EN 429 Studies in Performance Rotating Header Image

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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