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American Splendor: Our Movie Year
Words by Harvey Pekar - Art by Robert Crumb, Gary Dumm, Mark Zingarelli, Josh Neufeld, Gerry Shamray, G Budgett, Frank Stack, Ed Piskor, Joe Zabel, Dean Haspiel - Published by Ballantine Books (US), Titan Books (UK) - First published 2004
You don't have to have read any American Splendor to appreciate the film, but it would certainly help to have seen the film to get anything out of this collection of comic strips. For those that haven't seen the film or come across any American Splendor before, it's the ongoing graphic autobiography of Harvey Pekar, a regular American man with the belief that there's drama and comedy enough in anyone's ordinary life to create an interesting ongoing story. Perhaps the biggest irony is that Pekar's life has taken some extraordinary turns, with cancer striking twice, regular appearances on America's biggest TV chat show and an extraordinary movie having been made to celebrate his existence.
This book follows Pekar's dealings with the movie business, from the initial studio flirtations to his travels across the globe to help promote the film. Not everything here is reprinted from his self-published comic - some sections are from other sources, such as a comic created for Empire magazine to help familiarise movie goers with American Splendor's origins.
Because the stories come from a wide selection of sources there's some repetition. By the time you've finished this collection you'll have had Pekar's history well and truly drummed into your brain, as at least a few panels of introductory blurb appear in every story designed to stand alone.
The other problem is that the material runs thin towards the end. The movie connection is virtually dropped in favour of a series of biographies of classic jazz musicians. Admittedly, many of these guys appeared on the movie soundtrack, but the link is tenuous unless you're particularly a soundtrack person, and we found them sitting uncomfortably with the more interesting sections about Pekar's adventures in Hollywood.
Despite its faults this is a great companion to the movie, not least of all because it goes further behind the scenes than even the movie itself did (despite being played by actors, the movie also contains Pekar, his family and some of the real people the actors portray playing themselves), leaving you well aware of how even a surprise success movie can still leave a pessimist worrying about what might happen next.
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