It Came From the NYPL
American Splendor: Unsung Hero: The Story of Robert McNeill
Written by Harvey Pekar
Illustrated by David Collier
Published by Dark Horse Comics
This book is one of Pekar’s lesser known, but more affecting, efforts. Robert McNeil enlisted in the U.S. Marines in 1969 at the age of seventeen, and only one birthday later was shipped off for a year-long tour of duty in Vietnam. In Unsung Hero, Pekar shares McNeil’s story with us, from a brief walkthrough of his childhood and scholastic career, into basic training, and ultimately through his military duty during which he won Navy Commendation Medal with Combat.
Pekar narrates the book from McNeil’s perspective, as if the reader is sitting down and listening to McNeil tell his tale. Occasional panels of McNeil as he appeared when the book saw print, 2003, enforce the casual sit-down nature of the writing. McNeil’s tale is very powerful, focusing on the conflicts between his own self-preservation and his desire to not fail his comrades. Threads of drug use and McNeil’s role in a collective of black soldiers weave through the saga, adding palpable humanity.
The artwork, sketchy but effective, enforces the narrative, but rarely adds much depth to it. The text, McNeil’s memories and insights, could almost stand alone. David Collier, however, does enhance the humanity of each moment with his impressionistic style and focus on capturing the emotional experience of McNeil.
Harvey Pekar may no longer be with us, but he’s left behind a deep body of writing, many of which we may have overlooked. I had missed out on American Splendor: Unsung Hero: The Story of Robert McNeil, and fortunately, the library helped me fill in that oversight. Hopefully your library can help you discover works by your favorite authors that you haven’t read.