Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a faded Hollywood actor best known for playing the superhero Birdman decades ago in a series of films. He is often tormented by the mocking, critical inner voice of Birdman, and frequently visualizes himself performing feats of levitation and telekinesis. The film opens with a quotation from Raymond Carver stating that the main fulfillment in life is related to having once been loved, then cuts to a dramatic atmospheric disturbance resembling a meteor descending in flames. The film then cuts to a surreal shot depicting Riggan as levitating in his stage room. Riggan hopes to reinvent his career by writing, directing, and starring in a Broadway production of a loosely based adaptation of Carver's short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love".
In 1945 Las Vegas, World War II veteran Frank Harris (Brad Pitt) returns to his mother. Riding on a motorcycle that he won in Italy during his service, Frank and his mother are struck by a drunk couple. Frank survives, but his mother dies. As an ambulance truck takes her away, Frank is transported to "Cool World", an animated city of surrealistic landscapes and random cartoon violence. He was inadvertently teleported by Dr. Vincent Whiskers (Maurice LaMarche), a doctor who created a "spike" that was supposed to take him to the real world, but brought Frank to Cool World instead. Whiskers finds Frank useful enough to run things in the Cool World while he is gone to the real world.
Holden McNeil (Ben Affleck) and Banky Edwards (Jason Lee) are comic book artists and lifelong friends. Holden is the friendly, more mild-mannered half of the duo; Banky, meanwhile, is the loud and fiery half. Everything is going well for them until they meet Alyssa Jones (Joey Lauren Adams) at a comic book convention in New York where they are promoting their comic Bluntman and Chronic. Holden is attracted to Alyssa, but soon learns that she is attracted to women. The two begin hanging out, and a deep friendship develops. Eventually, Holden is no longer able to contain his feelings, and confesses his love to Alyssa. She is initially angry with him, but that night, the two begin a romantic relationship.
Stanley Ford (Jack Lemmon) is a successful, happily unmarried cartoonist enjoying the comforts of a well-to-do existence in an urban townhouse, including the services of his loyal and attentive valet, Charles Firbank (Terry-Thomas). Stanley's comic strip, Bash Brannigan, is a secret-agent thriller characterized by a high level of realism: no matter how outrageous the plot may seem, Stanley will not allow Brannigan to do anything physically impossible or use gadgets that don't exist. He hires actors and sets up elaborate enactments of storylines, playing Brannigan himself, while Charles takes photographs Stanley will use as models.
American Splendor retrace la véritable histoire du scénariste de comics Harvey Pekar. Au début du film, celui-ci mène une existence plutôt morose entre son travail de documentaliste, quelques conversations sur tout et rien avec ses collègues et quelques connaissances, et sa passion pour le jazz, qu'il assouvit en recherchant des pièces rares dans les garage sales (équivalent américain des vide-greniers) ou les magasins d'occasion. C'est ainsi qu'il fait la connaissance du célèbre dessinateur de bande dessinée Robert Crumb, alors inconnu, qui est lui aussi collectionneur. Plusieurs années plus tard, alors que Crumb est devenu célèbre, Harvey lui soumet les story-boards d'un projet de bande dessinée basée sur sa vie, lui proposant d'en assurer le dessin. Crumb accepte, et contre toute attente, cette série intitulée American Splendor relatant une vie simple, banale, obtient un grand succès. Harvey Pekar acquiert ainsi une certaine célébrité aux États-Unis, dont les conséquences sur sa vie quotidienne sont présentées dans le film. En particulier, American Splendor lui permet de rencontrer sa future femme Joyce Brabner, qui écrit elle aussi des comics, et avec qui il va réaliser d'autres histoires autobiographiques, également intégrées en partie dans le film (notamment Our Cancer Year).
Stu Miley is a disillusioned cartoonist whose comic strip features a rascal monkey named Monkeybone. Stu is in love with a sleep institute worker named Dr. Julie McElroy, who helped him deal with his terrible nightmares by changing his drawing hand. One night, Stu crashes his car after accidentally activating an inflatable Monkeybone raft, causing him to fall into a coma.
Koichi (Takeru Satō) et Atsumi (Haruka Ayase) sont amis depuis leur rencontre à l'école primaire. Ils vivent ensemble depuis qu'Atsumi est venu à Tokyo pour être mangaka. Koichi, professeur dans un club de sport, se plaint qu'Atsumi ne pense qu'au manga et à ses délais à tenir.
Rick Todd (Dean Martin) is a struggling painter and smooth-talking ladies' man. His goofy young roommate Eugene Fullstack (Jerry Lewis) is an aspiring children's author who has a passion for comic books, especially those of the mysterious and sexy "Bat Lady."
Crumb is about the experiences and characters of the Crumb family, particularly Robert Crumb's brothers, Maxon and Charles, his wife and children (his sisters declined to be interviewed). Though Zwigoff had the consent of the Crumb brothers, some questioned the ability of the more disturbed brothers to provide that consent.
Set in the 1970s in the rural South, the film follows the lives of protagonist Francis Doyle (Emile Hirsch), and three of his friends, Tim Sullivan (Kieran Culkin), Wade Scalisi (Jake Richardson), and Joey Anderson (Tyler Long). The four boys all attend a private Catholic school named St. Agatha's, which they detest. The boys experiment with smoking and drinking, obsess over girls, and play pranks on their teachers, such as stealing their school's statue of St. Agatha and keeping it in their clubhouse. The four friends dedicate much of their time to a comic book of their own creation titled The Atomic Trinity in order to escape the monotony and avoid the difficulties in their own lives.
Le psychologue et écrivain américain William Moulton Marston est notamment l'inventeur du détecteur de mensonge. Au début des années 1940, il s'inspire de sa femme Elizabeth et de leur amante Olive pour imaginer la super-héroïne Wonder Woman, apparue pour la première fois dans la revue All Star Comics.
A popular performer, Jeannie Laird decides to buy her first house and celebrate with a big party. The guests' enjoyment is interfered with by the happenings at the home of the next door neighbor, Bill Carter.
The main character Gus experiences vivid dreams during his narcoleptic episodes, which inspire him to create comic book style art of extremely high quality. When Samuel Pupkin, the psychiatrist who runs a group attended by Gus, learns of this, he recalls his own desire to be a comic book artist, instead of following the family tradition of psychiatry, a dream prevented by his lack of artistic talent. Motivated by greed, jealousy, and desire for fame he hatches a plot, involving figure skating assassins, to steal Gus's work and pass it off as his own. The attempt on Gus's life fails but he ends up in a coma. Pupkin pays Gus's wife and best friend (who have begun an affair) for the art and sells it to a failed-comedian turned successful publisher, who in turn plans to erase the text and replace it with his own, and in this way have his genius for comedy finally recognized.
Jon Lansdale is finishing up a famous work of his called "Mandro", a Prince Valiant/Conan The Barbarian type of character. (In the film the actual "Mandro" artwork was drawn by real life Marvel Comics Conan artist Barry Windsor-Smith.) Lansdale is married to a beautiful woman named Anne (Andrea Marcovicci) and they have a child named Lizzie (played by Mara Hobel). While they are driving, Anne and Lansdale end up behind a slow-moving truck and an impatient driver behind them. In the heat of argument, Anne, who is driving, gets distracted and pulls out from behind the truck. Another truck comes up in the other lane. Anne attempts to get back behind the other truck but the impatient driver has pulled up too far. Lansdale waves his hand to the impatient driver to move back, and when she does not and Anne has to slam on the brakes, his hand is caught behind the truck, which also stops. The hand is severed completely in a bloody, violent scene. Anne attempts to find the severed hand but it is too late.