Tuesday November 21st 2017

Harvey Pekar – The Passing of a Comic Book Legend

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On July 12, 2010 after 1am, Harvey Pekar, the seminal comic book writer of the American Splendor series of graphic novels was found dead by his wife in their home in Cleveland, Ohio at the age of 70. The cause of death has not been determined though it is a matter of public record that Pekar had been fighting a battle with prostrate cancer. He was married from 1960 to 1972 to his first wife, Karen Delaney, a writer and educator. He remarried two more times in his life. Pekar’s third wife was writer Joyce Brabner, with whom he collaborated on “Our Cancer Year“, a graphic novel autobiography of his uphill yet successful battle against lymphoma. He lived in Cleveland Heights, Ohio with Brabner and their foster daughter Danielle.

Pekar, inspired by the friendship he had with Robert Crumb – a satirical underground comic artist, wrote the American Splendor series of books as a autobiographical account of his own life. The comic records the daily life in the decaying neighborhoods of Pekar’s native Cleveland, where Pekar worked throughout his life as a file clerk in a large Veterans Administration hospital. The first issue of American Splendor appeared in 1976.

Harvey Pekar, in an interview once described American Splendor: “It’s an autobiography written as it’s happening. The theme is about staying alive. Getting a job, finding a mate, having a place to live, finding a creative outlet. Life is a war of attrition. You have to stay active on all fronts. It’s one thing after another. I’ve tried to control a chaotic universe. And it’s a losing battle. But I can’t let go. I’ve tried, but I can’t.”

Pekar was also a notable guest on the David Letterman Show. He appeared eight times as a guest on the show though he was banned until the 1990’s for controversial remarks he made about the General Electric company.

His work also inspired the film version of American Splendor which was nominated for an Oscar. In 2003, the critically acclaimed film American Splendor was released with actor Paul Giamatti, playing the lead role of the gifted, but eccentric author. Harvey Pekar himself appeared in the movie breaking the wall between the movie portrayal and reality.

In late 2005, the DC Comics imprint Vertigo released Pekar’s autobiographical hardcover The Quitter, with artwork by Dean Haspiel. The book catalogs Pekar’s early years. In 2006 Pekar released another biography for Ballantine/Random House, Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story, the life of Michael Malice, who was the founding editor of OverheardinNewYork.com. Pekar was also given the distinct honor of being the first guest editor for “The Best American Comics 2006” collection published by Houghton Mifflin, the first comics publication in the “Best American series”. Pekar also released a four-issue American Splendor miniseries through the DC Vertigo imprint. This was collected in the American Splendor: Another Day paperback. In June 2007, Pekar collaborated with student Heather Roberson and artist Ed Piskor on the book Macedonia, which centers around Roberson’s studies in the country.

You can learn more about his work in the links above.

Rest in Peace Mr. Pekar. You will be sorely missed. May your legacy live on…

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