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My life as a file clerk

'American Splendor' chronicles the life of underground comic-strip writer and file clerk Harvey Pekar

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American Splendor" breaks all the rules. It's part fictionalized biopic, part full-fledged biography. It has excellent actors playing the main characters, and it has segments with the real-life characters themselves.

It even hops into animation at times, which is appropriate since the hero is Harvey Pekar, known - well, not to millions, but to comic-book cultists everywhere - as the writer of underground comics illustrated by such legendary pop artists as R. Crumb.

All of this is highly unusual at a time when most comic books - and nearly all the movies based on them - traffic in fantasy and frivolity. But there's unassailable logic to the movie's approach, since Mr. Pekar is one of the pioneers who helped free comics from the realm of unrestrained whimsy, making his stories plug directly into the very real world we live in.

As the film reveals, he has dwelt in a notably modest corner of that world - working as a file clerk until his recent retirement, and supplementing his meager income with freelance comic-book stories and articles on popular culture.

But to him, that world is far larger than Hollywood. "I don't see film as a medium as large as comics," Pekar said in his halting yet no-nonsense manner at the Cannes Film Festival. "Comics are a very large medium, because you can use any word in the dictionary ... and any art style you want. I don't see comics as limited to anything."

Does he feel uncomfortable with the self-exposure that comes from a movie based directly on his day-to-day experiences, complete with his unconventional courtship of his wife, Joyce Brabner, and the unconventional adoption of their daughter, who's also in the film?


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