THE LEGACY OF AMERICAN SPLENDOR: AUTOBIOGRAPHY COMICS
by Allen Ribo
American Splendor is an autobiographical comic book that chronicled the life journey of writer Harvey Pekar. A book that was integral to the underground comics movement in the seventies, it helped to inspire an interest in self-publishing/publishing independent comic books. Three contemporary comic creators come to mind when comparing Splendor to the modern independent comics: Dustin Harbin and Lucy Knisley.
DIARY COMICS vol.1
Diary Comics is an autobiographical comic created by cartoonist Dustin Harbin. The story chronicles his life as a workshop teacher, a nighttime cartoonist and a kung-fu practitioner. The similarity of this book to splendor is the evolution of his narrative; from a constant reminder about his lack of ‘skill’ to being a confident comedian in his episodic tales, they share the metamorphosis of finding confidence in their work. The difference is evidenced by his lifestyle; Dustin is often socializing with his friends and frequently discusses off-and-on relationships and a menagerie of Pop Culture references. Pekar was often socially isolated with the exception of the few friends he could rely on such Robert Crumb. An entry on kung-fu exercise fits the comedic tone of Diary Comics:
“I’ve been trying to gain some muscle weight lately. Sometimes I get really gung ho and work out twice in one day, doing weights in the afternoon…then kung fu at night. But then gorge myself on oreos after dinner.”
French Milk is a comic journal by Lucy Knisley, collecting entries of her personal experiences during her trip to France. The visual narrative shifts between photomontages, sketches and notes as it covers themes of French comics history, romance, food, architecture and the history of France. Knisley articulates about her experience with French pastries, her family relationship, the constant mention of missing her boyfriend, and extensive notes on art in France (architecture, paintings, etc). Some of the entries are humor-based, and others entries leave the reader sympathetic to her woes (such as her transition to life changes):
“10:47 pm- Then when mom tried to talk to me about financial responsibility while we were out walking by the Soldes, I had a total panic attack, and walked home sobbing and hyperventilating. Followed by a horrible headache. I became very disturbed and depressed and horrible.”
As the story continues, Lucy begins to appreciate the sights in Paris, improves her relationship with her mother (whom is with her for the duration of the trip) and expresses how love of the country when she travels back to the United States. In comparing this book to the life of Harvey Pekar, Knisley’s trip to France is a journey of self-exploration, filled with surprises both good and bad as it attributes to her maturation process. In Splendor, Harvey dealt with his compounding problems through the book and eventually found peace in his ‘chaos’ at the end of his career.
The journey of a comic creator and the willingness to open their lives up to the audience is a fascinating tale. For Dustin, Lucy and Harvey, they used the comic medium as a means to deal with their trials and tribulations as well as sharing their moments of happiness.