Thursday, July 15, 2010

Harvey Pekar... Part 2

A lot of things happen when a person dies -- but, mostly, nothing happens. Harvey Pekar has been remembered, his life recounted in dozens of newspapers, yet no one has actually done anything about it.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer gave him a front page story, which lacked anything remarkable except for occurring in the only daily paper of the city Pekar lived and knew. (I was going to take the time to electronically scan the newspaper but luckily these days so many newspaper articles have an online counterpart.) This article is the headpiece, in my mind, for a long series occurring in papers about the world, telling the same basic story. Ha. Obits...

Below, I have collected a few more articles of more interest than the average obituary.

Jacob Heibrunn of The Huffington Post wrote an inspired piece, "The Collapse of Cleveland," in which he pulled together three seemingly unrelated events -- Pekar's death; the death of George Steinbrenner, Yankees owner and one-time Cleveland shipping magnate; and the exit of Lebron James, former Cavalier all-star and supposed god, for another team -- as a sort of base for apocalyptic conclusions obvious from the title.

The Washington Post, in their "Comic Riffs" perennial feature, paid more appropriate tribute, gathering quotes from some of Pekar's former collaborators and fellow members of the industry. Frank Stack: "I've heard him compared to Charles Bukowski, of course. But I think he was even more like an American Chekov. " *eh*...

Splash Page,'s comic-themed blog, featured an interview with Jeff Newelt, editor of "The Pekar Project," an online comics project that saw Pekar paired with a "quartet of artists." Of course, Pekar left many projects unfinished, and others that are finished but yet to come out, among them "a bunch of" comics for the project and a graphic novel, simply entitled Cleveland, intended for release in 2011. Newelt also spoke of writing a tribute comic himself, as well as the possibility of tribute comics from other artists and writers.

It also occurred to me that, with all this talk of a "great man" and so-and-so, perhaps some are left wondering: "What's 'is stories like?" The main American Splendor series, of course, can't be missed, but below I have collected and recounted most of his non-AS graphic novels...

Our Cancer Year, with Joyce Brabner and Frank Stack - "This is a story about a year when someone was sick, about a time when it seemed that the rest of the world was sick, too." Harvey's and his wife's trials with his cancer during the early nineties are juxtaposed against larger events, particularly the escalation of the Gulf War.

American Splendor: Our Movie Year - Harvey tells us what it was like to be a celebrity, of a sort. This book documents his life leading up to, and including the release of the well-received film adaptation of American Splendor. "Can he keep his everyman persona [and good looks] in the face of an award-winning movie based on his autobiographical comic book series? Happily, the answer is 'you bet.'"

The Quitter, with Dean Haspiel - A memoir of earlier years, from the little kid days, through his short-lived college experience, to his many menial jobs and his finally settling with -- more like grasping onto for dear life -- a government file clerk position. In short, it's the story of a kid who quit at everything and later kinda fell into becoming an icon of his city.

Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story, with Gary Dumm - This book follows the entire life of one Michael Malice, a semi-successful business man who attributes his success to reading Ayn Rand. From my review: " Michael Malice is a real jerk, but I loved reading about his life." and "I think I'll just stick to my indifferent attempts at altruism, thankyouverymuch."

Macedonia, with Heather Roberson and Ed Piskor - This book follows a college student who dives into the history of modern-day Macedonia in an attempt to discover more about practical peace-making work. Never read it.

Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History - The story of a radical '60s era student activist group -- never read it.

The Beats - A hodgepodge of stories and artists, memoirs and more typical nonfiction comics. It starts with lengthy graphic biographies about Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Burroughs, then breaks down into a series of smaller of comics divulging both a more general history and, sometimes, a more specific angle -- "Beatnik Chicks," for example.

Studs Terkel's Working: A Graphic Adaptation - Another hodgepodge of writers and artists -- Pekar just sorta presided. It's the perfect book for him to adapt: a series of people talking frankly about their everyday working lives.


  1. Abe,

    This is actually one of the best obituaries / career assessments of Harvey Pekar that I've come across, complete with a selected bibliography at the end. Would you mind if I reprinted it in the next issue of my Google site, The Comics Decoder? I'm just putting together the long-awaited second issue (which is actually the third--the second issue is being held up by technicalities), and a piece on the late Pekar just seemed a necessity. You can check out Issue One by simply googling for it.

    I'm firmly convinced that some of the best reviews, essays, analyses, etc. are being done on blogs or published independently these days. I love giving such stuff more exposure, and organising such writers and artists onto websites and into magazines. So if you're interested in having your piece included on my site, please get in touch via email (just follow my Blogger profile), or simply respond to this comment. I'm looking for essays on all aspects of comic books, comic strips and single-panel cartoons, by the way--feel free to submit a piece on anything.



  2. Well! Thank you for the compliment, and of course you're welcome to reprint this, as much or as little of it as you want. I read through your site a bit and am looking forward to the next issue.


  3. I think the two individual entries can be spliced together with just a minimum of cutting and pasting. It'll probably just require tearing the ending off Part One and adjoining it to the end of Part Two, with the selected bibliography as a sort of appendix (or appendage).

    Anyway, it's about four in the morning, and I really need to crash after just now reading a chapter from The Hound of the Baskervilles and posting a few updates like this one. I'll get in touch if anything comes up....



  4. Abe,

    I was starting to put things together in their final form and upload them to my little ol' site, when I noticed one crucial missing piece of information: your surname! I need your surname (or a reasonable pseudonym of thine own choosing) as soon as possible. A brief bio and/or photo for the 'About The Contributors' page would also be welcomed.

    Anyway, I'll check back here over the next couple of days; or you can email me by following my Blogger profile....



  5. Ugh. Sorry it took me so long to respond!

    I didn't know what to say so I asked my girlfriend (who is 300 lbs, btw) to write my bio for me:
    "Abraham Kurp lives in a little suburb in North America with his father, mother, and sister. He spends his days toiling away at his desk, occasionally being interrupted by his four legged "brother" Tobi for belly rubs. Abraham started reading comics at the suggestion of his sister, Hannah (whoever said girls don't read comics?) and found he liked them very much, though not the superhero kind. When not toiling he enjoys reading, movies, internetting, goofing around, and car sex. Abraham is going to continue on with his writing as he begins studying to be a fourth grade teacher."

    Hope it isn't too long (if it is just cut the parts about car sex and girls reading comics :D). Looking forward to the next issue.