Analysis of the Book:

Harvey Pekar and his line of comics entitled American Splendor were written and published during an era before this genre was respected within the literary community as it was reserved almost exclusively for superhero action stories. While maintaining the comic medium, Pekar decided to diverge from this trend by writing about the ordinary struggles of regular people, using himself as the protagonist. Pekar has become known as a complainer of epic proportions, providing an existential perspective on both his life and hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. His ability to bring an aspect of realism into the comic book world was revolutionary and possibly earns him a spot as one of the founding members of the underground, independent comic scene. Although he did not do the illustrations himself, his material was based on his own observations, activities, and thoughts. His writing style somewhat mirrors ‘stream-of-consciousness,’ allowing him to truly expose his character’s thoughts and emotions.


Analysis of the Film:

In 2003, Shari Berman and Robert Pulcini directed the film adaptation of American Splendor which won a total of 28 film awards, the most prestigious of which being the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Their adaptation transcends multiple genres of film including comedy, drama, documentary, and animation. In fact, the film features three completely distinct versions of the Harvey Pekar character: a comic representation, Paul Giamatti playing Pekar, and finally Harvey Pekar himself. Because of this kind of self-reflection, this hybrid film is quite post-modern in execution, which is fitting for a protagonist who is similarly self-critical.


Analysis of the Adaptation:

Berman and Pulcini’s adaptation of Harvey Pekar and American Splendor was well received by film critcs, who particularly reveled at their clever use of comic-style animation. Without overpowering the plot, these techniques made the narrative seem like a comic book coming to life on screen. Although the adaptation was not faithful in the conventional sense of telling the exact same story, the film was particularly adept at capturing the thematic essence of the Pekar’s comics and his own character. Being an independent film, American Splendor mirrored the realism that Pekar pioneered in his comics. In addition, because Pekar did not illustrate his own stories, the visual representation of his character differed between issues. Therefore, by using the three different depictions of Pekar in the film, American Splendor was able to not only match the postmodern, self-reflective nature of the original work, but also pay tribute to the way in which his character may be perceived differently depending on representation.


Online Research:

  • Harvey Pekar, the American anti-hero who led a comic-book revolution:
    This article more closely examines Harvey Pekar’s life as a comic writer. Especially popular amongst the underground world of comics, Pekar sought to defy mainstream convention both in life and through his work. The term ‘graphic novel’ and the acceptance of this art form is fairly recent, but Pekar is seen as one of the pioneers of this genre. Despite the fact that the medium was overrun with unrealistic, superhero comics, Pekar sought to comment on everyday life through this medium with a realist and anti-confromist attitude.
  • Film Review: American Splendor:
    Straying from the majority of reviews, Schager criticizes the American Splendor adaptation, claiming that people are only buying into the innovation of the movie rather than the substance. In his mind, Pekar as a character is simply not diverse enough to portray in this fashion.
  • Classic Review – American Splendor (2003):
    Jordan praises the adaptation, analyzing Pekar’s original themes and referring to the film as “a flawless example of character study.”


Critical Analysis:

Berman and Pulcini’s use of animation to mirror the look of a comic book was one of the most admired aspects of their film adaption of American Splendor. This begs the question: Why did they not use this animation for the entirety of the narrative? Personally, I found the subtle use of comic animation to be admirable, not the animation itself. The occasional prevalence of animation made the audience feel as if they were witnessing Pekar’s comic books coming to life, which is much more appealing than simply watching the comics on screen. This use of animation was intended as a postmodern reflection on the material that the film was adapting. If the entire film had been in that style, the animation would overpower the film and the meaning behind this technique would be lost.