Thursday, December 3, 2015

Reflexivity and Narration in Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor: Another Day

American Splendor is a series of comic books written by Harvey Pekar and illustrated by various artists. His comic books are autobiographical by nature and detail various aspects of his personal life. These comics tell mundane, yet entertaining stories from Pekar’s particularly cynical and seemingly bitter life through a very realistic depiction of himself. Another Day, the first American Splendor collection from Vertigo, illustrates Pekar’s transition in black and white from the death of his parents back into to his everyday life.

Matthew T. Jones refers to this autobiographical style of comics as one of five forms of reflexivity, defined by Jones as “a process by which the author of the text […] functions to call attention to the text as an artificial construct” (270). The particular form of reflexivity applied throughout this comic is that of authorial awareness, which refers to the insertion of the author into the text. With regards to this form of reflexivity, it is the author who instigates self-awareness by calling attention to his own existence in the text. Pekar walks us through the first eight pages of his book, titled “What Happened To Your Parents?” narrating the slow decline of both of his parents’ mental states onto the end of their lives. He uses what is often referred to in cinema as “breaking the fourth wall” in order to convey a personal account of the last few memories of his parents.

Pekar is visibly present on nearly every page, although his presence in the narration is consistent throughout the entire story. He incorporates the use of speech balloons when physically present in a panel combined with the use of narration boxes when recounting specific memories. Narration boxes here are complimented with monstration, a term explained by Baetens as the physical enactment of the narration by the characters in a story. However, the speech balloons help fill in the time gaps left by monstration – he is giving the reader cues in time to help piece together the narrative.

Furthermore, with regards to the relationship between image and text, the clear understanding of the story relies heavily on the use of both these concepts. Words alone may be able to carry the factual elements of the story. However, when they are combined with, say, the visual representation of the emotions on Pekar’s face, it allows us to gain a deeper understanding and connection to the author. Magnussen believes that image and text in comics are not simply added to each other, but enter into a dynamic fusion that creates new meaning. 

For example, on the bottom of page 7, we see Harvey Pekar uttering the words: “However, my mother blamed my father for being obstructionist.” The punctuation mark at the end of this sentence deceives us as it does not properly reflect the emotion of the author. This emotion is portrayed through the look of disgust on Harvey’s face as well as the physical act of his hands held up in the air. Without one or the other, meaning would not be fashioned in the same way.

- Brittany Baker 

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