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Buy 'American Splendor Presents: Bob & Harv's Comics' by Harvey Pekar and R. Crumb.

Buy 'Our Cancer Year' by Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner and Frank Stack.


Return to 'Splendor'

A long-delayed movie version of the 'American Splendor' comics wins Sundance's Grand Jury Prize and revives interest in the work of creator Harvey Pekar

By Richard von Busack

At long last, Harvey Pekar's getting the respect he deserves. The film based on his formerly self-published comics, American Splendor, just won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for Best Dramatic Feature.

Pekar, a pioneer in the field of autobiographical comics, has for 25 years been chronicling his life in Cleveland. He's a nonpracticing Jew, a grocer's son, who carried out his working career as a file clerk at a VA hospital. Pekar's endeavors to discover the poetry of the ordinary have added up to much critical respect and not a lot of money. Still, for years there's been interest in turning his work to film, and there was even a play of American Splendor, starring Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson) as Pekar.

Some anecdotes of the development-hell stages of American Splendor: The Movie are recounted at Metroactive. At various stages of the proposed film, everyone from Fritjof Capra to Rob Schneider was interested in making the movie. What would have seemed to finally got it off the ground was the viability of the film Ghost World, based on Dan Clowes' underground comics--not to mention Ghost World's director Terry Zwigoff's previous film, a hit documentary about Robert Crumb. Crumb was a sometimes collaborator with Pekar; the reclusive artist is played in American Splendor by an actor named James Urbaniak.

American Splendor stars Paul Giamatti, who is best known as "Pig Vomit" in Private Parts, though your kids saw him dyed blue with toilet cleanser in Big Fat Liar, and he also played the sleazy orangutan in Tim Burton's remake of Planet of the Apes. Hope Davis (the daughter in About Schmidt) co-stars as Pekar's wife, Joyce Brabner.

The film--shot in Cleveland, naturally--is directed by the husband-and-wife team of Shari Berman and Bob Pulcini (co-directors of the Hollywood documentaries The Young and the Dead and Off the Menu: The Last Days at Chasen's). There is no distributor signed up as yet. According to Brabner and Pekar, reached at their home in Cleveland, some of the screenplay includes material from Pekar's comics, now published by Dark Horse, as well as the pair's 1994 book Our Cancer Year, published by Four Walls Eight Windows. This harrowing book, illustrated by Frank Stack, recounts Pekar's battle with cancer. The lymphoma came back last year, but Pekar is currently in remission and returning to his metier as a jazz critic. The two are moderately impressed by their victory, noting how some advance in their fame is always accompanied by plenty of trouble first. "Maybe if Harvey's cancer recurs, we'll get a mini-series," Brabner said.

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Web extra to the January 23-29, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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