Harvey Pekar’s autobiographical Amercian Splendor series has charted the author’s life in comic form since 1972. However, apart from a few asides, he’s done little work that focuses on his formative years. This all changes with The Quitter, which remembers the childhood and early adulthood of Pekar, promising to reveal the secret history of one of America’s foremost neurotics.
The title pretty much sums up what Pekar thinks of his former self. What’s perhaps most surprising is how Pekar’s character got to become a quitter: not because he was crap at everything like most people, but because he failed to use his natural gifts to fulfill his own expectations.
Few people who are familiar with American Splendor will expect to see the youth that’s lined up for our appraisal. At school, Pekar excelled at street fighting and football; later he became a bohemian local hero for his knowledge of jazz and his debating skills. But Pekar is nothing if not twisted with regret, so every missed opportunity or lack of skill is of far more consequence than any of his achievements.By the time he reaches adulthood it’s all gone too far. A stint in the navy is cut short by a boot camp breakdown over a bit of washing, while the fear of losing a secure job is all it takes to settle him into a life of filing drudgery. Perhaps this is a success – if nothing else, forty years in the same filing job and more than thirty years of writing comics prove that he’s no longer a quitter. But his troubles move on – lack of money, cancer and all the other things that Pekar is famous for lie in his future.
Haspiel captures the young Pekar admirably. It’s a difficult job, because most of us know him as the retirement-age Pekar. This handsome football hero is deep in Pekar’s past, yet Haspiel can still draw similarities between the Pekars of the ages when the elder Harvey inevitably pops in for a bit of narration or comment.
This is typical American Splendor and none the worse for it. Fans of Pekar’s work will recognise a lot of familiar territory, but there’s no denying that this broadens our understanding of the complexity of Pekar, and American Splendor fans are bound to find it enlightening. However, newcomers will probably be better off heading towards one of his latter collections (or even the movie if you’re really pressed for time) for an introduction to Harvey Pekar that can be further built on through volumes like this.
Other books by Harvey Pekar: