American Splendor

I watched a movie called ‘American Splendor’ last night after the kids went to bed, from my pile of pillows and blankets on the sofa.

This movie is an incredible bio pic about Harvey Pekar, who is the author of a comic book series by the same name. The film starred Paul Giamatti, who I think is brilliant, and mixed dramatic and documentary styles in a very clever way with Harvey Pekar appearing as himself, commenting on the movie, and on the various points in his life depicted there.

American Splendor was revolutionary because it was simply about Harvey’s life. Each new volume was like a snapshot of his day-to-day, and was brilliantly illustrated by some of the very best underground comic book artists, including Robert Crumb, of Fritz the Cat fame. The series touched on some very deeply personal experiences, including Pekar’s struggle with cancer, and involved his co-workers and friends as really vibrant characters, as our colleagues and loved ones are in our own daily existence.

It occurred to me that the reasons why this series is so appealing are the same reasons why we now enjoy blogs so much. We can cast ourselves as the hero in our own stories, and we can move people through the ways we articulate the mundane, everyday realities of our world.

Harvey Pekar was a file clerk in a veteran’s hospital in Cleveland. In fact, he worked at this job until he retired. He was more than a little somber, most definitely cynical, and at least a little crusty, but people love his work. He appeared as a regular guest on the David Letterman show, until he blasted NBC and GE on air. He even won an American Book Award for the series.

We all have stories to tell, but not all of us know how to tell them with such simple grace and poignancy. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I plucked this DVD off the shelf last night, as I start to embark on a whole new relationship with my writing. How would you tell your own stories if given the chance?




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