Not many people have had their lives turned into successful comic books, especially when those people are plain-old ordinary file clerks. There’s one exception, however. Harvey Pekar decided to try and break out of his ordinary existence by putting that ordinary life onto paper for all to see. American Splendor the comic book was born and Harvey found his true-life adventures receiving a major following, leading to plays and now the Sundance hit of the same title starring Paul Giamatti.
Harvey and his wife Joyce took some time with us to discuss American Splendor.
Harvey and Joyce, this is a real pleasure for me because I’m a big fan of the comic…big comic geek. What’s it like to have your life turn into a movie right on the big screen?
Harvey: Well, it wasn’t that strange. I mean, first of all, I was having my life turned into a comic book and then I was having the comic book turned into plays, so this isn’t that big of a jump, but what I’m really happy about is that they did such a great job. The audience reaction has just been fabulous and people have been stopping us on the street and telling us how much they like it and everything. I’ve had kind of some bad things happen to me the last year, including re-occurrence of cancer, so this really makes me feel a lot better about stuff, you know?
What’s it like to see your life on the screen?
Joyce: Well…I’m completely stymied at this point. We’re pretty relaxed about it to tell you the truth because we know better than anybody how the story’s turning out… We know about the sequel and the sequel to the sequel and we have some understanding of what we want with character development and what direction we want these characters to go and, you know, stuff like that.
Will there be an edition in the comic book about the Sundance Film Festival?
Harvey: Um, there’ll probably be at least a story or something like that. I don’t know about a complete issue…I haven’t thought about it that much, but we might do a whole thing about our movie year or something like that…
Joyce: Ask me in a couple of days. If I start seeing all these scraps of paper with stick figures on them or something, I’ll know he’s writing.
I’m curious. In the comic book you document just sort of mundane events that are very human out of people’s lives, you know, moving a rug, losing your glasses. Is there anything in the comic book that you wouldn’t write about?
Joyce: Well, for real obvious reasons, you know, Danielle’s story has been adjusted. Um, Frank Stack, the artist, is not Danielle’s father…but that’s just common sense.
Harvey: She was making reference to the movie because I did do a completely factual story about Danielle or more than one in the comic book. I suppose over the years maybe I’ve thought about writing about something and rejected it for some reason or another. Maybe because I didn’t think I could make it interesting enough. I don’t know.
What’s your hope for the film?
Harvey: Well, I hope it gets widely distributed and it makes us a lot of money now that I’m retired, you know.
Joyce: If anybody can find work for my husband now that he’s retired and living at home and just get him off my hands, get him out there…
Harvey:…Book reviews, record reviews, you know, articles, comics, anything…
Joyce: You know, a livable wage would be nice.
I’d like to see you come back to doing comics. I want to see more…
Harvey: I had three things come out, but you know, my comics are not selling all that well these days and I’m not making much money at it. I’m going to keep on doing them. In fact, I did some comics for the festival here.
Joyce: It really doesn’t matter whether there’s money coming or not. The deal when we got married…we agreed on two things. One is that we would have a car that would start in the winter time, you know, reliable transportation, and the other thing was that there would always be enough money in the bank account to self-publish another issue of American Splendor and we’d always keep that saved up. I mean, Harvey would be doing stories regardless because that’s his work, his life’s work.