Not all comic book movies are about explosions, alien invaders and Robert Downey Jr. or Chris Pratt’s smirk. In a sense modern comic book films have regressed the culture. For many years comic fans have been pushing for the medium to be recognised beyond its obsession of spandex-covered muscle men and unattainable femme fatales.
Comics can be so much more than a juvenile fixation on superheroes. Sadly Marvel’s movies have turned that cart over: anyone who disagrees should explain how ComicCon is mainly a marketing fiasco for summer blockbusters, which are nearly all aping the big M’s style. Comics are back to being nostalgic throwbacks to our childhood instead of growing our culture.
This would not have pleased Harvey Pekar, an outlier in the comic book world who never had time for its superficial side. He saw a much bigger opportunity in the medium: to tell real stories about real people. Most often these tales were about him, a man with a personal temperament and outlook that at times made Larry David look like a blind optimist. But it was that very glib and unflinching view of the world that also made Pekar a cult star.
This journey and philosophy is captured, more or less, in American Splendor – the HBO movie named after Pekar’s long-running comic series. Starring a pre-Sideways fame Paul Giamatti as Pekar, it’s a broad biographical cut through the man’s life. Pekar’s life was actually very ordinary, even dull and depressing. He’s the antithesis of the superhero: a reminder that none of us are special or destined for anything great. Life is what you make of it and often life dishes out lemons with more in the back.
This did not make Pekar many friends, but still resonated with a large audience. His early collaboration with close-friend and indie comic godfather Robert Crumb started a comic series that still stands on its own today.
As a biography American Splendor reflects this, using a lot of stories from the comics. It even shows this off, at times displaying the same frames from the comics as they are copied in the film. It also includes several brief interviews with the late Pekar and has a certain fourth-wall breaking charm that works nicely with the material. In a way American Splendor wanted to make it clear that it is not simply another comic book movie adaptation, but a respectful look at Pekar’s world.
Sadly only fans of Pekar’s work have really seen this movie, but any comic book fan worth their salt should give it a go. In a time when comic-culture has been co-opted by legions of adult children, American Splendor is a reminder of the medium’s wider and deeper reaches. Sadly a Harvey Pekar story will never gross a billion, which just goes to show how unfair the world is.
Then again, if the world was a fair place, Pekar would never have had anything to gripe about.[/column] [column size=one_half position=last ] [/column]
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Last Updated: July 27, 2015