Throughout the duration of watching American Splendor, I couldn’t help but notice several similarities between this movie and Scott McCloud’s book: Understanding Comics. The first thing that I noticed is that McCloud refers to comics as “the Invisible Art”. This idea came to life in American Splendor in the sense that Harvey Pekar is the epitome of invisibility. No one seems to ever truly see him or his work until Joyce comes along and loves him for who he truly is—messy, unhappy, and generally unsuccessful up until that point. Once he starts to become a successful comic book author, it seems as if these traits of his are going to change for the better. However, although they do to some extent, Harvey Pekar is never going to be the jokester that Joyce thinks she married.
One very interesting thing that I noticed, which may seem obvious at first, is the idea that Harvey Pekar did not feel the need to make his comics about anything overly interesting or creative. He made all of his comic books about things that happened to him in his life exactly the way that they happened. He even sometimes made things seem gloomier than they actually were because “misery loves company”. However, this is precisely why his comic books sold so rapidly. This reminded me of Understanding Comics when Scott McCloud is trying to come up with a definition for “comics”. One panel reads, “What about Batman? Shouldn’t it have Batman in it?” Well, no, it doesn’t have to. The thing about comics is that the author gets to decide what should and should not be included as well as the overall tone of the work. This is why people refer to comics as art.
Something else that really stood out to me about this movie was the fact that Harvey Pekar could not draw at all—he could not even draw a straight line. However, he found a way to make his comics anyway. He wrote the stories and let someone else do the illustrations. This may seem rather unusual, but he got a daughter out of the deal, so I guess it worked out in his favor. We see several instances throughout the movie when Harvey attempts to draw some squares on a page with a stick figure. In Understanding Comics, McCloud actually tells us that making cartoon figures less expressionless actually makes them more universal. This means that we are able to relate more easily with a character if they look plain. We may be able to imagine that that character is us. So, in a sense, Harvey’s lack of drawing skills was not necessarily a bad thing.
I found this movie so interesting to watch especially after reading Understanding Comics. There are so many parallels between these two works, it is impossible to mention all of them. And although I really enjoyed McCloud’s book I think that American Splendor does a great job of bringing the idea of comic books alive.