B R I E F   S Y N O P S I S
File clerk, working-class intellectual, obsessive-compulsive collector, and creator of the seminal autobiographical comic book "American Splendor," Harvey Pekar documents the mundane tribulations, random experiences and cultural interests that comprise his day-to-day existence in Cleveland. Filmmakers Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini illustrate this prickly hero in several forms: the Harvey of the acted narrative (Paul Giamatti), a 2D animated Harvey, and the real Harvey, past (via archival footage) and present. Hope Davis stars as Pekar's wife. Grand Jury Prize Winner at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival.
  American Splendor
   
  Before there was American Splendor the movie, there was the long-running comic book series of the same name. Based on the life of Cleveland file clerk, obsessive record-collector and all-around malcontent Harvey Pekar, these comics featured the superhero of the everyman. Over the years, Pekar collaborated with numerous and renowned artists to illustrate his comic series. This made for interesting reading and it ultimately gave us the license to play with multiple incarnations of Harvey Pekar in the movie.

"American Splendor" Issue #7 (subtitled the "Big Divorce Issue") is classic Pekar. Not only are the stories terrific and wildly varied in tone, but also nine very different artists contributed to the illustrations. Dealing with such "splendid" topics as divorce, Cleveland folklore, loneliness, bargain shopping, literature, V.A. Hospital humor, and street-corner philosophy, this issue first helped us get a handle on Harvey's world. As we flipped through the pages recently, we were struck by how much we drew on this one issue for the movie…

The comic book opens with a story illustrated by R. Crumb, the original Pekar artist. In this story, "Miracle Rabbis," Crumb draws the classic Harvey—the posture-challenged file clerk roaming the V.A. Hospital halls that Paul Giamatti embodies so well in the movie.

 

A panel from another Crumb-illustrated story features a silhouetted Harvey chatting with a pal in the foreground. Behind them sits the urban, rust belt skyline of Cleveland. We borrowed this silhouette technique several times in the film. Also, the striking post-industrial Cleveland landscape played a major role in the visual look of the comic and the film.

Here is an upside-down Gary Dumm (inks) / Greg Budgett (pencils) illustrated panel that inspired the first shot of a scene of Harvey and Joyce in bed. Gary Dumm, who lives in Cleveland, actually works at a comic book store where we shot several of the movie's scenes. Greg Budgett, who also resides in Cleveland, makes an appearance in the book-signing scene for "Our Cancer Year."

Another panel from the same story "The Day Before the Be In" inspired a very useful music cue! Marvin Gaye's classic Motown tune "Ain't That Peculiar" floats out of a parked car on a rare warm Cleveland day. It is Harvey's favorite song and reflects his fascination with the "peculiarities" of life. The song became a theme for the movie.

Another "American Splendor"
comic artist, Sue Cavey,
captures Harvey's private,
internal obsessions better
than anyone. Her use of
impressionistic shadows
and Harvey's shifting postures
dictated how we shot the
lonely, self-reflective
"Jenny Gerhardt" sequence.
Also featured in this issue
is the Cavey-drawn story
where Harvey runs into
college friend Alice Quinn—
perhaps his most moving.

 

 

Seemingly meaningless, wordless panels like this streetscape from Pekar collaborator Rick Dahl contributes to the powerful sense of meandering time Harvey conveys through his comics.

 

The two additional wordless
panels from the same story
reflect Harvey's alienation
even when he is with friends
and co-workers. The image
of two men driving together
without talking was very
striking and true to real life.

This panel by
Pekar-artist Gerry
Shamray reflects our
hero as an introspective,
sentimental,
working-class
intellectual.
Joyce refers to this
version of her husband
as "handsome Harvey."

 

 

 

And of course there's
the classic "American Splendor"
cover—bleak, blunt, sad,
funny and in-your-face.
Published in the 1980s.
Something about the cover
sticks with you, just like
the man himself.

 

©2004 Landmark Theatres