Monday, July 12, 2010

Comic Book Writer Harvey Pekar Passes On

Harvey Pekar, creator and writer of the underground comic book American Splendour, passed yesterday at the age of 70. The cause has yet to be determined, but Mr. Pekar was in poor health. A few years ago he had lymphoma and currently he had prostate cancer. He also had high blood pressure.

Harvey Pekar was born in on October 8, 1939, in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. It was in 1962, when Robert Crumb was working for American Greetings in Cleveland, that Mr. Pekar met the soon to be famous underground comic book artist. The two shared a love of jazz music, beginning a life long friendship.

Harvey Pekar was intrigued by Robert Crumb's comic strips, which avoided the traditional adventure format and costumed characters of the time. Mr. Pekar concluded that one could do as much with the comic book format as one could with film. It would be many years before Mr. Pekar would launch his comic book. Eventually he showed Robert Crumb some comic book stories he had written, illustrated with stick figures. Impressed, Mr. Crumb offered to illustrate Mr. Pekar's story and it appeared, under the title "Crazy Ed," in Mr. Crumb's People's Comics in 1972. The first issue of American Splendour appeared in 1976. Unlike other comic books of the time, American Splendour was an autobiographical look at Mr. Pekar and friends and co-workers' lives, viewed through a lens of humour. Stories focused on such everyday concerns as money, health problems, and other concerns. Over the years it was illustrated by artists ranging from Drew Friedman to Rick Geary. Seventeen issues were published between 1976 and 1993, most often self published. In 1994 Dark Horse Comics began publishing American Splendour. In 2006 DC Comics published an Amerian Splendour mini-series under their Vertigo imprint and another in 2008.

In 1994 Mr. Pekar published Our Cancer Year, chronicling his experiences with lymphoma. In 2005 Vertigo published The Quitter, which chronicled Mr. Pekar's early life. He also wrote Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story (2006), Macedonia (2006), The Beats (2009), and Studs Terkel Working (2009),. In 2003 a film adaptation of American Splendour was released, starring Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar.

In the late Eighties Harvey Pekar was a regular guest on Late Night with David Letterman. He would be banned for several years from the show, after criticising General Electric and stating point blank that Mr. Letterman was a shill for GE.

There can be no doubt that Harvey Pekar was one of the most revolutionary comic book writers of the 20th Century. After all, he did not write about superheroes or sci-fi adventurers, but about the life of the middle class, often with humour and often with a sardonic wit. His stories dealt with anxiety and depression in a way that few comic book stories ever had before. Despite his image as a somewhat irascible fellow, those who met Mr. Pekar or had the pleasure of knowing him also said that he was in real life a very nice fellow. Indeed, he was known for his support of young comic book creators. Although it was irregularly published and often drove Mr. Pekar into debt, American Splendour was an innovative title that long ago earned Harvey Pekar a place in comic book history.

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