By Jim Beard
Marvel Comics sadly notes the passing of comic book writer Harvey Pekar, yet celebrates the indomitable spirit that carried him through the travails and tripwires of everyday life. The revelation of his personal life throughout his large body of work serves as both an inspiration to creators and an example of what the medium can encompass.
The Cleveland, Ohio native found his way to comics through his close friend, artist Robert Crumb, and together they produced the first iteration of Pekar's most well-known work, the underground comic American Splendor. A deeply personal document about Pekar's life and environs, American Splendor's many volumes stand today as a stark, often brutal testament to the writer's desire to illustrate common existence. Through many years of publication, Pekar collaborated with a crop of artists of myriad styles and tones. In 2003, American Splendor became a critically-acclaimed film starring Paul Giamatti.
|Harvey Pekar (courtesy of Chris Ward)|
A warm and humble man, Pekar continued to work as a file clerk at a Veterans Administration hospital throughout his adult life, even though he'd achieved notoriety and success with his comic book work. He also poured his passion into jazz music, issuing his opinions on the musical form as a critic and essayist.
"Harvey Pekar's writing was one of the most important things in my development as a writer and cartoonist," notes Marvel writer Ed Brubaker. "I had the good luck to spend some time with Harvey when I was a young fan of his, during the week he was in San Diego in the mid-80's and delivered the famous speech where he said 'comics are words and pictures, and you can do anything with words and pictures,' which seems really obvious, but at a time when the art form was struggling to be taken seriously, saying it so simply like that was a bit of a revelation, which is why the quote has stuck around.
"Harvey himself was a really kind and forthcoming and funny guy, and I'd call him up a few times a year for a while after that just to chat. Or send him comics I was working on and get feedback. I haven't heard his raspy voice since the mid-90's, but I'll never forget his early kindness. He will be missed."
Harvey Pekar passed away July 12, 2010, in his home in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.