Thursday, July 29, 2010

Remembering Harvey Pekar

One of my favorite comic book people, comic book writer and one-time publisher Harvey Pekar, died July 12th. Pekar’s best known work is American Splendor, a series of autobiographical comic books that Pekar began publishing in 1976. Dark Horse Comics published American Splendor beginning in 1993 with issue 17. DC Comics, under its Vertigo imprint, published the last 8 issues. There were 39 American Splendor comic book issues published over a 32 year period.

Considered an underground comic book, American Splendor was mostly autobiographical, and Pekar used the comic book to chronicle his everyday life, including his job as a file clerk at a Veteran’s Administration hospital and his relationships with coworkers and patients. Pekar wrote the stories, but could not draw, so, over the years, a number of comic book artists drew the stories. The most famous is legendary Underground Comics artist, Robert Crumb (or R. Crumb), a long time friend of Pekar’s. Among the other American Splendor artists were Gary Dumm, Gregory Budgett, David Collier, and Frank Stack (Our Cancer Year).

Some will remember Pekar for a number of appearances that he made on the old Late Night with David Letterman show in the late 1980s. American Splendor was also adapted into a 2003 Academy Award-nominated film of the same name. Actor Paul Giamatti portrayed Pekar, but Pekar also appeared in the film as himself.

I first discovered Pekar in the mid-1980s, only a couple of years after discovering that there was such a thing as a comic book shop. I still have a weathered copy of the first American Splendor book collection, American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar, which Doubleday published in 1986 under its “Dolphin” imprint.

Harvey Lawrence Pekar was born on October 8, 1939 to Polish immigrant parents. Apparently, Pekar lived his entire life in Cleveland, OH, except for his time in the U.S. Navy. Pekar was 70 years old. Rest in peace.

Pekar's death is noted in this blog entry at that also talks about his life and work.

There are Wikipedia entries for Pekar and American Splendor.

Smith Magazine has The Pekar Project.

My review of American Splendor is here.

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