Best of American Splendor

Author: Harvey Pekar
Artists: Various
Titan Books
RRP: £16.99
1 84576 096 4
Available 26 August 2005

Experience the heartwarming, all-American story of a crank and his comic book... Thanks to the
American Splendor movie, Harvey Pekar is now known around the world. But how did a former file clerk from Cleveland come up with an Oscar nomination? The story begins in 1976, when Harvey began publishing his autobiographical, slide-of-downtrodden-life comic book, illustrated by a who's who of underground comic artists, including R. Crumb, Frank Stack, Gary Dumm and Joe Sacco...

"Experience the heartwarming, all-American story..."?Heartwarming? I think not. Victor Meldrew's tales in One Foot in the Grave are heartwarming. Harvey Pekar's stories are, for the main part, dull, self-centred, childish and pathetic.

Any sympathy you may have for the man (he did go through a scare with cancer and has a problem with his hip) quickly vanish when you hear such wonderful speeches as:

"Man, I feel like a cripple though. This is the kind of simple-ass work they give volunteers who are too f***ed-up to hold a regular job."

Or how about:

"I didn't know sh*t about any kind of music, let alone jazz. So I looked up this guy I went to High School with, Aaron, who was a jazz trumpeter... I wasn't tight with him; in fact, I considered him kind of dull-witted, but who else could I turn to?"

Way to repay the guy who helped you get work reviewing jazz records - and was instrumental (no pun intended) in allowing you to make your breakthrough with regard to getting the world to notice the work of Django Reinhardt. Nice one Pekar. Way to come off like a self-important, arrogant prig.

As I mentioned in my review of American Splendor: Our Movie Year, Pekar is a pretty unlikeable character. While he may be honest in his writing (although, as he seems to know everything, I doubt he's being truly honest in the retelling of his tales), and we get to see his life warts and all, it's not something that the majority of people will generally be entertained by.

Pekar is a no one. Fame came to him by a happy accident rather than through any real talent. His stories are lame, self-centred and, quite frankly repetitive - with him moaning about anything and everything. Now while, as I mentioned earlier, One Foot in the Grave follows a similar path, that programme works because it's amusing, and we can all relate to Meldrew's plight. American Splendor fails because it isn't funny and Pekar alienates everyone around him. How can you like a man who is so self-absorbed that he moans about his life all the time.

The world does not owe you a living. It's what you make of it. As far as I can see Pekar has made a pretty good life for himself, all things considering, yet he still finds plenty to moan about - in an unfunny way. Actually, his complains almost sound like that of a spoilt infant who sits in a corner sulking because he didn't get a toy he wanted.

All of the enjoyable stories in this collection are ones that don't feature Pekar as the main character. There is an untitled, uncredited tale about an autistic comic writer with Asperger's syndrome. All indications are that this strip was submitted to Pekar and published as he received it. But cleverly, by not crediting the guy, Pekar manages to (maybe unwittingly) pass this story off as his own - a crime when you consider he bangs on about plagiarism earlier in this collection.

Then there's Shifra's story (another uncredited tale) which follows the life of a woman whose family emigrated from Poland when she was a young woman. This is "heartwarming" and worth about a thousand Pekar tales. In fact, it was this story, more than any, that made me realise that we had learned a whole lot about one woman in a single story than we have about Pekar in a whole volume of stories.

Don't buy this complete waste of space of a collection. If you want to get the same result, for free, go and find a typical Sun newspaper reader, who is drunk, and ask them their views on immigration and same sex marriages. The result will be just as satisfying.

Nick Smithson

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