Josh Neufeld & Dean Haspiel break down Harvey Pekar's AMERICAN SPLENDOR the movie (2003) scene by scene, with insight, humor, and inside information. Neufeld & Haspiel were both illustrators for the American Splendor comic book. SCENE BY SCENE is geared toward fans of indy comics and movies, as well as the rapidly growing “movies-by-minute” podcast movement. You can find SCENE BY SCENE atwww.scenebyscenepodcast.com
Josh & Dean chat with long-time American Splendor artist Joe Zabel. Joe talks about his years working with Harvey, the creativity he brought to the role of illustrator, his thoughts on the movie, and about how his first impression of American Splendor was that it was a sex comic (“Harvey Pecker”).
An in-depth examination of the creative process behind a number of memorable American Splendor stories. Joe explains how he came to realize that Harvey was a genus, American Splendor was literature, and that the film was an innovative, avant-garde movie in its own right. Debate: was Harvey an introvert?
Shout-outs to Youngstown State University, Subliminal Tattoos, Keyhole Comics, Robert Blake, Carlos Castaneda, the city of Cleveland, Bernie Shulman’s, Gary Dumm, Gerry Shamray, Joe Sacco, and Val Mayerik.
American Splendor scene #24 (1:10:45 to 1:14:55) — The scene opens back at Shay’s Diner. Another patron recognizes Harvey from the Letterman show — but not for the right reasons. Our man is angry and unfulfilled. Meanwhile, Joyce is looking for fulfillment of her own — as a creator and as an activist. Against Harvey’s wishes, she goes away to a peace conference, leaving him at loose ends. One lonely night, Harvey discovers a mysterious lump; his fear and loneliness are directed outward.
Harvey’s co-dependency; Need vs. Love. How the fact that this film was written/directed by a husband-and-wife team really comes into play here. An in-depth discussion of shading film and other Old School toning techniques. What do Robin Williams, Jack Clark, Bucky Dent, Mister Rogers, and Busta Rhymes all have in common? Fame vs. integrity, turning down jobs, and being mistaken for a celebrity. Spending time apart from your spouse. When Josh started doing trips with the U.S. State Dept. Standing up for what you believe in: how Josh's passion to help victims after Hurricane Katrina gave him a focus for the kinds of comics stories he wanted to tell.
American Splendor scene #23 (1:02:32 to 1:10:44) — The scene shifts to the Warwick Hotel, New York City, as Harvey and Joyce prepare for his appearance on Late Night with David Letterman! Despite himself, Harvey is a hit on the show and comes back for multiple appearances. Meanwhile, Toby becomes an MTV star. This episode we are joined by special guest cartoonist Ed Piskor!
Ed talks about how he discovered American Splendor, his appreciation of the anthology nature of the film, and his relationship with Harvey, including working on projects like Macedonia and The Beats. He gives a rundown on his career, including Hip-Hop Family Tree, X-Men: Grand Design, future projects, and Cartoonist Kayfabe. Also: some in-depth discussion of Hollywood Bob.
Shout-outs to Harvey Pekar dolls, Wizard magazine, Comic Book Confidential, "Palmer’s Picks," Howard Stern & Pig Vomit, VCRs, Kazaa, Napster, burning sage, conspiracy theories, the Iran/Contra Affair, Gerry Shamray, Drew Friedman, Walden Books, Origins of Marvel Comics, Heather Roberson, Troma films, Jack Hanna, Terrence Sullivan, Heather Locklear, Jerry Seinfeld, professional wrestling, Evan Wilson, Chris Claremont, Alan Moore’s mysticism, swarms of flies, and never saying NO to freelance work.
American Splendor scene #22 (56:33 to 1:02:31) — “Westward Ho!” Harvey & Joyce travel to L.A. to see American Splendor: The Play. Things are finally breaking Harvey’s way. But his ascendancy is complicated by Joyce’s emotional struggles. She wants… a family. Guest Whitney Matheson returns! And this episode features an interview with singer-songwriter Eytan Mirsky, who appears and sings in the film.
The actual history of the various American Splendor stage productions. What is "polymorphously perverse"? How Eytan auditioned for the role of Harvey! The hosts talk about the decision to have (or NOT not) children. Dean's career as a playwright. What phone call changed your life? What would you title your “life's play”? How Seinfeld reruns got Whitney out of bed, and eventually to a very special one-on-one interview.
Shout-outs to DVD easter eggs, Donal Logue, Molly Shannon, Dan Castellaneta, R. Crumb & His Cheap Suit Serenaders, Josh Neufeld & The Seven Stooges, Dean's biological daughter Ruby, piggyback rides, and "po-ta-to chips.”
American Splendorscene #21 (53:50 to 56:33) — Harvey, Joyce, and Toby emerge from a screening of Revenge of the Nerds. Joyce finds it inspiring — Harvey finds it insipid. Back at their apartment, Joyce struggles with feeling at home amidst all of Harvey’s stuff. Special guest: pop culture writer Whitney Matheson!
The pros & cons of Revenge of the Nerds. The first time Whitney met Harvey. Diagnosing vs. judging. Which movie characters did you identify with as a kid? The many movies of European director “Ray Dedarr.” Moving in to someone else’s life.
Shout-outs to the DSM-III, the comedic talents of Hope Davis, Harvey Pekar's Macedonia, USA Today's "Pop Candy," and weird girls.
American Splendor scene #20 (52:19 to 53:50) — the real Harvey and Joyce sit in a fake comic book store, with a pile of American Splendors on the table between them. Joyce talks about what it was like to become a character in Harvey’s stories. Tension is in the air. A machine gun sounds in the distance.
The scene's cringe-factor. Doom & gloom — and finding the right balance between happy & sad moments. Creative partnerships and being each other’s toughest critic. Being willing — or not — to "bare it all" in autobiographical writing. Josh & Sari's collaborations and how that worked, both on the page and emotionally. Dean & Jen's "origin story.”
Shout-outs to Joe Sacco, Joe Zabel, Val Mayerik, Ivan Brunetti, Avengers: Endgame, Josh & Sari’s “The Cave of Fear,” Dino’s “Next Door Neighbor" project, Blue Ribbon restaurant, David Greenberger, Duplex Planet Illustrated, and “I Was Waiting For You, Daddy.”
Josh & Dean chat with comedian and actor Judah Friedlander, who plays Toby Radloff in the movie. Judah discusses how he got the role, hanging with the real Toby, being unrecognizable, and his key scenes in the film. He also talks 30 Rock, those unique trucker hats, his role on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Hollywood, politics, the life of a stand-up comic, and his Netflix specials. Nearly a full hour of Judah goodness!
Shout-outs to George & Leonardo DiCaprio, thrift shopping, political/historical graphic novels, B. Kliban, Darren Aronofsky, Phil Tippett, J.J. Abrams, “Doom & Gloom,” and Judah’s book If The Raindrops United.
American Splendor scene #19 (49:08 to 52:18) — It’s one week later, and (a strangely chipper) Harvey sees Toby sitting in his car, the dashboard covered in White Castle sliders. Toby is on his way to Toledo to see the new movie Revenge of the Nerds. Meanwhile, Harvey is on his way to Delaware to marry Joyce and help her move out to Cleveland. Harvey steals Toby’s fries. Rupert Holmes sings “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).”
An appreciation of Judah Friedlander's performance as Toby. Thoughts on Revenge of the Nerds, bullying, and nerd culture. A thorough discussion of White Castle hamburgers and junk food burgers in general. Debate — the sports fan vs. the sports nerd. How Sari proposed to Josh (yes, it’s true!), Josh’s evolving beliefs about marriage, and their subsequent commitment ceremony.
Shout-outs to spontaneous choking moments, native Clevelander Jason R. Wright and his AS shooting locations Google doc, Oberlin’s Apollo Theater, the movies Purple Rain and Inception, Where’s the beef?, Nathan's Chow Mein on a Bun, Route 80 and long-haul driving, and Dino’s unique bullying methods.
Josh & Dean chat with Toby Radloff, a key figure in both American Splendor the comic and the movie. (Josh illustrated a couple of Toby Radloff stories.) Toby talks about working with Harvey Pekar at the VA Hospital, what the job of a file clerk was, and hanging with Harvey on weekends. He discusses what it felt like to be a character in American Splendor, and his "delusions of grandeur" after appearing on MTV and in the Killer Nerd films. Toby weighs in on his favorite moments in the film and Judah Friedlander's portrayal of him. The interview concludes with Toby's touching tribute to Harvey, and a mention of the various Cleveland monuments to Pekar's legacy.
Shout-outs to hot summer days, blackouts, squirrels, Revenge of the Nerds, Redbox, White Castle hamburgers, Mad Men, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Gerry Shamray, Sean Carroll, Ed Wesolowski, and Jeff Newelt ("Nevelt").
American Splendor scene #18 (44:33 to 49:07) — Harvey takes Joyce to his apartment, where it is abundantly clear that he has a “serious problem with cleanliness.” Joyce shrugs if off, and they sit down on the couch and begin to get… intimate. Suddenly Joyce is overcome with a bout of nausea and vomiting. A concerned Harvey offers her chamomile tea. Charmed, Joyce suggests they “skip the whole courtship thing and get married”!
An extended discussion of disgusting living situations, dirty dishes, cockroaches, cats and their status as “gods,” and the sacrifices people make when moving in together (and in relationships in general). Topped off by the story of Dino’s NSFW adventures on Nerve.com and the time he almost became the “diddle to her fiddle.”
Shout-outs to Val Mayerik, Gary Dumm, WD-40, The Quitter, Josh’s brother-in-law (one of them), the Dianoga from Star Wars, Star Wars Minute, SPX, Neil Young’s “A Man Needs a Maid”, Harvey’s metal plant, flea markets, Jake Elsas and Jake’s cat Flotsam, Virginia Woolf (“A Room of Her Own”), A Few Perfect Hours, Friends, Tinder, blackouts, Black Kiss, Gina Cole, Trip City, Sentient Brooklyn, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre!
American Splendor scene #17 (41:38 to 44:32) — Joyce travels to Cleveland to meet Harvey in person — but will he be a “hairy ape” or a “young Brando?” The real Harvey sidles into frame. His opening line? "You might as well know right off the bat, I had a vasectomy.” The date begins with a handshake and dinner at a local family restaurant.
Josh & Dean talk to special guest Val Mayerik about his five years as one of American Splendor’s primary artists, his thoughts on Harvey and his work, and the question if there is any connection between Cleveland icons Harvey Pekar and Howard the Duck!
Vegetarianism, self-diagnosing, and hypochondria. An appreciation of Hope Davis (and her wig). Dean & Josh talk comics production — cutting & pasting before PhotoShop, and computer lettering vs. hand lettering. When Josh took out a personal ad... and now it can be told: Dean & his mom were on JOSH's first date with his future wife. Shout-outs to Drew Friedman, Gary Dumm, Joe Zabel, Upstart Studios (Chaykin & Simonson), Ken Bruzenak, John Workman, Gary Leib & Twinkle, the Teen Titans & the X-Men, Sari Wilson, The Nation magazine’s personals ads, and Tofu Sam!
American Splendor scene #16 (37:11 to 41:37) — Meanwhile in Delaware, Joyce Brabner is frustrated with her partner in the comic store, who has sold her copy of American Splendor #8 out from under her. Why does everything in her life have to be such a complicated disaster?! She writes to Harvey, he responds, and they soon discover they are kindred spirits. Phone conversations spark the beginning of a romance, and Harvey convinces Joyce to come to Cleveland to meet him in person.
A short history of comic book letter columns and the professional jobs & private romances sparked by them. Inviting strangers to stay at your house. Long-distance crushes, personal ads, and online dating. Forming meaningful connections with your readers. Dino's anecdote of the blue pencil. Shout-outs to Comix Book and Chinatown’s Wo Hop restaurant!
American Splendor scene #15 (32:27 to 37:10) — The short weekend begins with longing… Harvey is picking up donuts and day-old bread at the bakery when he runs into Alice Quinn, a woman he briefly knew in college. They catch up on each other’s lives and talk about Theodore Dreiser’s novel Jennie Gerhardt. Harvey leaves their encounter feeling more alone than ever before — “life seems so sweet, and so sad…”
Comics about ordinary life vis-a-vis the “TV show about nothing” — were the creators of Seinfeld inspired by American Splendor? An extended comparison of the original comics story to the filmed scene. (Plus a callback to “average is dumb”!) How to talk to the opposite sex. A tribute to the real Harvey Pekar’s voiceover “acting.” Fancy donuts and gourmet jellybeans. Shout-outs to Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Sue Cavey, Maggie Moore, The Deer Hunter, and The Quitter.
American Splendor scene #14 (27:32 to 32:26) — Our most authentic episode to date! And the next thing, it’s the 80s… Harvey has published eight issues of American Splendor to critical acclaim but little financial gain. He’s still a “flunky file clerk.“ Toby stops by to offer Harvey some gourmet jelly beans. Before you know it, the film gets META as the real Harvey crosses paths with Paul Giamatti and the real Toby Radloff crosses paths with Judah Friedlander!
What if there was a Harvey Pekar Award in comics? How nuns get their names. Critical success vs. commercial success. The question of Toby Radloff and existential loneliness. Shout-outs to Gerry Shamray, Sean Carroll, Soho Zat, Chester Brown/Yummy Fur, Joe Sacco, Maya Neyestani, the Angouleme Comics Festival, and the JLA/JSA crossovers of the 1980s!
American Splendor scene #13 (23:46 to 27:31) — This episode opens with a montage of classic Pekar quotidian moments and culminates with Harvey proudly showing off American Splendor #1 to his co-workers. It concludes with the real Harvey talking about how he comes up with his stories. Mr. Boats returns and Toby Radloff appears for the first time…
The joys & challenges of getting “professionally” published. A fuller discussion of “semi-auto-bio” and the choices required to form real life into compelling stories. Shout-outs to Keyhole, A.D., Bored to Death, and AS artists R. Crumb, Greg Budgett, Gary Dumm, and Brian Bram.
American Splendor scene #12 (20:21 to 23:45) — Inspired, Harvey stays up all night writing. At a diner with Crumb, Harv makes a pitch for a new kind of comics. He shows Bob the scripts he’s been working on — and Bob offers to illustrate them for him! Plus: an interview with actor James Urbaniak, who plays the role of Robert Crumb in the film!
A discussion about the pros & cons of creative collaborations. Do Harvey Pekar’s artists get enough credit? The great lunchroom fight of 1984! Shout-outs to Stan Lee, John Byrne, Terry Austin, Raymond Carver, and Jay McShann (again).
American Splendor scene #11 (17:51 to 20:20) — Harvey is doing some grocery shopping when he is confronted with a conundrum about which line to wait on — the long but speedy one, or the short one with the old Jewish lady in front? Out of nowhere, Harvey’s animated subconscious — drawn in an R. Crumb manner — pops up to help guide his decision. “Are you going to stand there in silence, or are you going to make a mark?” Another new wrinkle in this unusual film!
How Harvey’s artists did the “acting” in his comics. Did Harvey ever object to something Josh or Dean illustrated, and did Harvey keep some artists on a shorter leash? How the artists in the Vertigo series near the end of Harvey’s career/life were more stylized than the typical A.S. artists of yore. Were Harvey’s earlier stories better than his later work (which leads to a discussion of “later work” in general)? An extended compare-and-contrast session about the original comic that inspired the scene. The differences between cartoons and comics, and what they require of the watcher/reader.
Shout-outs to animators Gary Leib, Doug Allen, and John Kuramoto of Twinkle. Also to Vito Delsante, Prince, Stanley Kubrick, Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Love & Rockets, and Idiotland.
American Splendor scene #10 (16:24 to 17:51) — a sobering moment in the VA hospital’s “deceased” files section leads Harvey to try drawing his own stories. Short on ideas, he flips through some old comics, including an issue of Dr. Quake. But the message he receives is… “GIVE IT UP!” Dino’s art featured this scene!
“Did you really believe brass and brawn could derail your destiny with fate?” — more behind-the-scenes details about how Dino connected producer Ted Hope with Harvey & Joyce, and how Dino’s art ended up in the movie. A discussion about why Harvey chose to make his mark via comics, as opposed to any other medium. Harvey's scripts — did he wrote his stories in a stream-of-consciousness manner or did he plan them out? Stick-figure comics: a shout-out to Matt Feazell’s Cynicalmanand Randall Munroe’s XKCD.
American Splendor scene #9 (14:32 to 16:23) — The flashback is over, and a famous but disillusioned Crumb is back in Cleveland for a visit. He and our man hang out at a random bus stop while Crumb sketches. His marriage over, Harvey is lonely and frustrated — he wants to leave a mark on the world. Harvey doesn’t buy all this “growth crap” — he’d be glad to trade some growth for happiness!
An appreciation of Urbaniak’s Crumb. The revelation that Pekar had actually written a few “underground” comics stories — some illustrated by Crumb — going back to 1972. What were the comics that made you want to become a cartoonist? The “healthy energizing competition” of Dean & Josh’s high school comics club. Josh’s transition from mainstream/superhero comics to alternative comics. Dino as multi-dimensional storyteller: “a testament to life.”
Shout-outs to musicians Blind Lemon Jefferson, Big Mama Thornton, Jay McShann (again); comics creators George Pérez, John Byrne, Howard Chaykin, Frank Miller, Walt Simonson, Michael Golden, Roger Stern, and Neal Adams; and writer/filmmakers Woody Allen, Todd Solodnz, and Jonathan Ames!
American Splendor scene #8 (12:27 to 14:32) — It's still 1962, and Harvey and Bob are chillin' at the Pekar pad. Scratchy jazz tunes play on the turntable. Harvey admires Crumb's Big Yum Yum Book, but grows frustrated with Crumb's apparent lack of ambition ("It's just an exercise"). Still, a friendship is formed over a shared love of jazz and comics.
Pekar & Crumb as friends before they were artistic collaborators. The simple pleasures of reading and listening to music with friends — when socializing and technology were not so intertwined. The merits (and drawbacks) of technical pens. Crumb's underground work and Josh's premature exposure to it. Will Josh ever do his "Crumb comic"? Collaboration vis-a-vis doing your own thing. Drawing other people...
American Splendor scene #7 (11:11 to 12:17) — Flashback to 1962. A fateful encounter: while searching for old records at a yard sale, Harvey meets shy greeting card illustrator (and comic book collector) Bob Crumb. Special guest: actor Eli Ganias, who plays the role of Pahls in the film!
Marty Pahls and "Marty & Pahls" — the real man who introduced Pekar to Crumb (and married one of Crumb's sisters). Bits from "The Young Crumb Story"... Eli Ganias' juicy behind-the-scenes stories: "arm-around" on the cutting room floor, trailer talk, accents, the other actors, and much more. Eli’s prior knowledge (or lack thereof) of the American Splendor comic book (“a lot of text"). Shout-out to Dean's HariKari Kane.
In American Splendor's sixth scene (10:00 to 11:11), the real Harvey Pekar sits at a fake yard sale, talking about his years as a used-record collector / salesman. Harvey's transition from collecting "sides" to collecting stories.
It's talk therapy for Josh & Dean as they discuss family issues related to collecting/hoarding. The pros & cons of collecting stamps, baseball cards, comics, and music. Creating an industry from your own collecting. From collecting to creating— collecting as "research." Shout-outs to the Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Godfather, Marilyn Monroe, and Lester Young!
In American Splendor's fifth scene (8:00 to 10:00), it's a few months later. A depressed and lonely Harvey is at his flunky file clerk job at the V.A. hospital. Mr. Boats comes by to offer some poetic advice about women. The conversation turns to music, and then to Harvey's side gig as a used-record dealer. Mr. Boats accuses Harvey of not "turning loose the good stuff!"
Collier’s Disease, hoarding, “cat hoarding," and Harvey's tendency to “collect” misfits. The recurring character Mr. Boats (and his film portrayal by Earl Billings). “Jack the Bellboy” and Harvey's different personae. An appreciation of the research involved in mining previously unrelated American Splendor stories to guide the plot of the film. Finding the right medium in which to tell your story. “Semi-auto-bio” comix: authenticity and making stories from real life. Editors—oy! Note: this episode is 10% funnier than the previous one.
In American Splendor‘s fourth scene (6:06 to 8:00), Harvey's wife decides this "plebeian" lifestyle just isn't working for her anymore. Without being able to speak, our man is powerless to prevent her from leaving him. Poor Harvey!
Harvey's apartment sparks a conversation about "collecting" versus HOARDING. An appreciation of Paul Giamatti. The original American Splendor story — illustrated by Sue Cavey — that contributed to this scene, and its similarity to a singles ad ("Harvey on Tinder"). Josh's dramatic reading from the script initiates a discussion of storytelling and the filmmaking process. Dino caps off the episode with his own "American Dilemma" — a hilarious tale of competitiveness, frustration, practical jokes, and how he started working with Harvey.
In American Splendor‘s third scene (4:49 to 6:06), Harvey visits a throat doctor and exhibits a little hypochondria. Plus, he's having marital problems.
The boys correct an error from the previous episode. They talk about the original American Splendor story that inspired this segment, and the differences between the comic and the film. A discussion of the early issues of American Splendor and notable Pekar illustrator Gerry Shamray. Josh talks about his early artistic influences and how he first met and started working with Harvey. Dino and his shirts (or lack thereof). A comparison of the scene as it appeared in the in the script as opposed to how it played out on film.
American Splendor's second scene (1:24 to 4:49) introduces Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar, walking the gritty Cleveland streets, interwoven with the film's opening credits, all formatted to look like comic book panels. Then we meet the real Harvey Pekar in a faux behind-the-scenes documentary setup.
A discussion of American Splendor as a groundbreaking type of comic book — an alternative to both mainstream superhero comics and underground comix. Some information about writer/directors Shari Springer-Berman & Robert Pulcini, as well as the previous attempts to make an American Splendor film. Josh discusses making nonfiction comics, specifically journalistic comics and autobiography. The city as character: Harvey Pekar's Cleveland and Dean's stories of Brooklyn and Trip City.
AMERICAN SPLENDOR's prologue (0:00 to 1:24) opens in the year 1950. It’s Halloween and an 11-year-old Harvey Pekar refuses to be a superhero. Josh & Dean introduce themselves and the show before diving into the scene, with memories of past Halloween costumes, as well as LaGuardia High School, which both hosts attended. A spirited discussion about Harvey Pekar — the man and the legend — and his influence on Dean & Josh. Plus, some background on Josh’s career as a nonfiction cartoonist.