The cable guy just left after setting up Internet in my new apartment, the day after another cable guy came to set up digital TV. Cross-training is apparently lost on this industry. But the good news is that at the end of it all, I can be both passively and actively entertained and stimulated by big shiny machines -- all without leaving my bedroom. Well, the coffee machine is in the other room. So there.
I picked up the re-issue of "American Splendor" by Ballantine Books, a compilation of two compilations of comic book style stories written by Harvey Pekar. They were originally released in the mid-80s, but of course Ballantine wants to cash in on the movie in theaters now, inspired by the comics themselves.
Like many people my age (and I can make assumptions about them because well, I'm petty and probably right) I'd never heard of Harvey Pekar. And why would I, given that it would take a movie to get the general public interested in the existential life and times of an unskilled Jewish file clerk from Cleveland?
Like I said, I'm petty. But it was important to Harvey, and Harvey tells his own story well. So well, that I felt like ruminating on the point, even though I still need to see the movie.
My first impression was that Harvey Pekar was born too early for the "blog" phenomenon, and that American Splendor has many of the same characteristics in print to the Internet phenomenon sweeping the planet. Then I realized Harvey has his own blog, which kind of makes it a moot point. He updates about as often as I do lately, which is encouraging.
Like I said, Harvey's life is pretty ordinary. He's got a boring job that pays bupkus (or had, until he retired a few years back), but it has a great pension plan. He's been married twice before his current wife, and survived testicle cancer (which served as the basis for another comic book, "Our Cancer Year.")
But that's not why I picked up the book or got interested in Harvey's story, comics, book or movie. It's because of the guy who helped inspire Harvey to write about his own life, and who illustrated many of the early American Splendors -- R. Crumb. I picked up the book because I love R. Crumb comics, not necessarily because I thought Harvey Pekar would be an interesting subject.
That's the whole point, of course. It's a comic book, it's supposed to be visual, and the visual aspect is a large part of the medium's appeal. It's not just that there's this dumpy Jewish guy in Cleveland who has long internal conversations about his relations with other people, his obsessions over jazz albums or his health -- it's that Harvey's managed to befriend some very capable artists who can take his stick-figure storyboards (see the movie site for some examples of these) and turn them into art.
Don't miss the fact that it was because Harvey bothered to write it all down and made it a mission to tell his own story, conscripting artists along the way, that anyone besides his tiny circle of friends would even care to read the comics. Or that Harvey manages to tell his story without seeing pedantic or whiny, even when he's depressed, as he often is. In a comic, Harvey becomes a heroic protagonist for a few frames, and his stories often resemble parables about daily life and living -- only they usually stop, abruptly, leaving the reader to figure out what it's all supposed to mean. Again, that's the point -- it's about Harvey's reality. This is what's important to him.
R. Crumb wrote the introduction to the book. "Yeah, Harvey is an ego-maniac; a classic case ... but how else could he have gotten all those comics published, with almost no money; in total isolation from any comic-publishing 'scene' such as exists out here in California, or in New York ... Only an ego-maniac would persist in the face of such odds."
That got me thinking about my own attempts to write about my own life and what interests me. This site was supposed to be a totally egoistic thing. It's supposed to present a challenge to me, to come up with something to say every day, or maybe more often. But that's not what's happening, or at least, that's not what has been happening. Part of that's because I'm not interested in baring my soul to the world. Unlike Harvey's comics, which have always had a very narrow distribution, once stuff gets said on the Internet, they're here forever. Once you get an audience interested in something over the net, it's hard to get some of them to stop. I have enough hang-ups about how there are people on the net who know my real name and address. That fucks me up so bad sometimes.
Maybe now that my job doesn't involve writing so much, this can be more of an outlet for the part of me that wants to write about anything. Then, maybe my hangups will be less of an excuse. I've had a lot on my mind this past week while moving in and waiting on getting Internet at home. And the new job, well, it could very well be a major step forward in what little career I have.
I don't have any interest in making this a comic book, so I apologize to those who thought that would be my conclusion.Posted by j at October 23, 2003 12:12 PM