“…In the long run, we’re all dead anyway.”
– Harvey Pekar, The Quitter, 2005
Harvey Pekar, the genius author behind American Splendor has died. He was 70 years old.
Pekar began his chronicle of everyday life in 1976 while he was working as a file clerk at Cleveland’s Veterans Hospital. American Splendor was an unflinching look at Pekar’s mundane and seemingly pointless interactions between himself and co-workers and hospital patients. As it evolved, American Splendor became an ongoing biography of Harvey’s life, his trials, foibles, worries and anxieties, eventually expanding to include his relationships with his wife Joyce Brabner and his adopted daughter Danielle. Harvey never pulled any punches, most notably when writing about his fight against lymphoma in ‘Our Cancer Year’, published in 1994. He would go on to write about jazz, the artists with whom he collaborated, the making of the movie American Splendor staring Paul Giamatti, and the wartime experiences of his friend and coworker Robert McNeill in Vietnam.
Pekar worked with some of the greatest comic artists of this century to produce American Splendor including: R. Crumb, Gary Dumm, Greg Budgett, Spain Rodriguez, Joe Zabel, Gerry Shamray, Frank Stack, Mark Zingarelli, and Joe Sacco. More recently Harvey teamed up with artists Dean Haspiel and Josh Neufeld and cartoonists Jim Woodring, Chester Brown, Alison Bechdel, Gilbert Hernandez, Eddie Campbell, David Collier, Drew Friedman, Ho Che Anderson, Rick Geary, Ed Piskor, Hunt Emerson, Bob Fingerman, Alex Wald and even legendary comics writer Alan Moore.
It was R. Crumb who first started working with Pekar on what would become American Splendor after they met in 1962. It was Harvey’s contention that comic books could be used to tell more than formulaic fantasy stories, that they could be something more:
When I was a little kid, and I was reading these comics in the ’40s, I kind of got sick of them because after a while, they were just formulaic. I figured there was some kind of a flaw that keeps them from getting better than they are, and then when I saw Robert Crumb’s work in the early ’60s, when he moved from Philadelphia to Cleveland, and he moved around the corner from me, I thought ‘Man, comics are where it’s at’.
Always irascible and opinionated, Pekar appeared multiple times as a guest on Late Night with David Letterman during the 1980’s until he was banned for wearing a t-shirt declaring himself to be “On Strike Against NBC”, railing against NBC’s parent company GE and accusing Letterman himself of being a corporate shill. According to Harvey:
[W]ith Letterman … you either lay down and let him insult you or you do something about it. Most people keep their mouth shut and let him dump on them. I don’t wanna do that.
Goodbye Harvey, you were authentic, original and thought provoking. We were all much better for having know you. You shall be missed.