse Comics, although these issues are not numbered. They include the two-issue American Splendor: Windfall and several themed issues such as American Splendor: Transatlantic Comics and American Splendor: On the Job. In September 2006, a four-issue American Splendor mini-series was published by the DC Comics imprint Vertigo. A second four-issue miniseries was published by DC in 2008.
|Number||Date of Publication||Pages (including cover)||Publisher|
|16||Nov 1991||60||Harvey Pekar in association with Tundra Publishing|
|17||1993||60||Dark Horse Comics|
|(18) A Step Out of the Nest||Aug 1994||36||Dark Horse|
|(19) Windfall 1||Sep 1995||44||Dark Horse|
|(20) Windfall 2||Oct 1995||44||Dark Horse|
|(21) Comic-Con Comics||Aug 1996||28||Dark Horse|
|(22) On the Job||May 1997||28||Dark Horse|
|(23) Music Comics||Nov 1997||28||Dark Horse|
|(24) Odds and Ends||Dec 1997||28||Dark Horse|
|(25) Transatlantic Comics||Jul 1998||28||Dark Horse|
|(26) Terminal||Sep 1999||28||Dark Horse|
|(27) Bedtime Stories||June 2000||28||Dark Horse|
|(28) Portrait of the Author in his Declining Years||Apr 2001||28||Dark Horse|
|(29) Unsung Hero 1||Aug 2002||28||Dark Horse|
|(30) Unsung Hero 2||Sep 2002||28||Dark Horse|
|(31) Unsung Hero 3||Oct 2002||28||Dark Horse|
|(32) 1||Nov 2006||36||Vertigo (DC Comics)|
|(33) 2||Dec 2006||36||Vertigo|
|(34) 3||Jan 2007||36||Vertigo|
|(35) 4||Feb 2007||36||Vertigo|
|(36) Vol 2 1||June 2008||36||Vertigo|
|(37) Vol 2 2||July 2008||36||Vertigo|
|(38) Vol 2 3||Aug 2008||36||Vertigo|
|(39) Vol 2 4||Sep 2008||36||Vertigo|
Many stories from American Splendor have been collected into trade paperbacks from various publishers, their material not (for the most part) overlapping.
- American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar (Doubleday, 1986) ISBN 0-345-46830-9
- More American Splendor (Doubleday, 1987) ISBN 0-385-24073-2
- The New American Splendor Anthology (Four Walls Eight Windows, 1991) ISBN 0-941423-64-6
- American Splendor Presents: Bob & Harv's Comics, with R. Crumb (Four Walls Eight Windows, 1996) ISBN 1-56858-101-7
- American Splendor: Unsung Hero, with David Collier (Dark Horse, 2003) ISBN 1-59307-040-3
- Best of American Splendor (Ballantine Books, 2005) ISBN 0-345-47938-6
- American Splendor: Another Day (DC/Vertigo, 2007) ISBN 978-1-4012-1235-3
- American Splendor: Another Dollar (DC/Vertigo, 2009)
Pekar wrote two larger works which carry the American Splendor label, Our Movie Year (Ballantine Books, 2004), a collection of comics written about or at the time of the American Splendor film, and Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story (Ballantine, 2006), a biography of the early life of the author Michael Malice.
Pekar also wrote two graphic novels which are not officially labeled American Splendor but which should arguably be considered part of it: Our Cancer Year (Four Walls Eight Windows, 1994), co-written with Pekar's wife Joyce Brabner and illustrated by Frank Stack, covering the year when Pekar was diagnosed with cancer; and The Quitter (DC Comics, 2005), illustrated by Dean Haspiel, which deals with Pekar's youth.
- Our Cancer Year, with Joyce Brabner and Frank Stack (Four Walls Eight Windows, 1994) ISBN 1-56858-011-8
- American Splendor: Our Movie Year (Ballantine Books, 2004) ISBN 0-345-47937-8
- The Quitter, with Dean Haspiel (DC/Vertigo, 2005) ISBN 1-4012-0399-X
- Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story, with Gary Dumm (Ballantine Books, 2006) ISBN 0-345-47939-4
Theatrical productions based on American Splendor have been mounted over the years. The first of these was produced by The Independent Eye in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1985, adapted and directed by Conrad Bishop. The second, produced in 1987 at Washington, DC's Arena Stage, was adapted by Lloyd Rose and directed by James C. Nicola. The third, which is represented in fictionalized form in the American Splendor movie, ran from September 1990 through September 1991 at Hollywood's Theater in Los Angeles, California; it was adapted and directed by Vince Waldron, and starred Dan Castellaneta as Harvey.
In 2003 a movie adaptation featuring Paul Giamatti playing Pekar (as well as appearances by Pekar himself) and Hope Davis as his wife was released to critical acclaim and first honors at the Sundance Film Festival in addition to the Writers Guild of America Award for best adapted screenplay. It was written and directed by documentarists Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. It was filmed entirely on location in Cleveland and Lakewood in Ohio. It was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the 2003 Academy Awards (it lost to The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King).
- Irvine, Alex (2008), "American Splendor", in Dougall, Alastair (ed.), The Vertigo Encyclopedia, New York: Dorling Kindersley, p. 21, ISBN 0-7566-4122-5, OCLC 213309015
- Heater, Brian."A Book called Malice", New York Press (2006). Archived 2007-11-21 at the Wayback Machine Accessed Sept. 24, 2008.
- "WALRUS COMIX IS DEEPLY HONOURED TO PRESENT An Exclusive Interview with Comix Legend... HARVEY PEKAR" Archived 2011-10-04 at the Wayback Machine Walrus Comix, accessed 10 Aug 2008.
- Koehler, Robert. "STAGE REVIEW: 'American Splendor' Mines the Ordinary," Los Angeles Times (October 19, 1990).
- Schillig, Chris. "Comic book chronicler Harvey Pekar speaks at Mount Union" Archived 2011-07-26 at the Wayback Machine, The Alliance Review, February 22, 2008, accessed July 12, 2010.
- Koehler, Robert. "Pekar Finally Gets a Peek at 'Splendor': Stage: The underground-comic author can now say that he's pleased with the dramatic adaptation of his work, nine months after it opened," Los Angeles Times (July 4, 1991).