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Best of American Splendor
Words by Harvey Pekar - Art by Dean Haspiel, Josh Neufeld, Joe Sacco, Frank Stack, David Collier, Gerry Shamray, Sam Hurt, Joe Zabel, Gary Dumm, Colin Warneford, Paul Mavrides, Alex Wald, J R Stats, Jim Woodring, Carole Sobocinski, Spain, Scott A Gilbert - Published by Ballantine Books (US), Titan Books (UK) - First published 2005
With something like 40 years of American Splendor comics to fall back on, pulling together a collection of the best must be something of a near impossibility. It's interesting that most of this collection is from the latter years of Harvey's career to date so, as with Our Movie Year, it would probably pay to get hold of the superb American Splendor film for a quick backgrounder into what Harvey Pekar's life is all about.
Pekar is an eternal pessimist and while his life throws up plenty to be pessimistic about (cancer, divorce, dead-end job, money problems), there's also a wealth of joy in his life (his current wife, his love of music, his writing, his foster daughter). American Splendor unselfconsciously tracks Harvey's life and his stories feel honest and heartfelt. A lack of anything interesting happening won't stop Harvey from writing, so we see examples of both ends of the spectrum here: comics about simple conversations that Pekar has found amusing, right through to more serious incidents in his life. However, material covered in depth in previous books, like cancer and the movie, are skirted around here.
The art varies in style as you'd expect from the names on display, but it all somehow fits - Pekar seems to have a good sense for what styles will suit a story. So some of the darker tales can be scratchy and shaded, while a clearer, friendlier style might be used on lighter stories.
This is a pretty good place to start with American Splendor, especially for those who've come from the film looking for more. More of the same is exactly what you get from Pekar - more money worries, more self-pity and more wonderful observations on his world.
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