“Some reviewers in Tucson and Kansas City, if they talk about American Splendor at [all,] are gonna say stuff like, ‘This is a comic book? Then why ain’t I laughin’?’ I know that, I’m ready for it.”
These are words spoken by Harvey Pekar in The New American Splendor Anthology (1991), or rather “Harvey Pekar,” the persona who inhabited volumes of comics. As figures and scenes from the Bible were rendered again and again by countless medieval and Renaissance artists, so Pekar was depicted by various comic illustrators, Robert Crumb not the least among them.
From the streets of Cleveland, Pekar gave us a documentary, in comics form, of life as a “flunky file clerk,” a working-class schlub, and self-deprecating visionary. If American Splendor was seen as narcissistic or overly concerned with everyday exertions, it’s because the fact that it was a record of one man’s mind and process was ignored. Pekar wanted to create comics this way. Why leave the reviewers in Tucson and Kansas City laughing when he could give them something new?
Alternative comics allowed for experimentation and collaboration. Comics could become something more than mass-produced, formulaic rags. American Splendor, and titles like it, was a comic to keep, shelve, and re-read. Pekar helped us all outgrow simplistic superhero comics.
Pekar was a curmudgeon, yes, but also a diamond in the rough. Pekar helped turn comics into a record of daily life, a collection of little moments that are otherwise forgotten but nonetheless are the stuff of real life.
And real life can be drab, boring, and stressful. Real life is filled with disappointment and solitude. But it can also be filled with laughter, drama, passion, and excitement. Pekar saw that the struggles between caped superheroes paled in comparison to the epic battles of daily life. Who needs Kryptonite when you have bills, loneliness, sickness, and David Letterman? And forget Green Lantern’s ring: what’s better than family or a hard-to-find jazz record?
Hello! I’m Emily Gordon, an editor, critic, copywriter, and pre-web internet nut. Emdashes, born in 2004, spent many years as a New Yorker fan blog. The project garnered some nice compliments and press.
The blog’s now treading the territories of punctuation, publications, movies, design, and other things that stir me.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a brilliant brigade of culture writers, editors, and artists. You can read all about the people who've helped build Emdashes here at “Who We?” (That’s a New Yorker joke. Old habits die hard.)
I welcome submissions, questions, corrections, and ardent, obsessive contributors. I also host occasional book-related contests and giveaways. Questioners and publishers, just email me.
Jennifer Hadley designed the original Emdashes pencil logo, based on a 1943 Dorothy Gray ad.