As per usual, deaths of well known persons comes in threes: this time being George Steinbrenner, Tuli Kupferberg and Harvey Pekar. Okay, even if you hate sports, you have some idea on who Steinbrenner was. Kupferburg was a musician, counterculture poet, anti-war activist and cartoonist. Harvey Pekar was the man behind the ‘American Splendor’ comic series.
Harvey Pekar was very much an unlikely hero of sorts. Born in 1939, Pekar was a quirky Cleveland native who seemed destined for an average filing clerk life. As fate would have it, he befriended a young artist by the name of Robert Crumb. Crumb was inspired to turn Pekar’s musings into a comicbook. As they say, the rest is history. Among the years, Pekar not only became an underground comic sensation, but also an unusual media personality. For a while he was a regular fixture on the David Letterman show, until Pekar reminded the host about being a potential shill to General Electric. For those who are not aware, General Electric is the parent company of NBC, which carried The Letterman Show during this period. Pekar’s rouse wiped off that annoying know-it-all smirk off of Letterman’s face. He was never booked on the show again. This didn’t matter, for Pekar’s life was later to be captured in the art house film hit “American Splendor.”
Harvey Pekar, despite his off-beat personality, was a lot smarter than what professional smart-asses like Letterman gave him credit for. Despite his cult status, success never went to Pekar’s head. He kept his file clerk position at a local V.A. Hospital until retirement, as he continued working in the comicbook medium. In the sequential art world, he had everyone’s respect; he loved comics, and the comicbook people loved him back. Unlike Letterman, the feeling was mutual.
If anything, Pekar proved that comics could be more than just a superhero platform. A working class tale of everyday living could be just as, if not more entertaining than an unattainable fantasy world.
Here’s a sketch that my boyfriend had gotten for me last year at the King Con in Brooklyn. Artist Dean Haspiel did the art here, along with Pekar’s signature. Forgot the reason why I didn’t attend, but was it was a nice surprise to receive this. Upon hearing his death, I was a bit sad on not having met him. However, he lived a full, honest creative life as he left a large body of adored work behind. Most people should be so lucky