EN 429 Studies in Performance Rotating Header Image

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.

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