Review: ‘American Splendor’ #1 by Harvey Pekar
For several decades now, Harvey Pekar has existed in comic book form as a straight-talking, ill-tempered, hypochondriac who can’t go very long without finding something to complain about.
The latest edition of his American Splendor strikes me as an important moment in that career, then, as Pekar is settling into a more mellow existence. In the first issue of this volume (the second from Vertigo), Pekar doesn’t call a pharmacy worker a Nazi (and benefits from the lack of anger) and doesn’t blow his top at a sycophantic fan who invades his life and doesn’t totally trash a critic who didn’t like his book Macedonia.
One of the things that made Pekar something of a phenomenon in the first place was his always-simmering anger (let loose so famously on David Letterman’s couch), so these stories become interesting in two respects: watching Pekar’s personality change and seeing if his fans stay with him through that metamorphosis.
The eight stories collected here are otherwise a fairly typical mix for Pekar, little snippets of everyday life both mundane and striking, and always entertaining.
The two best are: a small moment with Pekar and Hollywood Bob, who makes a random comment that gives an abrupt and bizarre punctuation to a conversation, and a memory of a theater coworker’s painful relationship from Pekar’s teenage years. Though the art is good throughout, the pencil work by Zachary Baldus in the theater story is some of the best pencil art I’ve seen in comics in quite a long time.