Harvey Pekar (1939-2010)

Harvey Pekar 1939-2010

Above: Ink portrait of Harvey Pekar 1939-2010 Enlarge

Harvey Pekar (1939-2010) Obit

Heavy coverage of the death of this pivotal comic book creator. Below from Associated Press at MSNBC:

"Harvey Pekar, whose autobiographical comic book series "American Splendor" portrayed his unglamorous life with bone-dry honesty and wit, was found dead at home early Monday, authorities said. He was 70.

The cause of death was unclear, and an autopsy was planned, officials said. Pekar had prostate cancer, asthma, high blood pressure and depression, said Michael Cannon, a police captain in suburban Cleveland Heights.

Officers were called to Pekar's home by his wife about 1 a.m., Cannon said. His body was found on the floor between a bed and dresser. He had gone to bed around 4:30 p.m. Sunday in good spirits, his wife told police.

Pekar took a radically different track from the superhero-laden comics that had dominated the industry. He instead specialized in the lives of ordinary people, chronicling his life as a file clerk in Cleveland and his relationship with his third wife, Joyce Brabner. His 1994 graphic novel, "Our Cancer Year," detailed his battle with lymphoma. "

A good overview of Pekar's career can be read at the National Post

Harvey Pekar "American Splendor assaults the Media" (art: Robert Crumb)

Click to enlarge

Harvey Pekar drawn by Robert Crumb American Splendor

Critique of Harvey Pekar's THE QUITTER

Published By DC Comics in 2005, The Quitter is often called Pekar's most accessible and comprehensive work in a single volume.

Though partially a nostalgic reminisces about growing up in Cleveland and then decamping for New York, only to return again, Pekar also infuses the tale with a running theme of confused failure and determination to account for it and move on, only to return again to the same personal dilemmas in another episode from his personal history. The repetition isn't in the writing, which carries the tale forward with a variety of perspectives as Pekar questions himself and his view of his events with intelligence. The repetition is in the unexplained (to both Pekar and the reader) why the same destructive decisions were made over and over.

Though he can't explain it, Pekar doesn't leap to a convenient psychological explanation either, which, whether intended or not, Pekar has then made it possible for the reader to interact with the tale and to see and decide about what it means and why it is happening without some "official" social judgment hanging over the central character.

Harvey PekarHaspiel's artwork services the story well, though a sameness pervades the geography he depicts, with streets and places seeming generic and not demonstrating the affection Pekar feels in his text for the locations. Since much of the tale is internal to Pekar's own thoughts, this isn't as big a handicap as it could have been. Still, it removes the ability of the visual story to bring Cleveland or New York to life as a character in the tale.

Perhaps the only truly significant flaw in the art is that in the early pages which is a narrative of Pekar brawling and fighting in the streets with other kids, the artwork lead me to believe I was looking at a young teen boy, only to discover through the text the kid throwing the punches is only six years old. Simply put, Pekar doesn't look six on those pages! So, faulty visual info is transmitted to the reader (or at least this reader) by this inappropriate depiction.

Pekar's story is heartfelt and full of his nostalgic warmth and friendliness towards men and women from his past, many of who are profiled quickly and with a sense of real identity, which is a nice feat considering Pekar's own identity overwhelms and dominates this memoir. Unfortunately, this isn't the same way Pekar's own parents are shown, though early his mother and father are presented with a brief, sympathetic biography, but this unwinds later and they come across as caricatured cartoon figures, weak comedy or simply so thinly revealed they don't even seem real.

The story on the whole is engaging, but narrative speed is flawed, because history jerks forward at times with only minimal explanation, as if either Pekar's own interest had waned, or the combined writing is cobbled together from a set of incomplete source documents. These problems with tone and speed could have been fixed by any editor at DC Comics because they only crop up in a handful of places. Instead it hangs like a a crude, jarring form of chapter break between stories.

Panel art by Dean Haspiel (below) , from THE QUITTER by Harvey Pekar, 2005, published by DC Comics. Click to view pages and comments

Page from The Quitter Page A

Page from The Quitter Page B

Page from The Quitter Page C

Harvey Pekar

Harvey Pekar 1939-2010

TheHarvey Pekar and Dean Haspiel graphic novel THE QUITTER

Page A - Havey Pekar the Quitter A Page A - Havey Pekar the Quitter B Page C - Havey Pekar the Quitter C

A small DC Comics / Vertigo page talking about THE QUITTER book

amazon.com link to buy the book

Harvey Pekar the Quitter

Vaguely related:

Fun Home - A Family Tragicomic By Alison Bechdel

Old Man Winter by J. T. Yost

Abandon the Old in Tokyo By Tatsumi

Original Page June 2010 | Updated June 2013