Cult classic to end this semester’s film series

Danielle DiCiaccio

Most comic books involve superheroes, villains, action and exciting plot lines. The comic books of Harvey Pekar, longtime file clerk at a hospital in Cleveland, are somewhat different. Since 1976, Harvey has recounted the daily happenings of his working-class life in comics he named “American Splendor.”

Interactions with his quirky co-workers, strolls through thrift stores in search of rare jazz albums, and discussions of the newest flavors of jelly beans are among the events Pekar records in his comics. The film version of “American Splendor” follows Harvey as he develops his comic books and becomes an underground cult celebrity among his readers.

In his comic books Harvey Pekar has chronicled what directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini refer to as “decades of his unremarkable existence.” The directors were drawn to the simplicity and honesty that defined both Harvey’s life and his “American Splendor” comic books. The characters portrayed in the 2002 film version of “American Splendor” are odd, interesting, funny, flawed and most of all real. The character of Harvey is illustrated in a unique variety of ways in the film. For the most part Harvey is portrayed by actor Paul Giamatti (of last year’s Academy Award-winning “Sideways”).

However, the film also contains an animated depiction of Harvey, as well as conversations with the actual Harvey Pekar, who offers documentary-style commentary throughout the film.

Before reality television, and even before camcorders, Harvey Pekar transformed his daily existence into a form of entertainment that attracted a cult fan-base in the 1980s. Pekar continues to write “American Splendor,” and, despite his underground fame and media presence, he continued working at the Cleveland hospital until retiring in 2001. His comic books have maintained great popularity and continue to attract new readers. Rather than Superman, Harvey is the Everyman, and, as he puts it, “Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.”

Like the comic books that inspired it, “American Splendor” captured a significant audience. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival, as well as the International Critics prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

“American Splendor,” which marks the finale of the Cultural Film Series’ fall program “Isn’t It Romatic?” will be shown in the Connelly Center Cinema at the following times: Saturday, Dec. 3 at 7:00 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 4 at 3:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.; and Monday, Dec. 5 at 7:00 p.m. Admission is $5 for the general public and $3.50 for students with ID. The Monday night screening will feature guest speaker Elana Starr, publicity director for the Cultural Film Series. For more information regarding the Cultural Film Series call (610) 519-4750 or visit