Friday, July 23, 2010

Harvey Pekar 1939-2010

Above: the many heads of Harvey, commissioned by Smith Magazine in honor of the man's 70th birthday.

"I can't draw but I write great stories, chock full of redeeming social value. Like I do stuff about how I fought my way up from Cleveland's tough East side to become a world renowned jazz critic. Just ask Crumb & up & coming Bob Armstrong & they'll tell you how deep I am." - from a letter Pekar wrote to Denis Kitchen circa 1972. Quoted from Comics Reporter.

While I was away last week, comics creator Harvey Pekar died at the age of 70 on July 12, 2010.

Harvey Pekar was a guy who wanted to do comics. He was nobody. He couldn't draw (see the above quote). Heck, the town he lived in was called "the mistake on the lake." And he already had a job consuming the bulk of his waking hours.

American Splendor #1, with Harvey writing and other people drawing, appeared in 1976.

I would see Harvey Pekar's comic -- it was actually the size of a magazine -- in local shops like Mac's Backs and Wax Stax and Daffy Dan's (respectively, a used paperback store, a used record store and the #1 t-shirt store). I would later see those American Splendors at the very first comic book store in town: good ol' Cosmic Comics, over in the old Colonial Arcade on Euclid, run by comics author Tony Isabella.

A few years later, Cleveland became the first city to default on bank loans since the great depression (People wore those "Cleveland: It's Not My Default" t-shirts), Harvey forged on, producing more stories for his comics.

Harvey reminded me of what's achievable. He felt you could do anything with words and pictures -- and he also felt, way deep down, he had something to say that was worth reading. He went to work, making time, writing and rewriting. He was, and will continue to be, an inspiration.

WNYC has links to Pekar talking about Ohio and artists remembering Harvey Pekar. My thanks to WNYC publicist Rosalin Luetum for sending these last week. It was by reading her email that I found out that he had died. It was a damn surprise. Still is.

Related: Tom Spurgeon has an extensive profile -- perhaps the best on the Web -- at Comics Reporter here.

Related: Even the lovely Helen Mirren, speaking at this weekend's San Diego Comic Con, doesn't understand that Pekar was a writer and and not an illustrator (but I like her sentiment, natch!):
“As you know, he was a great artist and a great innovator,” she said. “A guy who turned me on to the fact that graphic art can be personal. I wanted to salute him today.”


Royston Robertson said...

Nice tribute, Mike. It hits the nail on the head in terms of what was so great about Harvey Pekar.

Incidentally, "artist" can really mean anyone who creates works of art, even if he's a writer. Harvey was cartainly an artist in that sense, and perhaps that's what Helen Mirren meant.

Mike Lynch said...

Yeah, I think you're right about Helen Mirren, Royston. Thanks.