Review by Karl Verhoven
The first American Splendor compilation in book form was successful enough to spawn a sequel, and for those not exactly enamoured of Harvey Pekar’s spotlighting the everyday and mundane there was the bonus of page after page of prime Robert Crumb art. Including the cover produced for this collection, there are only twelve pages of Crumb among the 168 on offer, so for the unconvinced prospective purchaser, this selection places a greater emphasis on an admiration for Pekar.
All the Crumb here is good, but even his low contribution serves to highlight the lack of style about much of the remaining artwork. The second best artist is Val Mayerik, known for work at Marvel, and quite the surprise when he began drawing Pekar’s material. On the opposite end of the scale we have Sue Cavey. As her website shows she’s a consistently experimental comic artist, and a far better one than worked with Pekar in 1982-83. The experimentation is apparent, with one strip emphasising cross-hatching, the next pointillism, but the storytelling is deficient.
This collection can also be separated from its predecessor in supplying far more tales of Pekar’s youth. These differ from the majority of his material here, being far more anecdotal than observational, and point toward the way Pekar would progress once he ceased self-publishing.
‘On the Corner’ is a prime example of early Pekar. He relates an afternoon just hanging out with friends he randomly encounters in the summer of 1974. Along the way we learn how Freddy lost his job (“Can you dig it? A switchboard operator who doesn’t answer the phone!”), how Harvey gets into the adult cinema for free, about Archbishop Makarios being ousted in Cyprus (“Those right-wing nuts who threw him out didn’t know when they had it good.”) and how to move a carpet. As Pekar, in this incarnation, is a polarising creator, this will either be as fascinating as watching the tap drip or an authentic and amusing sociological insight. What there’s no denying is that it’s seventeen pages of very basic artwork from Greg Budgett and Gary Dumm.
An odd editorial choice is to group the work of individual artists. This isn’t exclusive, but operates for most of the book, and when there’s an artist who’s not particularly good, it makes for difficult reading in places. It’s an odd choice, as it’s not tied to chronological reprinting. This would have been far improved for following the format of Pekar’s original comics, where strips by the same artists were seeded between others unless connected.
This book is more easily found these days combined with the previous volume under a photo cover featuring actor Paul Giamatti who played Pekar in the 2003 American Splendor movie. Confusingly, it’s again subtitled The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar.
Those with less patience for artists other than Crumb might instead want to look for Bob & Harv’s Comics. There have been several further compilations both pre and post-movie, all featuring different material, but all with relatively generic titles. The 1991 New American Splendor Anthology covers later strips from Pekar’s self-published comics and material from Underground titles before he began American Splendor. The 2005 Best of American Splendor is primarily strips first published by Dark Horse.