Monday, July 12, 2010

Harvey Pekar R.I.P

I’m saddened to learn of the death today of Harvey Pekar, age seventy, author for thirty-four years of the comic book American Splendor, subtitled “From Off the Streets of Cleveland.” The best of his work was mordantly funny and true to the unglamorous working-class spirit of our home town. I met him once, at the home of my friend Gary Dumm, a comic artist and longtime Pekar collaborator. It was 1975 and plans for the first issue of American Splendor were still in the works.

In front of me is issue #6 of American Splendor, published in 1981. The first story, “Ripoff Chick,” was written by Pekar with art by Gary and another artist, Greg Budgett. In the final panel, Pekar says:

“Yeah, I know. It was sordid, it was disgusting. I got involved with Carla because I was goin’ crazy from loneliness, so I traded one kinda bad for another, knowing pretty much what I was doing, but doing it anyway. If I had to do it over again under the same circumstances, I probably would.”

ADDENDUM: After I sent my condolences to Gary Dumm he replied with the draft of a Facebook entry that proved too long for publication. Here's Gary unedited statement:

"As irascible and curmudgeonly as Harvey might have truthfully appeared in the pages of American Splendor and certainly somewhat in his daily life NOT recorded there, I can only say that in 30 plus years of knowing and dealing with him there was much more. He was, first of all, without fail a generous and helpful friend to me, whenever possible finding work that I could do either with him or not. Our working together at first was somewhat cautious, as Greg Budgett and I found that Harvey knew what he wanted and that was ALL that he wanted - we'd sometimes `deviate' particularly pictorially from Harvey's vision. But we hit a rhythm and an understanding, and that's why I'm proud to say that my art brought Harvey and his stories to life in almost every issue of American Splendor published. I `got' Harvey early on, realizing and appreciating that his quasi-reportorial writings about his life was almost zen in approach (although that appraisal Harvey would only laugh off). And so American Splendor became an integral part of my artistic life. I am so sorry for his passing, especially for his wife Joyce and daughter Danielle. We have lost a great talent, but they have lost so much more. Laura's and my thoughts are with them. I will miss talking with him and even hearing him kvetch about whatever: editors, publishers etc. So long, a Chekhov from Cleveland, some episodes and memories of you are there for the ages to read. I know that I'll never forget you."

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