Monday, July 12, 2010

Harvey Pekar, October 8th, 1939- July 12th 2010

I didn't love Harvey Pekar and I certainly didn't hate him, but I definitely appreciated him. His autobiographical comic, American Splendor, written by Harvey and drawn by whomever he could cajole, including, in the early days, R. Crumb, was as refreshing as any other comic breakthrough. As refreshing as Harvey Kurtzman's Mad Magazine and as refreshing as Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, but very very different.

To me, its best feature was the pacing. Lots of silence in the early issues, which were filled with home-spun philosophers and arcane jazz references.

Harvey loved being an iconoclast, a gadfly. He hated authority and expressed that view every chance he got. His 1980's appearances on David Letterman's show were a famous example. Dave tried to market Harvey as a kind of contemporary version  of Brother Theodore, but after a few appearances Harvey refused to play along.

Letterman reportedly blew up off camera and banned Harvey from the show. Years later Dave himself voiced much of the same sentiments toward General Electric, and has, in fact, evolved into the same curmudgeonly type he despised in the '80's.

Much to Harvey and Dave's credit, they kind of buried the hatchet (as much as Harvey was capable of such a mundane act)  and Harvey came back one last time, I think, in the '90's.

Harvey was in an amazing movie where he was played more or less simultaneously by Paul Giamatti and by himself. The movie was titled, of course, American Splendor. It covers everything I've written here and also, movingly, his struggle with lymphoma.

It might stand as Harvey's greatest breakthrough: his chronicle in the comic American Splendor of his year successfully fighting his cancer. It's naked stuff, raw, incredible, edgy, and all in a comic book, or funny book, as my  mother calls them.

So here's a guy who gives Letterman what for on national television, survives both cancer and R. Crumb, overcomes depression to create something wonderful and achieves a peculiarly only- in- America success. The kind of guy you think will live a good long life, because he deserves it, right?

I certainly didn't think he'd be dead by the age of seventy of undetermined causes. Doesn't seem right at all.

Not the ending Harvey would have written.