By: Katherine Brodsky ([email protected])
HARVEY PEKAR is a man whose life is ordinary to such an extent that it actually warranted an auto-biographical comic book, a best-selling graphic novel, and now even a critically acclaimed motion picture by the name of AMERICAN SPLENDOR. The film follows the life of Harvey Pekar who spent most of his life as a hospital file clerk, an obsessive-compulsive collector, and a freelance journalist. In the film, Paul Giamatti wonderfully captures the essence of this cynical observer of life's strange moments.
So how does one face this most spectacular task of separating the real Harvey Pekar from the convincing figment on the screen? As it turns out, this wasn't so much of a challenge as they are pretty much the same.
Harvey Pekar resembles every bit of what I expected, and then some more. He is not the sort to try and manipulate you and doesn't seem to care much about how you see him either. When you speak with Harvey, there is a certain sense that he is not judging you, that he accepts you as who you are, and that he is being completely and utterly honest with you. And truth be told, he is. He doesn’t toy with words; he just delivers them, sharp and to the point (perhaps that way things won’t run amuck?). But there is also something noticeably sad about him. In the film Pekar is portrayed as a rather depressed fellow, and in life he admits to be much of the same. And, surprisingly enough, he appears to be content with the fact. Beyond the happiness of his family, Pekar doesn't seem to want much more than perhaps to ensure that his family is financially set. When asked what he would do should he somehow acquire the grand total of a billion dollars, Pekar pauses for some time. "I don't know," he says, "I'd take care of my daughter's education..."
Despite the fact that a major motion picture is being released based on Pekar's comics and that they were often critically acclaimed, somehow the American Splendor comic-book series never truly took off. "The comics never took off because they are alternative," explains Pekar. His comics are not the typical superhero stuff that teenage boys rush out to buy. At signings folks would look at him in confusion, curious as to what they were. So, they’d ask him what these strange creations were, often in less than polite terms. They never seemed particularly impressed.
To promote the comics originally, Pekar made a considerable splash by being a frequent guest on the David Letterman show. He gave Letterman what he wanted by portraying the entertaining ‘persona’ of Harvey Pekar, while Letterman was his supposed publicity ticket for bigger sales. He came back show after show to audience’s great applause and laughter. Whether they were laughing with Harvey, or at him, is subject to debate. It was an advantageous partnership, yet somehow Pekar never did quit his post as file clerk. Still, it helped sales. But at one point, this ‘special relationship’ strayed. Pekar, tired of spinning yarn, decided to use his presence on the show in order to get political and speak out against GM (the owner of NBC, the network on which the show airs). Pekar made headlines – as one of the few guests to ever be kicked off the David Letterman show. Pekar recalls Letterman saying to him that faithful day that, "You do whatever you do, but the audience will always be on my side." Letterman was, as usual, in control.
Now, some years later, Pekar once again has a chance at the spotlight. Initially nervous about how the film would do, in the typical Harvey-manner, he is now "very pleased, and very happy" about its progress. And while he seems not especially concerned about how people perceive him as result of the film, following some after-thought he admits that there is one side to him that could use some attention: his intellectual side. Pekar, in theme with his compulsive nature, reads an astonishing number of books - and collects them too, of course.
In his comics, and the film, people in his life are portrayed with an unflinching honesty. According to Pekar, these people don't mind. They want (and like) to be somehow important and noticed "on TV, in the media - in any way," he explains. People would even come up to him and ask if they are in any of the upcoming issues, even if they were not always portrayed as the glamorous creatures that they wished to be. And well, if the depiction is truly dreadful, it is usually about people that he is not exactly on speaking terms with, admits Harvey.
Time passes, and I begin to thank Harvey. "You don't have anymore questions for me," he asks. "I do," I reply apologetically. He tells me that we can keep talking and the publicist will interrupt when she feels like it. So until that time, we keep talking. Increasingly trying to dig in to find out what makes this person so special, increasingly feeling like Harvey is just what he presents himself as. Perhaps he is precisely that ordinary man who loves his family and close friends, who lives his life day by day, worrying like most of us do (albeit compulsively). Perhaps he even leads what to him is an ‘ordinary life.’ But as Harvey would say, "Ordinary life is pretty interesting." And it is.
AMERICAN SPLENDOR is his story.
For more information on Harvey Pekar, the film, and his marvelous comics visit: http://www.harveypekar.com