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The Joyce Carol Oates of comics?

July 1, 2007 |  9:00 am

What’s the deal with Harvey Pekar? The former VA file clerk from Cleveland, who became an underground comics star with his long-running series "American Splendor," has made himself ubiquitous over the last year-and-a-half, publishing five (count ’em, five) full-length books and reviving "Splendor" with DC comics. (Yet another book, "Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History," is scheduled for publication in January 2008.)

To be fair, Pekar has been toiling in the trenches for more than 30 years, and it was only in the wake of the 2004 film of "American Splendor" that he achieved anything like real acclaim. Clearly, he has some catching up to do.

But while I'd be the last to begrudge him his moment, I can’t help thinking that he’s begun to dilute the brand. His most recent book, "Macedonia" (Villard: 170 pp., $17.95 paper)--a collaboration with Heather Roberson and artist Ed Piskor--reads like work for hire, the story of someone else (Roberson) filtered through Pekar’s sensibility, and similar problems plagued his last effort, "Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story," which also traced a life other than the author's own.

It's too bad, for Pekar is comics' great autobiographical chronicler, who more than anyone proved that mundane daily experience (going to work, buying a loaf of bread at a bakery) can be the stuff of transcendent art. Yet if the saga of his life continues to be compelling, the sheer glut of recent work makes me wish he would slow down.

David L. Ulin

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