Customer Reviews: American Splendor Our Movie Year
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on March 23, 2006
I got a big kick out of the "American Splendor" movie. In addition to being a fun flick, it brought Pekar some well-deserved attention. It was nice to see him get interviews and a chance to travel around.

It was pretty much a sure thing, then, that I would buy "Our Movie Year," a comeek about Pekar's brush with fame.

Well . . . I'm not sorry I bought the book, but it's a mixed bag.

Here's the disappointing part: Unlike "Our Cancer Year," this isn't a single story book, planned from the beginning, or even a collection of original short pieces. It is a compilation of dozens of short pieces, apparently reprinted from magazines and Harvey's own comic. This would be OK, but in many cases they cover the same events. Some are reprises of how Harvey came to write autobiographical comics . . . a story well known to anyone who has read the earlier "American Splendor" anthologies. Sure, in some cases the material is told from a different angle, or in more detail. For example, Harvey's reprisal of his rocky relationship with David Letterman is more honest and introspective.

What really made this book worth buying was what might be considered padding, totally unrelated to the events surrounding the movie: Short illustrated pieces on famous authors, jazz legends, and other cultural items. Items like these are how Harvey earns his living, and it was really neat to see them. In addition to being interesting in their own right, they show that Pekar can more than "stories about nothing."

I give this one a thumbs up, and would especially recommend it to those who haven't read any of Pekar's other books.
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VINE VOICEon May 6, 2008
Harvey Pekar is famous for chronicling the everyday, and for helping the rest of us take notice of the fact that the ordinary things of life are really quite wondrous. Even in Our Cancer Year, co-written with his wife Joyce Brabner, Pekar focuses on an event that was harrowing for him personally but (alas!) increasingly ordinary from a statistical perspective: the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. But in Our Movie Year, Pekar seems to break stride by focusing on an event that's truly extraordinary: the release of an award-winning film about his life and work.

Here's another extraordinary thing: Pekar writes about this event in the way that his fans have come to know and love. He's obviously pleased that his work has achieved recognition and approval from a wider than usual audience. But what makes the story interesting is that Pekar's pleasure is constantly shadowed by his usual cloud of neuroses: anxiety over whether the film will bring future writing gigs or a nosedive into obscurity once the box office hoopla ends; money worries; travel anxieties; and up-and-down moods in response to events. The story is a really intriguing psychological portrait of mixed emotions.

As one would expect, the book describes in some detail the high-energy events surrounding the film: scrounging up producers and backers; debuts in Cleveland and NYC (the latter threatened by a blackout); the excitement of the Sundance and Cannes festivals; and film-connected travel to England, Ireland, Australia, and Japan. But wonderfully sandwiched in between these story lines are more typical Pekar stories involving misplaced keys, flat tires in winter, and dealing with bureaucrats. The message seems to be that even when extraordinary events occur, everyday life, with its hassles and small victories, continues.

There's a curious redundancy in the book. The lead story, the multi-part "The American Splendor Movie," illustrated by Mark Zingarelli, is duplicated later on in "My Movie Year," illustrated by Gary Dumm. The latter is less good than the former, and could easily have been omitted. Toward the end of the book, Pekar offers film and book reviews as well as a few Crumb-like biographies of musicians. And speaking of Crumb: there's a wonderful Crumb-illustrated piece, "Reunion" (p. 55), in which Pekar, using his old pal Crumb as a straight man, pokes fun at his own compulsiveness. It's really brilliant.

I don't think that Our Movie Year would be a good introduction to Pekar to anyone unfamiliar with his work. But it surely is yet another example of the man's genius. Highly recommended.
Page 18.
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on January 30, 2013
Graphic novel collecting a year's worth of Harvey Pekar's autobiographical American Splendor series. This issue covers the making and release of the American Splendor film. Pekar tells a fascinating story about his quest for a Hollywood adaptation of his long-running comic book series. When the film did finally happen, Pekar was in the midst of a battle with his anxiety attacks and a relapse of his lymphoma.

The book details how he was able to recover to see the release of the film and its showings at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals, as well as Pekar's travels with his family to promote the movie.

Of course a variety of mishaps occur along the way, including the Northeast Blackout of 2003, which stranded Pekar and his family in New York right when the film was set to premier.

In addition to the ongoing chronicle of the movie's release, the book also includes a bunch of stand-alone stories, as well as some of Pekar's historical features on jazz music.

As is typical for Pekar's work, it is illustrated by several artists, so there is a constantly changing art style from one story to the next. R. Crumb is the artist who helped Pekar get started and he still has one of the most distinctive styles here. Pekar's artists avoid exaggerated superhero-style art in favor of a 70s underground look that keeps the characters looking like real people.

There are lots of little treats in the story for the geeky readers. Pekar might not have much interest in mainstream comics, but he talks at length about Hollywood personalities, visits Weta (the effects studio for Lord of the Rings) in New Zealand, checks out a manga shop in Japan (he's not that impressed), and visits Allan Moore in England for an afternoon.

As much as Pekar presents himself as a cynical everyman, his writing is very intellectual, particularly when discussing music and politics. He puts a great deal of thought into what he writes about, and his depth of knowledge on jazz is encyclopedic. I was also surprised by how positive Pekar is. In spite of his pessimistic, hard-luck outlook on his own life, Pekar speaks very highly of just about all of the people that he worked with, whether on comics, music reviews, or the movie. Pekar is always upbeat and appreciative of the creative and talented people that he has had the chance to meet.

Because this is a collection of a year's worth of Pekar's writing in various individual features and comics, there is some redundancy to the book, and some of the music features are clearly meant to be of local interest. But even the repeated material is presented by different artists, and it's fun to see the variety of interpretations of the same sequence of events.

This may not be the absolute best starting point when it comes to Pekar's work, but it's a good place to jump in for those who got to know Pekar by way of the movie.
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Harvey Pekar was a file clerk in Cleveland for 35 years who, after a chance meeting with a young artist called R. Crumb, was turned on to the possibilities of comics and began writing stories about his life in the form of comics and getting artists to illustrate them. This became the indie comics series "American Splendor" that Pekar worked on until his death in 2010. The series was made into a film in 2003 and the story of how this series went from the page to screen is told here in a series of vignettes.

But while this book has a fair few strips on the history of "American Splendor" and Hollywood, how filming went, and the reactions to it once it was released, quite a lot of this book has nothing to do with the movie and is a straight up reprint of several issues of "American Splendor".

There's a story about a fish collector, a strip on the musician Billy Bragg, a story on Harvey's cat, getting his car serviced, the musician Ralph Carney, a conversation with a convenience store clerk, his life as a collector, how "American Splendor" got started, his Letterman years, and so on. They're all excellent comics and show why people thought this series had the potential to become a feature film.

Part of what makes Pekar and his comics so essential is the focus on fringe artists. Pekar was a noted jazz and blues critic for decades and there are a lot of his comics essays included here on artists like Joe Maneri, Jay McShann, Clifton Chenier, Willa Mae Buckner, Preston Fulp, etc. Though I'd never heard of these artists, it's great to see someone celebrating their work and bringing their accomplishments to a wider audience. For that alone, Pekar's comics stand out as important as well as entertaining.

I really enjoyed the book. "Our Movie Year" is both funny, clever, and compulsively readable, illustrated by a number of talented artists working today like Gary Dumm, Frank Stack, Dean Haspiel, Ed Piskor, and the guy who got Harvey going, R. Crumb himself. If you're a fan of Pekar's you'll love this and if you've never read his work, he's definitely worth reading if only to expose yourself to another facet of comics. And the film "American Splendor" is excellent as well.
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on February 10, 2005
Not quite as good as American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar but still very good and should not be missed. I cannot help but relate to Harvey because the similarities in where he used to work (I used to work in the medical records department of a hospital) his love of comics and jazz and his friends who are loveable but quirky. This is definitely not for those who are only into super hero oriented comics. This is day to day scenerios that happen to any ordinary person but Harvey tells his stories in an extraordinary way.
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on November 29, 2010
Recently, had an article about how television went nuts in the past few years. One of the main points was the fact that random jobs like cake making and truck driving suddenly became subjects for compelling television. For this we can probably blame Harvey Pekar for creating a comic storytelling aesthetic that is firmly planted in the everyday realism of Steinbeck.

In this book, we have Pekar's travails as a sudden celebrity. It's interesting to think of Pekar as "someone who is finally getting his due" since his comic has been the alternative to mainstream comics since the 1970s and a staple of comic book collectors for just as long. Still, I wonder if most of us have just respected him more than loved him. His style is off-putting. There are no real jokes like Dorkin or Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. He's very much a what you see is what you get kind of guy. And how many stories do you want to read about a depressed clerk laboring away in obscurity and collecting records as his only joy?

And this book has a lot of the same problems. Too many of the stories are repetitive. Repeating these stories with different artists and different perspectives doesn't make them exciting so much as slightly interesting. It goes on for a bit too much with the "oh wow, people like me?" and "That blackout isn't going to kill the movie is it?" but the last half has the trademark biographies of jazz musicians that Pekar loves and you have to love these comics since they are the artist paying homage to other artists. Every geek (music, movie, etc.) has his favorites that no one else seems to know about - well no one outside the immediate field. I love reading Tanith Lee but when I say that she's my favorite fantasy writer, I usually get blank stares of "who?" So Pekar telling us about these artists who labored in some fame, died in obscurity and left great music that only a few people know about is his way of paying homage to his geek roots. Because ultimately geeks don't tell you about obscure musicians, movies, writers because they want to bore you or make you feel stupid for liking J.K. Rowling. They genuinely love this stuff and they want you to at least give it a chance.

The book ends with the tour winding down and one last visit to Alan Moore who is portrayed as a warm and interesting man and a great host. THat surprised me as I always assumed that he saved his warmth for the fiction and was a bit distant in real life. But apparently, he's a great guy to visit as long as you have a prior invitation (obviously) and then the book ends with Pekar going back to work - which kind of encapsulizes his entire career - he works hard and sometimes he makes something awesome. Most of the time, it's pretty ordinary. This book gets on the awesome side of the equation more than the ordinary but there's still the ordinary. Still, the good parts make the boring parts worth the journey.
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VINE VOICEon January 24, 2010
Here's an extraordinary story teller working in a media which many consider underground and avant guard who finally gets his 15 minutes. Sadly as we see in this graphic depiction, Harvey Pekar spends most of his "movie year" worrying.
As we follow Harvey's insights about the filming of American Splendor, we see him truly taking everything in and enjoying the experience. His interplay with the Actors and the Director and Producer brings about all he had hoped and dreamed of when writing the American Splendor serial. To Harvey this was the easy fun part of the movie making process which I think he wanted to last forever. It was after the filming that Harvey reverts back to his old worrying self. He worries about the success of the film. He worries about its critical success. He worries about the theaters affected by the East Coast blackout which would force their closure and not show his film. He worries about the excessive travel demands to promote the film. He worries about making enough money. In the end he worries about what will become of him after there is no movie to promote. Lord, fame in Harvey Pekar's mind is indeed a worrying thing.
I know Harvey goes into great detail and shows his vast knowledge of the world of jazz and goes into the heritage of the beginnings of Rock and Roll with its birth in Cleveland, but in retrospect Harvey should have looked into a particular folk tune made popular by the Kingston Trio. The tune was entitled "A Worried Man" and to my way of thinking this describes the antics of Harvey Pekar in American Splendor Our Movie Year.
Harvey continues to amaze me. His Cleveland roots and self effacing demeanor makes his stories all so real and good. Great read!! 6 Stars!!! Oh, Ok Harvey, don't worry! 7 Stars!!!!
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on March 14, 2010
I think Harvey Pekar must appeal to young ,semi hip people. I donated my purchased copy to a local hang out called The Boiler Room.
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