ISSN: 20403232
First published in 2010
2 issues per volume
Volume 4 Issue 1
Cover Date: April 2013
American Splendor and the universal grotesque
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Authors:  Ian Dawe 
DOI: 10.1386/stic.4.1.43_1

Keywords
Harvey Pekar,American Splendor,grotesque,carnivalesque,Rabelaisian

Abstract
Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor is infused with trans-generic texts that evoke the spirit of the Rabelaisian carnival, which foregrounds bodily anxiety and sensory engagement. For example, Pekar relates at length his issues with health, food, sex and other so-called ‘base’ preoccupations. There are repeated scenes of physical bodily anxiety, such as Pekar’s struggle with throat ailments and later a cancer, which he presents in such graphic detail that it can be considered integral to his artistic voice. Through this sharing of a visceral, sensory experience, Pekar creates a deeply affecting work to which audiences can relate on a transcendent physical level. The film adaptation of American Splendor (Berman and Pulcini, 2003), with its multimodal and multi-genre form of storytelling, enhances this aspect of his work, retaining much of the physical discomfort and grotesque tendencies but blending music, stage, drawing and documentary film to truly represent the expansive parameters of the original. Most importantly, the film retains Pekar’s ability, through sensory engagement and the grotesque, to reach an audience at their most basic level. This article discusses how the film adaptation of American Splendor, emphasizing the grotesque physical attributes of its characters as well as a multi-modal form of storytelling, demonstrates Pekar’s ability to create a universally understandable mythic universe within a superficially quite personal and specific narrative structure. This, in part, explains why Pekar’s work continues to have a powerful emotional resonance.
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