Weekend depth approaching.

*Oh God Dept: Microwave frozen bacon. It’s the new thing in this kitchen. They put the bacon on parchment, three slices to a sheet, and stack them up in the box, and I can put it in the microwave. And if I leave it in long enough, I bet it’ll get sharp enough to sever an attacker’s hand with. Bacon and home security. This is why I pray to the American flag every morning.

American Splendor #1 (of 4)

This reminded me of the Flaming Carrot Comics relaunch at Image, actually. Not just in that it’s a long-lived, former indy-published series leaping from a temporary home at Dark Horse to another front-of-Previews publisher - it’s the approach, a narrative style so determinedly, individualistically consistent throughout the years it’s basically become timeless by default. Quite a trick for this Vertigo iteration of American Splendor, since it piles on the contemporary visual talents to bring creator Harvey Pekar’s scripts to life. But I dare say it doesn’t matter who’s illustrating these things; Pekar’s storytelling flavor is so distinct, his vision for the book so unblinking, that the artists seem like temporary incarnations of the amorphous, all-seeing Pekar visage, spilling out onto the page. He appears on-panel in every story, and just like Hope Davis said in the movie, every depiction is just a little bit different. Yet it’s always him.

Obviously if you don’t like Pekar, it’s all but guaranteed to come off in the way Warren Ellis once described it, as “the awful spectacle of Harvey Pekar just doing nothing worth looking at for years on end.” But rereading Ellis’ words and flipping through this book only made me hungrier for Pekar’s issue #2 team-up with Eddie Campbell, fellow dean of English-language autobiographical comics and Pekar's damn near polar opposite in artistic approach. While Campbell is always delighted to carry us through shifting, crackling yarns with consummate wit, an eye toward literary flourish, and the grace afforded those with a knack for sewing the yarn of fiction into realism’s sweater, Pekar is a dogged ultra-realist, hellbent on forcing whatever concessions to stylization his tales might shoulder into the steady rhythm of unadorned existence. Even when he’s on Letterman. Campbell often transfigures the stuff of life into beguiling stories. Pekar sometimes molds ready-made stories into the shape of life. Or rather, his vision of the shape of life. What will happen when Eddie 'n Harv meet? Will the Pekar power radiate through? Will some curious and tantalizing new animal graze upon our imaginations?

Well, what happens in this issue covers the spectrum of traditional American Splendor approaches (save for the old ‘Harvey stands around listening as someone else tells him something and we see the story play out as the character lived it but we keep zipping back to Harvey watching because this is the universe of Pekar’ bit). We first have Harvey narrating the tale of his folks in the eight-page What Happened To Your Parents?, the writer’s contemporary visage constantly intruding into panels depicting moments from the life of Mom and Dad as he narrates. Ty Templeton draws modern-day Harv as a withered, growling elder god, stomping through the gutters and telling us all what he thinks of his folks’ days, his authorial authority never in doubt. By the last page, there’s no story left, just Harvey receding into the distance as he considers the futility of human endeavor. He’s a less powerful observer in the next bit, a Hilary Barta two-pager titled delicacy, featuring Harvey simply observing a woman eating a muffin. Life! Later on we have another two-page saga, a ‘funny thing happened’ exchange on an airplane titled Northwest Airlines Goes Socialist, with beautifully cozy visuals from Greg Budgett and Gary Dumm. Life is amusing and kind of disturbing! How Harvey sees it!

The book’s 20-page centerpiece, The Day’s Highlights, illustrated by Dean Haspiel (of the prior Pekar Vertigo project, The Quitter), employs another favorite tactic - an unseen omniscient Harvey commenting via caption on Harvey-as-lead-character-in-a-story. And it lives right up to the title, being just a bunch of stuff happening over 24 hours. Much of it is mundane: Harvey’s foster daughter goes out without telling him, a cat runs off, etc. Some of it is not: one of Harvey’s books nears the 45,000 sold mark, his thousand-dollar check from the New York Times gets lost in the mail, etc. But the point is, this is Harvey’s comic, and Harvey’s world. All is a bit rusted, like the book’s logo. The outstanding blends with the boring, all the time. The art rarely moves beyond the direct, even when it manages it be playful (like a neat Haspiel split-panel of Pekar and a collaborator, at least temporarily equal halves of one being). Harvey Pekar obsesses, and his vision permeates. Maybe punishes, if you find it as appallingly boring as Ellis seems to. But even if, a small part of you will perhaps rustle in appreciation for the clarity of aesthetic purpose on display. It’s nothing if not cohesive.

Me, I’m ok with Harvey and his comics. I’ve read a bunch of them, and at this point his obsessive detailing of every trudge down living’s street feels like a walk though a favored local neighborhood. Just like with Flaming Carrot, that other evergreen. For those interested, it’s only $2.99 for 32 glossy b&w pages, not an ad in sight. And it may be worth watching to see what new mutations that obvious Harvey Pekar will undergo.