I don’t have a lot to say about this collection of Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor comics from late in his life, as it’s quite short. (I read it in under an hour.)
It took me a long time to finally get around to reading Pekar. I anticipated liking his work, and I have, though maybe not quite as much as I’d hoped.
Probably his books that I’ve enjoyed the most are the ones that tell a longer story, where much if not all of the book is about one thing. Our Cancer Year, about his battle with cancer, and The Quitter, about his childhood and youth, are my favorite books of his I’ve read so far.
Which is not to say I don’t enjoy these other books that are collections of more varied comic strips, because I do.
Among the topics Pekar addresses in Another Day are his parents’ lives and how they never really relaxed and found happiness even in retirement, trying to keep his teenage adopted daughter under some semblance of control when his wife is out of town and he’s in charge, his sense of accomplishment when he successfully fixes the toilet, driving through the snow in Cleveland in the winter, and a typical day of running errands. Included also are anecdotes from earlier in his life—accidentally hurting a friend and feeling bad but also strangely triumphant, getting fired from an assembly line job, making an embarrassing mistake in Spanish class, and more.
The book is at least somewhat interesting throughout, because as Harvey does his mostly mundane things, he’s always reflecting on them, and he’s an insightful guy. He’s not just some comical curmudgeon like you might think from his appearances with David Letterman. (He mentions that in passing in this book, how he got saddled with that image because the Letterman people pressed him to keep it simple and play that kind of character, something he resents in retrospect, and I think to some extent resented at the time as well.)
There’s not nearly as much here about his wife Joyce as in some of his other books. For much of the book he might as well be living alone and fretting over his daily dilemmas alone. I don’t know that there’s anything to be read into that. Maybe he’d already used up his best stories about them as a couple in earlier books, but she’s little more than an occasional supporting character here.
Nineteen different artists drew the strips, which is quite a lot given how short the book is. (Having others do the drawing portion of his strips is a necessity, as Pekar can’t draw.) I mostly like the variety; some are so different in style from what preceded them that you kind of do a double take. It’s a nice lesson in how different artists can depict the same things so differently.
There are some, though, where Pekar looks nothing like Pekar. I understand that some of them are more caricaturish in style than others, but even given that, there are some in here that if I were shown them out of context I wouldn’t even know they’re supposed to be Pekar.
All-in-all I’d say the material in Another Day is typical Harvey, which of course is good if you’re a fan. I don’t think I’d recommend it to Pekar newbies though. There are other books—like Our Cancer Year—that are more emotionally powerful and would likely impress more readers.