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Buy one of the following Harvey Pekar works from amazon.com:

'American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar' by Harvey Pekar and R. Crumb

'The New American Splendor Anthology' by Pekar

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

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


Panels from 'American Splendor' No. 13. Art by Joe Zabel & Gary Dumm

Cleveland to Sundance

How alternative comic-book pioneer Harvey Pekar finally hit the big screen

By Richard von Busack

TV TALK-SHOW FANS may remember Harvey Pekar in one of the great adversarial David Letterman appearances in the late 1980s. We have Letterman, tapping his pencil on his desk, hugely amused that this middle-aged eccentric has been allowed to enter his court. Pekar, undazzled by Letterman, slouches in the bucket-seat guest chair, wedged at an acute angle. Pekar's wild hair spills all over his forehead.

Letterman, typically, wants to restate the obvious in as many ways as possible, in hopes of finding the gleam of an undiscovered comic facet: "Letmegetthis-straight: you're a file clerk from Cleveland, and you've published a comic book?"

Pekar refuses to be patronized. He insists that they could use the time to talk about something more worthwhile--perhaps something related to the fact that Pekar is wearing a T-shirt that reads, "On Strike Against NBC."

Years later, Pekar parses the incident for me: "What really got me to go after Letterman was that I was tired of doing the same shtick that he wanted me to do--kind of a parody of a Cleveland working man. I was tired of doing that, and it wasn't like I was getting rewarded by sales for my books. And I was paid relatively little to be on that show. So I thought, I'm not going to get into this rut. I started casting about for things that I could do that I might be able to do successfully."

Pekar has told the story before, but he warms to the memory. "I noticed reading the weekly news mags that General Electric had bought NBC. This struck me as being a real serious conflict of interest. GE had been busted so many times for antitrust violations. They had this 30-year history of what I would call really anti-social activities. I thought, gosh, Letterman's always making fun of their light bulbs and stuff like that. I don't know if his interest goes any deeper than that. Let's find out, y'know?

"So I sort of steeped myself in the kind of stews GE was in at the time. They were in really in some serious trouble. They were being sued for over a billion dollars by three cities in Ohio that had bought a nuclear power plant for them to produce energy. And they found out that, according to GE's own studies by their own engineers, these generators were defective. I thought, I don't care, what the hell, if this guy tries to stop me, we'll see what happens."

What happened was Letterman was clearly not amused, saying on the air, "You don't walk into someone's house and insult them, sneeze on their hors d'oeuvres"--and adding, according to Pekar, "You fucked up a good thing."

It's a funny story now. It was just as funny in 1994, when Pekar took a last dig: "Letterman deserves a kick in the butt for his anti-intellectualism."

Making the Zine

When Harvey Pekar decided to fight anonymity, he put himself on the road that finally led to the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize at Sundance 2003 with the new film American Splendor, based on Pekar's life as detailed in his ongoing series of comic books of the same name. Pekar, who has suffered two divorces, two rounds of chemotherapy, a season of depression and a struggling life as a writer in America's most unglamorous town, is justly suspicious of success. But now the writer finally has one unarguable triumph.

The film features Paul Giamatti playing the real-life curmudgeon/sage Pekar, a Cleveland file clerk in the local VA hospital from 1966 to 2001. The movie is already a hit with audiences seeking the same pessimist romance they once went to Woody Allen movies for. And the buzz is, for once, both loud and deserved.

Hope Davis (The Secret Lives of Dentists, About Schmidt), once again keeping on the acrid side of wistful, dons a long wig with self-scissored bangs and a pair of owlish specs to play Pekar's wife, Joyce Brabner. Brabner was a former comic-book store owner and political activist from Delaware. Lured to Ohio by Pekar's writing, she proved to be the kind of reliable wife and friend he'd always dreamed of.

As seen in their joint memoir, Our Cancer Year, Brabner kept the writer alive when he wanted to throw in the towel. In the movie, the two get together with the cautiousness of mating porcupines, embarking on a whirlwind marriage that is tested by his rising fame and a round of catastrophic illness.

Directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini have created a film that wavers between a feature and a documentary. It integrates live action and animation in a way that startles an audience that hasn't seen this technique used to delineate everyday life since Woody Allen's Annie Hall. Cartoon panels frame images of the man walking through his city, with blast furnaces, cyclone fences and freeways behind him.

Pekar's reedy voice on the soundtrack critiques the film and annotates the life it portrays. Meanwhile, he and Brabner are interviewed on a film set, Pekar helping himself to donuts and swigging orange soda--this bottle may be the brightest color in the movie. American Splendor shows us Pekar in fiction, as well as showing us the making of that fictional movie. In this way, the directors have tackled the thorny problem of making a downbeat life upbeat, of finding the funny side in Pekar's predicaments.

But the movie frames Pekar more as a lover, without really stressing what a pioneer he was. Years before the zine craze, and decades before today's blogsters were in utero, Pekar chronicled his days and nights in graphic-memoir form, working with a variety of artists to illustrate his narratives.

"Harvey Pekar is one of the most imitated and influential comic-book writers of the past three decades," notes Andrew Farago, director of the San Francisco Comic Art Museum, where a retrospective of the art used in Pekar comic books is currently on display. "Given the webcams, weblogs, message boards and countless other Internet venues, it becomes more apparent every day just how far ahead of its time American Splendor really was and is."

Fantagraphics publisher Gary Groth has referred to Pekar as "The John Sayles of comics."

Pekar's accounts of distant voices and still lives, and his own conviction that there would be an audience for them, turned out to be a gamble worth taking.

"You're the American dream," Letterman jested to Pekar at a time when he wasn't doing quite so well--years before the national publicity tour, the six-page spread in Entertainment Weekly and the title "The King of Angst" bestowed by USA Today on its front page--not to mention people like me calling him up on the phone and pestering him.

The movie begins with a fantasy sequence about a Halloween night in the 1950s when a young Pekar goes trick or treating in the company of kids in superhero costumes. It's a shorthand joke about the comic-book format Pekar uses, which is still, almost exclusively, the domain of muscle-man adventures.

But check out the picture Gary Dumm draws of Pekar on Page 5 of the Aug. 15 issue of Entertainment Weekly--right where Avril Lavigne or Beyoncé usually stare out at readers, on the table of contents page. Dumm illustrates Pekar as idealized, forceful and heroic, with a bull neck and a hand that reaches out of the drawing. Pekar's a self-confident host welcoming you inside the issue. In Dumm's drawing, Pekar looks expansive, strong, as if he were energized by his long-awaited fame. The question actor Giamatti asks during American Splendor still stands: Who is Harvey Pekar?

From Off the Streets ...

In person, Harvey Pekar is slight, less round-shouldered than Giamatti plays him. He bears a fading scar on his forehead from the time he fell unconscious under the influence of chemotherapy and burned himself on a radiator.

He appears frailer and slighter than the last time I'd seen him, one afternoon in Cleveland in 1994. He's now a man in his 60s. His voice is a little clearer than it is in the movie--in times of stress rasping or croaking a little from a vocal chord problem that left him nearly mute.

We're in the San Francisco hotel where they trot out celebrities on tour; there's a little bit of the usual fussing over the silver-plated tray of soft drinks in the uncomfortable minute or so before the interview begins.

Joyce Brabner enters. Pekar and Brabner's 15-year-old foster daughter, Danielle, is desperate to get out to start shopping--at the mention of the word "Metreon," she pricks up her ears and hovers in the hallway near the door, before the two of them hurry out to Market Street.

While I'm setting up, I'm thinking about 25 years ago or so when I first saw a copy of American Splendor at a dingy newsstand at Pico and Robertson in Los Angeles, walking distance from my house in a former Jewish neighborhood, still half-derelict from white flight. I was riding on the bus reading it, and I was surprised not just to see what Pekar had done with the format--bringing the poetry and saltiness of his life to it--but that he was so avid for some kind of message from the outside world that he'd included his address and phone number on one of the pages.

I'm wondering if Pekar had ever planned for the day when PR types would be hauling him from city to city--if this vision kept him going during the days when he'd look at the sealed boxes of books he couldn't sell, sitting in the storage space he rented, days getting his phone calls bounced off the receptionists at different underground newspapers.

Pekar took me back to the beginning, when he was a young man under the influence of Henry Miller's novels. The connection between Miller and Pekar is one I'd never heard before. In the introduction to Tropic of Cancer the poet Karl Shapiro wrote, "Miller is a talker, a street corner gabbler, a prophet and a Pantagonian," which sounds a lot like Pekar.

"I planned to put out a series of autobiographical comics," Pekar recalls. "I thought they'd be good for me because they allowed me to say what I wanted to say ... to comment about life as directly as possible. I mean if you're setting up fictional characters, you're still going to have your own viewpoint coming through. What was going to be different was the extent to which I'd emphasize mundane life experiences. I knew I always ran across very amusing things that happened at work and off the job. All this funny stuff, funnier than the stuff you hear standup comics do, yeah.

"People that don't make a lot of money still have real serious problems that call for heroism and sacrifice to solve. ... So I wanted to show it wasn't just matinee-idol kinds of guys who are heroes. And everybody's life could be an interesting life. I wanted to point that out."

What Pekar planned may sound like a variation of the typical workplace-foibles comic: an underground Cathy. But Pekar's own studies of the people he works with-- the doctors at the VA hospital (some heroic, some arrogant) or his fellow clerks--evince the tenacity and tenderness of the best fiction.

I know what kind of people you get in a file room; misfit geniuses are as common as drones. During my own tenure as a 9-to-5 clerk, I met intrepid jazz musicians, flamboyant gay guys, hustling real estate agents on the temporary skids, many deep thinkers (one gave me a copy of an Alan Watts book as a going-away present).

Pekar's studies of the jokes and cryptic remarks told during a working day are surrounded with little instances of curious silence. One of his favorite devices is a dialogue-free panel, a moment of contemplative or uncomfortable quiet that breaks up the conversation, such as is used in Japanese manga. "So much is said in silence ... isn't that something," says Mr. Boats, a regular in the American Splendor books.

Pekar also writes about prizes found thrift shopping or junk picking--objects that retrieve a vivid memory. It's as if Proust's madeleine came with a half-off sticker. He'll record an old man's personal history--how an immigrant was once a striker, shot through the hand by the cops in the Great Depression. Pekar's style is not greeting-cardish. He has written about his busted marriages, communication breakdowns, slum life, bad health, and made it all compelling.

Waiting on Splendor

Even though Pekar's work seems like a natural for the movies, it's taken a third of his life to get it onscreen. Pekar was certain that the American Splendor film would finally be made when he heard that the New York-based independent production company Good Machine had gotten a deal with HBO. At last, all the false starts and Hollywood meetings had led to something. Previously, the movie had slipped through the hands of everyone from Jonathan Demme to Rob Schneider. There was even some nibbling by the son of his friend George DiCaprio, a young actor named Leonardo.

"George was trying to help me. I never really counted on anything with Leonardo," Pekar says, without rancor. "The thing with Schneider was different; he was aware of my work and thought it might have been good for him: a sitcom-type vehicle. I'm glad Schneider turned it down."

Had there been a plan to turn American Splendor into The Drew Carey Show, with Cleveland as the butt of jokes? "It never even got that close to completion, but yeah, that was sort of the idea," Pekar admits.

Paul Giamatti played "Pig Vomit" in the Howard Stern movie Private Parts and the blue-painted villain in Big Fat Liar--he was a choice Pekar approved of, even though in the film Pekar grouses on the soundtrack, "This guy don't look anything like me, but whatever."

Today, Pekar adds, "Paul Giamatti really picked up my speech patterns and accent and posture. He didn't study me, just watched some tape of me and read the comics. I met him a few days before we started filming. What we did is just hung out. He's a book collector like I am. There's an enormous used bookstore in Cleveland. And we went down there and found some good stuff. I felt really good about that."

Crumb Encounters

The first self-published issue of American Splendor came out in 1976, the Bicentennial year, which is one reason Pekar chose his title. The other reason was to spoof the bombastic, action-packed titles of most comic books.

"I'd been a comic-book collector when I was an elementary school kid; in those times, they had all these patriotic themes: All-American Comics, Star-Spangled Comics ... that's where I got the 'American.' As for the word 'splendor,' when I heard of the movie Splendor in the Grass, the title amused me. Most people would not consider my life splendid."

The cover of the first issue of American Splendor depicts three 30ish guys sunning themselves on the sidewalk. They're yakking about that surefire conversation killer, the origins of the First World War ("And then a fanatical Serbian student named Gavrilo Princip ... say, am I boring you guys?").

That first issue also boasts a grinning emblem of Robert Crumb captioned, "Don't be fooled kids, I only did a two-pager."

Robert Crumb (James Urbaniak plays him in the movie) was the first to illustrate Pekar's comics. In the film, Pekar comments briskly, "You know the guy." Many do: Crumb, the anti-hero exposed in Terry Zwigoff's documentary Crumb, the one true famous name in the underground comics movement, the man whose artistic disciples still people avant-garde comics: Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, all the rest.

The two met at on a sidewalk in Cleveland, introduced through his friend Marty Pahls. It was as if Crumb were one of Pekar's celebrated garage-sale finds. This chance encounter became first a friendship, then an artistic collaboration.

Crumb later wrote that Sacramento's Justin Green, of Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary, was "the first, absolutely the first ever cartoonist to draw highly personal autobiographical comics." But Pekar must have been second or third.

"Where's my place in the field of autobiographical comics? I don't know," Pekar muses, shifting back in his chair. "I came along pretty fast after Justin Green, but I think I was more dedicated to autobiographical comics. There was a long period of time in between the time I met Crumb and the time I got my first comics out, that I had it in mind to do comics."

Crumb wasn't Pekar's only early illustrator. The promising but short-lived San Francisco cartoonist Willie Murphy drew some of Pekar's stories. So did Spain Rodriguez and Robert Armstrong (a member of the old-timey band the Cheap Suit Serenaders and creator of Mickey Rat).

From the beginning, Pekar hired a number of cartoonists, who brought different emotional coloring to his work. To simplify this web of cartoonists that has been illustrating Pekar's stories over the years, the movie focuses on the most famous one.

In the film, it's a humble Pekar who wins the famous Crumb's favor. Contrast that with the way Pekar tells it in American Splendor No. 1, where he bullyrags the cartoonist, in a drawing illustrated by Crumb yet: "You're in a rut! My new neorealist style is the wave o' the future ... that'd be a new lease on life for y'r!"

No doubt being associated with one of the most famous cartoonists who ever lived helped Pekar's career. But, see, Pekar's right about the "new lease on life." His writing did a lot for Crumb, too. The advantage of journalism, they say, is that it snaps a writer out of his own head, brings him back into the larger world. And Crumb, famously obsessed with sex and revenge, yields to a different level of maturity in his collaborations with Pekar.

Isn't Crumb's most humane comic ever the 1984 Pekar story Hypothetical Quandary, a Saturday-morning interlude where Pekar wonders if it would ever be possible to quit his job and write full-time? The speculation ends when Pekar is diverted by the scent of a fresh loaf of bread from the bakery.

"Crumb altered his style somewhat there. It's much more realistic than some of the stuff he's usually doing," Pekar comments. "What a beautiful job he did."

An unsung hero of American Splendor is Frank Stack, who illustrated Pekar and Brabner's graphic novel, Our Cancer Year.

"Crumb told me about Stack's art: 'Nobody, not even me, could have done as good a job as Stack did.'" (Stack ends up as part of a composite character at the end of the American Splendor movie.)

As the notes for Our Cancer Year mention, illustrating Pekar takes more than just submitting pages of stick figures. Giamatti's Pekar hands over some scribbled panels to Urbaniak's Crumb. In real life, though, Pekar can't draw a lick.

He does insist on realism, however. Producing Our Cancer Year required Brabner and Pekar to restage events, filming with videotape and photographs. And throughout American Splendor, there's much fretting over the backgrounds to make sure the landscapes are right. Gary Dumm and Greg Budgett, two other Clevelandites, make sure you really see Cleveland when you read American Splendor.

Panel from 'American Splendor' No. 13. Art by Joe Zabel & Gary Dumm

A River Runs Through It

"From off the streets of Cleveland comes ..." These words above the comic-book title American Splendor mark Pekar's identity as a regional writer.

Pekar was born on the East Side of Cleveland, the son of Polish Jewish immigrants. His father was both a neighborhood grocer and a Talmudic scholar. The elder Pekar worked around the clock against crushing competition from the first supermarkets; even today, according to his comics, Pekar's nervous about going into a mom and pop market if he's carrying a bag from the A&P.

The young Harvey--at the cost of great disapproval from his relatives--surfed through a series of unimpressive jobs. "Flunky jobs" is the phrase he always uses. Pekar joined the Navy and, flunking basic training, worked for a short time as an elevator operator. Finally, he became a civil servant, landing a layoff-proof job as a file clerk at the VA hospital.

What fans of the movie might not realize are the changes Cleveland was going through as Pekar approached his 30s. The city was blighted by epic pollution. In one famous case, the Cuyahoga River caught fire, an instance of burning water celebrated in song both by R.E.M. ("Cuyahoga") and Randy Newman ("Burn On").

The city borders Lake Erie, which was, for a while, a dead sea. Though dead, it haunted the living with supernatural weather--the occasional minihurricane and the frequent paralyzing snow squalls and blizzards. Cleveland weather might be a metaphor for the splendor of American politics during Pekar's lifetime: brief springs of progress crushed by long winters of repression.

"Cleveland was maybe at its peak when I was a kid," Pekar says, "when the Indians won the World Series in 1948. And then it went into a long slow decline that hasn't stopped. Now, it's one of the worst-struck of the Rust Belt cities, and the population has dropped from almost a million to about 457,000. It looks like Detroit."

Race riots hit it bad in the 1960s, turning a vast section of the city first into burnt-out slums and then into prairie. Ohio expatriate Chrissie Hynde serenaded the results in her song "My City Was Gone," a tune quoted on the American Splendor soundtrack.

"The main industries were steel production and automobiles," Pekar continues. "Now the largest employers are the hospitals. It's gone from a manufacturing to a service economy. I don't love it, but it's just where I spent my life."

Cleveland provides an easy laugh for jokers--full of unfashionable Eastern Europeans, a city dubbed "the mistake by the lake." But as a city off the beaten track, it was a breeding ground for real individuals: the ultra-avant-garde rock band Pere Ubu, singer Lux Interior of the Cramps, the filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, the psychotronic movie historian Michael Weldon and the television personality Ernie "Ghoulardhi" Anderson, most influential of the late-night TV horror hosts and father of the director of Magnolia.

When the first American Splendor comic came out, it was awash in local inside jokes. Over the course of the next 18 issues--and the newest series Pekar has published through Dark Horse comics--Pekar always pays attention to the local scene.

He focuses on not just the work he does in a remote, depressed city but also on what it means to be a self-taught writer there. So American Splendor has the mood of Anton Chekhov as much as Robert Crumb and the underground comics wave. "Yeah, Chekhov's the roots for what I'm doing," he says. As seen in early issues of American Splendor, Pekar never had much truck with hippies, anyway; stoned music and stoned conversation taxed his patience.

The story of so many Cleveland artists ends with relocation. A lot of Pekar's friends left for better lives elsewhere. Voracious reading couldn't completely soothe Pekar's loneliness. Chekhov, in the story "Ward 6," writes about a character who lives a two-day trip from the nearest railroad station. He reads a lot but doesn't get out much: "True, we have books but that is not at all the same as lively talk and social intercourse. If you will allow me to make a not very apt comparison, books are the printed score, while conversation is the song."

When Pekar commenced publishing, he unwittingly picked the moment when underground comics were declining. "In the early 1970s," Pekar says, "there was another downturn in the economy, just as far as alternative comics were concerned. The Vietnam War was finishing, and the counterculture was evaporating. But I figured, I really love this, and I'll be an artist and not just a critic." Launching into an underground-comics industry that sold best with stories of sex, drugs and violence, Pekar single-handedly kept American Splendor afloat over the years.

"The magazine never really broke even. It's hard to say the stuff that sold the best, maybe the fifth through the 12th issues [in the early 1980s], when alternative comics were starting to make a comeback." Later, everything got screwed up when Marvel and DC, the two major comic-book publishers, overproduced collector's item comics, saddling stores and fans with tons of bad pulp.

"Everybody got hurt. We were always on the edge anyways," Pekar remembers. "Gosh, now there are very few people that are doing comics. There's a lot of guys doing minicomics, and there's still a lot of interest in the books. But with the way the economy's doing, it won't be changing very soon."

Miles of Files

Pekar knew that keeping himself alive as a writer meant taking a good steady job. Expect some of the critics who see American Splendor to write, "Ah, if only Pekar had come to the Big City, that would have been his salvation."

And who can blame them? Movie audiences are kept in the dark about the artistic facts of life. Remember that the average advance for a first novelist is $5,000 (for who knows how much work), and you'll know why most writers work as teachers or journalists.

As a jazz critic for Downbeat and a music and book reviewer for other magazines (including Metro and the North Bay Bohemian), Pekar was well aware of major artists who never got a fraction of the money they deserved. Moreover, many people never "get" the comic-book format, no matter what quality of writing the format frames. In some ways, making money with poetry is easier.

Just recently, one book reviewer in the Nation who'd deigned to have a look at Marjane Satrapi's graphic-memoir Persepolis excused herself before writing: "I'm not in the habit of looking at comic books," she wrote. That breezy confession of snobbery (imagine "I'm not in the habit of reading haikus") is so common that it's a waste of good fury to get angry. Besides which, Pekar's rants on the subject are so much more fun to read.

The American Splendor film will introduce a new generation of people to Pekar, whose work has just been reprinted in two collections by Ballantine. It'll give him the boost in publicity he's deserved for decades. But movies thrive on exteriors, and emotions, and love stories, and less on the ideas of people like Pekar and Brabner.

American Splendor is as funny and full of feeling as any American film this year. But I worry that Pekar and Brabner might be seen as cuddly cranks--not as a pair of informed, politically concerned people with well-thought-out objections to the cost of the global economy.

One other thing. How much do you think about the city where you live? How much it has it shaped you, how much it means to be living there as opposed to any other place to note the quality of light, the silhouette of a particularly old sycamore strangled in a square of concrete, to glance at strange old signboards that persist long after the business has gone, like the eyes of the oculist in The Great Gatsby.

What does it mean to hear some odd witty conversation in the break room at 10:30am, or to exchange a few words with some cashier whose personality can't be smothered under a polyester smock? Those little details if closely observed, if caught and assembled, would prove your own uniqueness by being there to witness it all. Finding this uniqueness would be a weapon against the idea that there are two species of humanity: somebodies and nobodies.

Pekar's work has fought against that idea, and in many ways he's won.

American Splendor (R; 101 min.), directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, written by Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner, Berman and Pulcini, photographed by Terry Stacey and starring Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis and James Urbaniak, opens Friday at selected theaters valleywide.

Panel from 'American Splendor' No. 13. Art by Ed Wesolowski

Pekar's Greatest Hits

By Richard von Busack

Pickled Okry (Okra). American Splendor No. 8. As prepared by an old traditional recipe from Grandma Kinte, Kunta Kinte's African grandmother. Pekar stealthily observes a hustler of homemade okra pickles. Illustrated by an uncharacteristically sweet Crumb.

Walkin' and Talkin'. American Splendor No. 4. Art by Crumb. It's about how people survive, whether with eloquence or fleetness of foot--a poetic little vignette that's among the big triumphs of Pekar's writing.

Sweet Like 'Oney. American Splendor No. 13. At the West Side Market in Cleveland, Pekar enjoys a window of pleasant July weather, communion with a few independent souls (including a lawyer who hung it up to sell dried fruit and pasta), and a little chat about the then-breaking Iran-Contra scandal. One of those rare good days. Art by Frank Stack.

Common Sense. American Splendor No. 11. Art by Val Mayerik. Pekar observes a bus driver in training on the crosstown line, under the tutoring of an older, wiser but blustery driver. Features: whores, old ladies, students with their head in the clouds, and a handful of Flaubertian received ideas: "Teachers can't teach, neither. They gave 'em a test, and 90 percent of them failed."

Bat. American Splendor No. 16. Art by Joe Zabel and Gary Dumm. An anti-honeymoon story. Pekar's new girlfriend is in the dumping mode, but they decide to go to Niagara Falls anyway, with her kids as chaperones. And what a dump this supposedly romantic place is. The unusual POV art makes this a departure; the mood of defiance rising under incipient failure rivals Raymond Carver.

Noah's Ark. American Splendor No. 6. Gerry Shamray does the art for a Toby story; the self-described nerd (played in the film by Judah Friedlander) explains why an atheist conspiracy hides the Ark to this very day.

Our Cancer Year, by Brabner and Pekar, art by Frank Stack (Four Walls, Eight Windows). The harrowing novel-length account of a working-class couple besieged by non-Hodgkins' lymphoma, as well as Gulf War 1.

Grubstreet U.S.A. American Splendor No. 11. Art by Kevin Brown. The Victorian novelist George Gissing coined the term "Grubstreet" to describe newspaper hacks. Co-stars Wallace Shawn of My Dinner With Andre.

Send a letter to the editor about this story to letters@metronews.com.

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From the August 21-27, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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