26 October 2015

Review: American Splendor presents Bob & Harv's Comics by Harvey Pekar & R. Crumb

I embark on Series Four of Big Finish's Fourth Doctor Adventures with The Darkness of Glass over at Unreality SF. What's that, you say? I've skipped Nick Briggs's series opener? Surely not. Why would I do that?

Comic hardcover, 86 pages
Published 1996 (contents: 1976-88) 

Borrowed from the library
Read October 2015
American Splendor presents Bob & Harv's Comics

Stories by Harvey Pekar
Art by R. Crumb

It's been a long time since I've read a volume of American Splendor, longer than I would've liked, and if I'd known better, I wouldn't have read this one. Not that it's bad-- far from it-- but it mostly, if not entirely collects comics I've already read. (There were a couple I didn't recognize, but that might just be because I forgot them.) This dips through the entire American Splendor series to pick up the ones illustrated by R. Crumb, thus reprinting comics that already appeared in American Splendor and More American Splendor and The New American Splendor.

That said, it's nice to see Pekar and Crumb at the top of their game: this set includes classics like "The Harvey Pekar Name Story" (four pages of Pekar just telling you about his name), "Standing Behind Old Jewish Ladies in Supermarket Lines" (exactly what it sounds like), "Freddy Visits for the Weekend" (Pekar is visited by a friend trying to scam meals off him), and "American Splendor Assaults the Media" (Pekar is asked by a magazine to submit writing and they don't print it, resulting in three-page screed). It struck me that there was much less, well, serious content in these stories: Pekar can really dig into the emotions and tribulations of his private life sometimes, but there's little of that here, no stories about Pekar's sickness or his romantic relationships.

Rather, his collaborations with Crumb focus on the encounters Pekar has with various strange characters that populate his life, especially the staff of the VA hospital where Pekar works as a file clerk. There are a lot of two- or one- or even half-page tales here, quick encounters with people dispensing weird life advice, or being rude, or selling pickled okra, or whatever. As always, Pekar's eye for the everyday and Crumb's deliberately shabby art conspire to make these fun little gems of an ordinary life well observed.

There's also a pair of forewords, one by Pekar about Crumb, and one by Crumb about Pekar. I don't think I've read them before, so they were nice to read.

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