The Splendor of an Artist: Shifting Artistic Interpretations of Harvey Pekar in American Splendor

To be a true Clevelander, you must be a fan of two things: the Cleveland Browns and American Splendor (as I am).  Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor takes the reader on a day-in-the-life journey of Pekar’s life in Cleveland. Pekar was a storyteller, but he was not an artist. Over more than thirty years of issues, Pekar’s comics were drawn by various artist such as Robert Crumb, Joe Sacco, Gary Dumm, and even Alan Moore took a turn as an artist of American Splendor. Each artist brings his or her own style and interpretation of Pekar’s stories and of Pekar himself.  By looking at the artist’s interpretation of Harvey Pekar through the art of Carole Sobocinski, Robert Crumb, Gary Dumm, Frank Stack,  and Gerry Shamray, it is clear that each artist contributes to the allure of both the character of Harvey Pekar and the man behind the stories.

SobocinskiCrumb(left: Sobocinski; right: Crumb)


Carole Sobocinski’s Harvey Pekar a more classical comic interpretation. He looks clean-cut and quite normal sitting at his desk talking to his friend Toby. However, Robert Crumb’s Pekar gives off a different vibe. He seems dirty, hairy, and sloppy as he slouches while he speaks.

DrumStackShamray(top:Dumm; middle: Stack; bottom: Shamray)


In addition, Gary Dumm’s Harvey Pekar is more realistic than Sobocinski’s and Crumb’s, yet he still looks very clean-cut or even stylish. Frank Stack’s interpretation is almost an abstraction of the real man while Gerry Shamray’s Harvey Pekar is actually quite realistic (my personally opinion is that out of all the artists that have worked on American Splendor, Shamray captures Harvey Pekar the best).

In a way, each interpretation represents an aspect of Harvey Pekar. He was clean-cut at times, as well as unkempt at others. Sometimes, he was a caricature of himself (see any Letterman appearance), which made him almost his own abstraction. But, he was also a real man, and each of these artists drew this man in very different ways. By doing so, not only does each artist adds to the complexity that is Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, but they also add to the fascination with the storyteller himself.


Crumb Picture: Pekar, Harvey. American Splendor: Ordinary Life is Pretty Complex Stuff. New York, Random House Inc., 2003. N. p. Print.

All other pictures: Pekar, Harvey. The Best of American Splendor: New York, Ballentine Books, 2005. N.p. Print.


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