16 July 2012

From Off the Streets of Cleveland Comes...

Comic trade paperback, n.pag.
Published 1994
Borrowed from a friend
Read June 2012
Our Cancer Year
by Joyce Brabner and Harvey Pekar
art by Frank Stack

My previous experience with Harvey Pekar is just the first two American Splendor compilations and the film, which actually covered some of this narrative in much abbreviated form. This book tells of Harvey's bout with cancer-- or more accurately, his bout with chemotherapy to make sure that cancer doesn't come back.

The most immediately notable thing about Our Cancer Year is that, since it is written by both Harvey and his wife Joyce, it is not told from a first-person perspective but rather the third.  Given that so much of American Splendor's effect depends on Harvey's distinctive voice, this creates an immediate distance. This is exacerbated by the fact it seems like Joyce did more of the writing than Harvey; we get into her head more than his, and though what goes on in her head is okay, the book's standout sequences are those where we really get into Harvey's experiences. 

We also hear a lot about a group of refugee kids that Joyce is working with and the outbreak of the Gulf War, which is not as interesting as the amount of narrative it takes up would indicate. It might make an interesting independent book, but crammed into here, the kids don't get enough coverage to pop as characters, and so they feel intrusive.

Stack's sketchy artwork is the first time where I feel like one of Pekar's artistic collaborators have let him down.  It's okay, but it's sometimes hard to tell what's actually happening-- or even who someone actually is.

These are all complaints, and Our Cancer Year's not as bad as all this might imply.  But American Splendor had done better before and would do better again; given the immensity of its subject, it's an unfortunate blip.

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