I’ve written love letters to AMERICAN SPLENDOR on this site before; I mentioned the soundtrack in a very recent post. Never had ANY intention of over-saturating the site with it but…
Came home yesterday after a ten hour shift, mowed the yard in near-100 degree heat, walked in and the phone is ringing. I know who it is before I look at the caller ID; she tells me Harvey Pekar passed away today. Well this just sucks, don’t it?
After sleeping on it a night I realize he WAS 70 years old; this was inevitable. And it’s safe to say that while he endured the many hardships of life, he did live a full life.
Three marriages, a foster daughter and a fairly prolific line of writing left behind a patchwork quilt of a legacy. He managed to achieve a sort-of American Dream, rising as a Nobody from the muck of urban America and garnishing a increment of fame; how many mainstream feature films get made about ordinary Joes? How many Nobodies appear on David Lettermans show eight times?
It wasn’t until the early 90s that I began to truly appreciate the genius of Pekar’s writing; spotted the familiar inking of Robert Crumb’s artwork on the cover of one of his comics and bought it on sight. Read an interview with him in the Comics Journal later and slowly became a fan.
No doubt I identified heavily with him; just like me he was a record collector ( and jazz aficionado) who scoured garage sales and flea markets. Just like me (and millions of other Americans) he struggled to get by at a menial job that just barely paid enough to pay the rent and bills. The “everyman” appeal of his work appealed to me as well as the Do It Yourself ethic that permeated his works.
His comics were self-published the old fashioned way: ink, paper, staples and distributed mainly in “head shops” and comic book stores. The comics themselves never made Pekar rich but they were widely read and passed around to the point that he was invited onto the David Letterman show and got invited back several times afterward. He became a anti-celebrity of sorts, shunning the limelight yet appearing as himself in the movie adaptation of AMERICAN SPLENDOR in 2003. The film won awards at both the Sundance and Cannes film festivals and got generally good reviews.
His comics are still available in compilation form from Ballantine Books and feature artwork by a multitude of underground comic artists including Robert Crumb, Drew Friedman, Spain Rodriguez and many, many more. I recommend any of them.
So if you haven’t seen it, rent AMERICAN SPLENDOR tonight and look for his books. I know I will be digging out my copy at some point this week and watching it again… Bye Harvey…you may be gone but you will not be forgotten…