EN 429 Studies in Performance Rotating Header Image

March, 2015:

American Splendor vs. Marbles

When taking a deeper look into the novel Marbles: Mania, Depression. Michelangelo and Me and American Splendor, both works have one thing in common; they are looking for stability inside their mental illness and their artistic ability. They struggle to find a balance in their own mental state. They differ in how they handle their illnesses and how they have been diagnosed. They also show how they approach their illnesses throughout their own medium. They also share similarities inside how they work through their illnesses. Certain pivotal moments inside their lives are explored and can be related to one another. Within their works, they find a balance between their illness and their creativity.

Marbles expresses the author’s mental illness in a form of a graphic novel. Ellen Forney, who is known for being a cartoonist, shows her roughest years after finding out she has bipolar disorder.  She shows her disorder loud and clear from the moment she is introduced to it. As the reader is first introduced to the novel, Ellen’s personality is the first thing we notice. She is impulsive and out of control. In her first moments, the reader gets a glimpse into how her mind works. She gets an abnormal amount of ideas in which she has to write it down just to keep up with her own thoughts. The second she is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, she spells it out with bold letters and underlines it. It also expresses her personality because she is a bold person who wants to be noticed. The reader gets a glimpse into her mania and her depression. She is not the same person we are introduced to in the beginning of the novel. Her drawings are less elaborate and creative. Her drawings become simple to express how she experiences depression. Forney shows us how she is dealing with her own mental illness and the struggles of everyday life. In the end of the novel, we see Ellen come to terms with her mental illness. She has accepted that this is a part of who she is and it will most likely never change who she is.

In the introduction of American Splendor, we see the introduction of a cynical child who is Harvey Pekar. He is soon turning into the sad adult who is walking the streets of Ohio. He has a grimace look on his face and does not look like he enjoys life. Throughout the film, the real life Harvey Pekar makes appearances throughout the film to tell his side of the story and give his thoughts on certain scenes. His face has a look of contentment when he is speaking. We also see other people such as his Wife Joyce and his friend Toby. They also give their own thoughts on the scenarios in film and the comics that they were included in. Mental illness on film can be hard to decipher through because it is not said but only shown. Throughout American Splendor, we had to examine Harvey’s personality and self-diagnose him as having depression. The viewers see Harvey Pekar going through depression but his comics arise from him being an average man. His works do not seem to stop when he is going through a phase of his depression. We see his mental illness being partially on film from when the women in his life leave him. He is dependent on them for his own happiness. Toward the end of the film, he says that his life is no sunny ending and that his life is still full of chaos. He seems to come to terms with his life and we even see the real Harvey Pekar at his retirement party surrounded by friends and family and he has a smile on his face.

When juxtaposing Marbles and American Splendor, there are two different mediums being used to express mental illness. Ellen Forney takes the approach to make a graphic novel. Harvey Pekar does as well make a graphic novel in his hard years but it is also displayed on screen. Harvey also does not go and get diagnosed by a doctor for depression. Ellen does get diagnosed and regularly sees her physicist. She also experiences mania in which she mistakes for her personality. Harvey experiences downs in which can be mistaken for his personality.

The works collide together by both being pieces on disorder. Both Harvey and Ellen are artistic people dealing with a mental illness. Ellen who is just finding out about her mental illness has a moment where her work is being interrupted by her illness. She cannot seem to get out of bed and when she is pushed to perform, her work she does not find enjoyment in it. When Harvey is finding out he has cancer, Joyce has to push him to do this comic book about his cancer years. They also collide with their personality being a part of their disorder.  One can mistake their disorder for being their personality.

Both Ellen Forney and Harvey Pekar are experiencing a mental illness. They share similarities and differences in how they look at their illness. Either way, they both deal with an illness and there is not one way that is valid over another to deal with it. They both conquer their illness and make it their own. They come to terms with their illness and those around them seem to except it with ease. They move on with obstacles and continue to do what they love most.

Work Cited:

American Splendor. Dir. Shari Berman and Robert Pulcini. 2003. Youtube.

Forney, Ellen. Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir. New York: Gotham, 2012. Print.

Stigma & Disease

For my research project, I would like to parallel the stigma inside Audre Lorde’s Cancer Journals and Jennie Livingston’s Paris is Burning. Both works deal with the issues of being a minority and encountering a prominent illness. They were forced into forming their own communities because they had to avoid the stigma with their sexuality and their disease. In result of forming one community, they were devastated by HIV/AIDS.  With another community, being devastated by cancer. Both works being different but having a common outlook on stigma and disease.

Warm Bodies

Warm Bodies tells the story of the dead living and trying to feed their hunger through those who are also just trying to stay alive. The story circles through the thoughts of a conscious zombie who has a vivid mind but a blurred speech. The only thing he can remember of his past is the first letter of his name is R. He travels and hunts with a group of other zombies in which he meets the first human he wants to save. When eating her boyfriends brain, he starts to develop the same feelings the boyfriend previously had. With those feelings, he saves Julie and decides to get to know her with fighting the urge to eat her. As we observe the relationship between R and Julie, it becomes complex and unheard of. He protects her and looks out for her with no reasoning behind it.Julie and R’s relationship show the stigma behind an illnesses/diseases as someone who is infected and someone who is not.

One scene that shows an allegory for contagion and disease is the scene between Julie and R in the restaurant. Julie says, “You never done this before, have you? Taken a human home alive?” (Marion 42). R then says, “I shake my head apologetically, but I wince at her use of the word “human”. I’ve never liked that differentiation. She is Living and I’m Dead, but I’d like to believe we’re both human. Call me an idealist.”(Marion 42). In this scene, Julie sees herself as entitled because she is not one of the dead. She no longer calls him human, even though he is a human who no longer possesses life. Sometimes people are not infected with a disease or illness do not have a similar outlook to those who do. They may not say they are not “human” but they do treat them as if they are beneath them because of their illness. Even though he shows human characteristics such as compassion and kindness, she cannot get past the disease/illness that has taken over his body. This reminds me of how those with HIV/AIDS were treated in the essay Death Before Dying. In the article, it shows how people who are infected with  HIV/AIDS are treated as a burden and not as a human but as a corpse. This can be compared to how Julie sees R. She only sees his corpse and not his human qualities. She only sees the disease like those who are not infected in Africa saw the HIV/AIDS in those they once called their friends or family members.

As the story progresses, Julie sees beyond the disease and has close run ins with it when coming in contact with R. She no longer lets the thought of R being a zombie get in her way of interacting with R. She lets the stigma go and she starts to see him as a human. Stigma can break relationships when there is not an understanding of what is happening. Uncertainties are what surround stigma and those who are encountering the disease. If no one knows things about a disease they tend to take caution.  Overall, once the fear of the disease is not a main concern then people are open to the person behind the disease.

Work Cited:

Marion, Isaac. Warm Bodies: A Novel. New York: Atria, 2011. Print.

Niehaus, Isak. “Death before Dying: Understanding AIDS Stigma in the South African Lowveld.” Journal of Southern African Studies .2007.Web

Pekar, Forney & Mental Illness

American Splendor starts off with an image of children trick-or-treating in which they are all dressed as super heroes with the exception of one. They arrive at an unknown woman’s home where she acknowledges every single child. As the women approaches Harvey, she ask who who Harvey is in which he replies, Harvey Pekar. She does not recognize the name and he says it is himself in a cynical voice. As he walks through the street, he changes into an older man who in which is the same as the cynical child. He has a snide look on his face as he walks down the Cleveland streets. We are then introduced to Harvey Pekar, as his wife leaves him and he is losing his voice. This is the first images of his depression on film. We see his mundane life as a file clerk in progress. The viewer interacts with his coworkers which soon become his inspiration for his comic books.

When it comes to comparing Forney to Pekar, they have more differences than similarities. Forney finds that her personality is a disorder in a counseling session with a psychiatrist.  Pekar is never diagnosed with clinical depression but more so self diagnosed by those around him. His comics were showing his everyday life. Pekar did not focus his comics around his clinical depression but he still showcased it as a part of him without doing it on purpose. Forney on the other hard made Marbles to discuss her mental illness and shed light on her years of coping with it. Pekar and Forney both shed light on there mental illnesses but in different ways. Pekar is more subtle about his mental illness and makes the viewer unsure if he is encountering his own depression. He never comes out and says he has depression but the viewer can assume by viewing his life. In Marbles, the reader is always constantly reminded that Forney has bipolar disorder. The viewer has to figure out Pekar’s mental illness and use hints.

Even though Pekar does not come out and say he has clinical depression, the viewer sees it as the movie progresses. Pekar falls into the depression from the very beginning of the movie. According to Finally, it’s chic to have the blues: Film based on life of Harvey Pekar sparks new interest in mental health, “Depressives are often seen as life’s losers, and that’s how Pekar depicts himself. Viewers of the film version of American Splendor will likely be moved as well as amused, but that can be harder for readers of his comics (recently reprinted by Ballantine in a thick paperback). Readers may have trouble getting past his weepy self-assessment. Those who know Winnie the Pooh will see Pekar as a cantankerous version of Eeyore. He’s a moper, a sulker, a whiner, a grouch, and a sad sack. His life amounts to a catalogue of grievances” (Fulford). As Fulford points out in this article, the image of Pekar is the look of depression. We as the viewer know Pekar is not happy with his life until he starts writing comics. Even while writing comics, he has a decline in happiness and resorts back into his depression. He is dependent on Joyce who then wants to adventure out.When she leaves, we see him fall back into a deep depression until she comes back home.

Pekar portrays the everyday man in his comics but also a man who encounters his own battles of mental illness. Most people go through depression spouts in there life without being diagnosed. He shows the life that average day people can relate to in his comics. He has mental illness that surround his job, his relationships and his comics. American Splendor does not showcase the happiest parts of Pekar’s life but it shows that he is human. The film ends with him saying that he still has ups and downs in his life but he is content with the ways things are as of now. He still fights with his wife and Danielle can be annoying but this is his life and he enjoys it.


Work Cited:

American Splendor. Dir. Shari Berman and Robert Pulcini. 2003. Youtube.

Forney, Ellen. Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir. New York: Gotham, 2012. Print.

Fulford, Robert.Finally, It’s Chic to Have the Blues: Film Based on Life of Harvey Pekar Sparks New Interest in Mental Health. The National Post, 26 Aug. 2003. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.


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