American Splendor

1. Analysis of the book

American Splendor by Harvey Pekar is a reflection of his life, describing, in comic form, the poignancy of the mundane. What makes these comics so great is that they are candid, honest looks at a real and ordinary American life, from a guy born and raised in Cleveland who just wrote about what he knew. It’s kind of hard to believe that so much humor, wisdom and familiarity can be found in Pekar’s stories, even through his overt pessimism and existential view of the world, which enhances the narrative. But his stories, like the one with the multiple Harvey Pekar’s in the phone book, have a mass appeal, describing the subtleties of everyday life and those that are often overlooked.

 2. Analysis of the film

American Splendor is a unique film for many reasons, including perfect execution of the different aspects of the film and postmodernism, which most films today can’t replicate. The film sporadically switches from one guise of Harvey Pekar to another: Pekar is portrayed by Paul Giamatti, as himself and as an animated black and white figure. When combined, these elements somehow all work, telling the story of a rather ordinary person, albeit a major complainer, who has found success writing comics in an otherwise dull life. Most of the movie focuses on Harvey Pekar as Paul Giamatti, who pairs up with Joyce Brabner to convey the humor and peculiarity of everyday life, as well as the relationship between true life and fiction.

3. Analysis of the adaptation

American Splendor is a very good adaptation of the comic series because it captures the essence—the comic, offbeat nature and postmodernism—of Harvey Pekar and his work. The documentary and comic book filming aspects make the movie multi-dimensional and are conducive to the story being told. That’s just the beginning of the list of things the movie does well. American Splendor blends fact with fiction. Fact looks the same as fiction, fiction looks the same as fact and sometimes both are featured in the same shot. Also, sometimes it feels as if the viewer is watching a comic strip being played out, like the scene of Pekar stuck in line behind an elderly Jewish woman at a grocery store, and at other times—most of the time—the viewer is watching Pekar’s life unfold in a stirring way that captivates the audience.

4. Online research on the film

This article is an interesting read because a journalist explains why American Splendor is her favorite film, highlighting the movie’s mixture of documentary and drama, truth and humor.

This paper, titled, “Removing the Experience: Simulacrum as An Autobiographical Act in American Splendor,” goes into great depth on the autobiographical narrative of American Splendor.

This paper, titled, “Style, Voice, and Authorship in Harvey Pekar’s (Auto) (Bio)Graphical Comics” by Thomas A. Bredehoft, is a well-organized and informative piece on American Splendor. Bredehoft’s main argument is that the structural position of “author” is at least sometimes occupied by the author and artists in comics. Furthermore, he offers an explanation for the autobiographical trend in recent comics that are both written and drawn by the same person.

5. Critical analysis paragraph

Web 2.0 applications such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter are all about ordinariness: we use them to record the mundane events of our lives. How would an American Splendor blog (or Facebook page, or Twitter feed) look like? How would it be different than his comic book?

Web 2.0 applications are a form of personal expression and the manner in which they are used varies from person to person. Some people rarely post new updates, only doing so in the circumstance of a big event or even at random, whereas others post around the clock and feel the need to tweet about how they just went to the bathroom. An American Splendor Facebook page or Twitter feed would be a source of comedy. On Twitter, I envision tweets would come every couple of days, as I think Harvey Pekar would have adopted Twitter as a forum to vent. The tweets would be similar to the comics content: they would describe an ordinary experience or thought in a funny way. For example, the grocery store and phone book stories would translate seamlessly to Twitter. You could expect the same on Facebook, except the posts could be longer, allowing for links or video related to the post’s content. I don’t think Pekar would have held anything back using social media—the posts would be unedited, uncut and have the same type of humor as his comics.

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