Celebrating the offbeat poetry of the mundane, Harvey Pekar's autobiographical comic book, ''American Splendor,'' isn't the typical stuff of cinematic adaptations. Nor is Pekar, a despairing lifelong file clerk at the Cleveland VA hospital, an obvious subject for a biopic. Then again, this isn't your average biopic. Freely crossing genres, the film interweaves the story of Pekar's life (featuring Paul Giamatti) with commentary from the writer himself (an EW contributor), his wife, Joyce Brabner, and various friends depicted. ''We wanted Harvey to be in the movie because he is this incredible persona,'' explains codirector Springer Berman. ''We were like, 'How are we gonna do this?'' The answer came from the comics -- different artists draw him, they all look different, but there's always the essence of Harvey there.''
The directors knew Giamatti was their star as soon as he auditioned and nailed Pekar's pessimism and schlumpiness. Even Pekar approved. ''Harvey seemed pleased with the whole thing, which is an accomplishment in itself,'' says Giamatti. ''To make him happy is pretty hard.'' Okay, but what if your idea of comics is Archie and Batman? ''I'm not a comic person and I read every one of his books,'' says Davis, who plays Brabner. ''At Sundance [where the film won the Grand Jury Prize], audiences [fell] in love with Harvey. The fact that he's so real and so not polished is very attractive. He speaks the truth.''