“American Splendor” by Shari Springer Berman

According to Harvey (1996), there are very few pages containing comic art either in Newspapers or books, however, they dramatically exhibit the exceptional storytelling ability of the medium. For instance, he asserts that George Harriman’s Krazy cat a classic Newspaper comic strip had an epoch published on the 10th of October 1920 with a Sunday trip (figure 93) occupying a full page in the Newspaper. With these dimensions a cartoonist had all the visual resources that can be afforded by a page in a comic book.

As a matter of fact George Herriman went on to stage plays using this story for many years. This is indeed an exhibition of the exceptional properties of the medium: pictures and words merge to tell the story in this case. In the absence of the pictures, the words have no meaning. Yet still the Krazy cat strip was more than an ideal blend of verbal and visual media. It was a meticulous utilization of the medium’s resources; layout, narrative breakdown and composition orchestrated carefully in the story teller’s objectives (Harvey, 1996).

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Harvey (1996) argues that as much as a film could provide a similar or exact story it cannot do so with the same sense of concurrency. This problem was replicated in the adoption of Pekar’s “American Splendor” where the film makers were not able to concurrently match the comic panels with the screenshots (Hight, 2007). This is because the camera man could cut from an observer in a window to Ignatz before moving to Krazy and back in an effort to capture all the three plots in one episode.  It is also possible that the cameraman may pull too far backwards. However, this could be so far from the actors that the audience may be obstructed in visualizing them. As much as film is capable of concisely capturing actions and images it is not capable of adequately narrowing the audience’s focus to dwell only on the critical aspects of a story as witnessed in the layout of this page. Harvey thus concludes that such a story can only be told in the comics (Harvey, 1996).

The same problem is replicated in the adaptation of the comic book: “American Splendor” by Harvey Pekar where film makers Shari Springer Berman and Bob Pulcini are faced with insurmountable challenges given that Harvey Pekar used a style in his comic that was meant to capture the vernacular of language his objective was to be faithful to the idiosyncrasies and rhythms of daily conversations. He overwhelmingly relied on episodic narration, by focusing on a daily frequently mundane phrase, rather than a punch line. This in the end   provided his readers with a snowballing experience. In the entire comic Pekar maintained an internal monologue while focusing on the American middle and lower classes (Hight, 2007).

According to Harvey (1996) Comics and Film are as a matter of fact distinct media and their disparities lie in the manner in which they are produced. In the first place while motion pictures are generated by machines, comics are hand written. Images in comics can be easily edited in comparison to those in films which generate more than what is observed in nature. A much as comic and film could be correlated being in the genre of visual media they are very many miles apart in how they present their work of art.

Apart from that, the angle in which a film is taken (establishing shot, camera angle and close up) is utilized in describing comics.  For instance in the “American Splendor” by Harvey Pekar the argument prioritized by Pekar in his comic is articulated more unreservedly at the thematic level, the final objective of his comic and within the particular nature of the construction of his narrative (Hight, 2007).

Furthermore the two kinds of media have cherished each other through out their development however, they are not similar each needs a separate and distinct engagement style from its audiences. Yet still images in comics are static while those in films are in motion. This affects the time in which the two media take to convey their messages (Harvey, 1996). This problem applied to Pekar’s “American Splendor” even though documentary and melodramatic constructions were consistently utilized in ways that denied any contradictions or tensions between the competing forms. This is because in the film by Shari Springer Berman and Bob Pulcin there was the use of Pekar the narrator of the text. The film “American Splendor”  thus remained true to Pekar’s original comic version thus making his stylistic complexity and collaborative nature a direct inspiration (Hight, 2007).

According to Lefèvre (2007) film adaptation of comics attract mixed reactions while some are popular others are not. While some critics acknowledge the creative features of some adaptations others bluntly state that film adaptation of comics is only a preference of mediocre artists. There are four challenges in adapting comics into film where three are inherent in the comics.  A comic has no sound; its panels are arranged on a page and are in the form of static drawings. On the other hand films not only have sound rather they also have a screen frame and their images are photographic and in motion. Consequently films adopted from comics are very dissimilar.

A direct adaptation is the worst scenario since as much as certain elements are very effective in comics they do not function in films. The original text is inadvertently altered because of the disparities in their length of narration (Lefèvre, 2007). Similarly, the adoption of Pekar’s “American Splendor”   by Shari Springer Berman and Bob Pulcin had the resulting film having a hybrid of various forms of representation because the film makers thought they had the permission to do what they wanted. As a matter of fact, Pekar himself was represented in five different ways; even his voice was showcased in numerous distinct ways (Hight, 2007).

The interaction of the diverse panels including their various locations and dimensions is an integral aspect of comics. Films with their standardized screens and moving images are not soundly equipped to replicate comics’ page layouts. However, film makers have started making attempts where they tend to make use of split screens imagery and  multiple frame imagery; in this scenario two or more images with their own shapes and frame dimensions show in the large frame. While multiple frame imagery is similar to comics it goes against the grain in conventional cinematographic fantasy (Lefèvre, 2007).

This problem was envisaged in the adoption of Pekar’s “American Splendor” where the film makers decided to provide a space for Pekar being filmed in a studio where he expounded on features of his experiences in life and made some comments about the film which was a complete contrast from the narration in the comic. However, the filmers felt that the documentary parts of the film would need this style; a comic book panel style, with exciting colors and a few items neatly arranged in the frame in the middle of a white space. By filming Pekar in his own environment the makers of the film achieved one thing; a break from the cinematography and reminded the audience of the comic (Hight, 2007).

According to Lefèvre, (2007) drawing in comics provides many possibilities for instance people can run over cities, however, this was not possible in films until the discovery of animation. The change from silence in comics to talkie in films is critical.  This was as a matter of fact pointed out by Shari Springer Berman and Bob Pulcin the filmers of the “American Splendor”   who faced insurmountable challenges in their effort to adopt Pekar’s comic to the screen. They pointed out that his comic was not really about conventional narration rather they were about observations he had made at various moments in his life. The perception of the “American Splendor” comic is that life is not really organized which is very overwhelming for a screen writer. In the end they were faced with a challenge of wanting to remain in the comic’s spirit while also making attempts to fashion it into a big story (Hight, 2007).

The reader in comics cannot hear the voice of actors but can only interpret the presence of images in the comic; however, sound is not only inherent in films but there is also background music to ensure that audiences are not disturbed by other noises. The adaptation of comic to film is thus likely to face numerous problems concerning the change from silent medium to sound medium (Lefèvre, 2007).


This is illustrated in the adoption of Pekar’s “American Splendor”   where Pekar is heard in various direct to camera interviews yet still some of his writings are also directly lifted from his comic’s panels. In the end these various modes of representation end up serving different purposes a far cry from what Pekar intended in his comic. However, there is still a practical attempt to seamlessly integrate them into Pekar’s work and life which in the end allows the film makers to produce an entertaining and innovative film that increased demand for Pekar’s comic. As much as the film makers may not have successfully adapted Pekar’s comic “American Splendor” but they did not fail in their objective to remain relevant to its spirit.




Lefèvre, Pascal. (2007).“Incompatible Ontologies? The Problematic Adaptation of Drawn Images.” Film and Comic Books. Eds. Ian Gordon, Mark Jancovich, and Matthew P. McAllister. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, pp 1-12.

Harvey, Robert. (1996). “Only in the Comics: Why Cartooning Is Not the Same as Filmmaking.” The Art of the Comic Book: An Aesthetic History. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. pp 173-178 and 188-191.

Hight, Craig. (2007).“American Splendor. Translating Comic Autobiography into Drama-Documentary.” Film and Comic Books. Eds. Ian Gordon, Mark Jancovich, and Matthew P. McAllister. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. pp 180-187.

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