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So long, Harvey.

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Harvey Pekar wasn’t included on the list of people I’m officially allowed to mourn, but that doesn’t mean I won’t mourn his passing anyway. I first came to American Splendor too early—when I started reading Love and Rockets and Cerebus in 1993—and then too late—after the release of the film American Splendor in 2003—so while I understood it, I never truly “got” his appeal. I appreciated his ear for language, but as a teenager thought what it captured unworthy of print, and as a literary scholar had encountered many similarly talented ears and was, therefore, less impressed by it than I should have been. But when I read the news of his passing earlier today, I realized something:

I knew Harvey Pekar.

I didn’t know him know him, but like all of his readers, I knew him as well as you know me. Pekar was a proto-blogger, if you will, because he turned his life into something worthy of public consumption. Our Cancer Year is a grueling read not because all cancer entails struggle, but because the patient stricken with it is someone whose failed dreams, stunted career, and intimate thoughts are familiar to us. We may not have known Harvey Pekar, but we knew “Harvey Pekar,” and unlike artists for whom the distance between characters and self is meticulously kept, in this case it really is just a matter of quotation marks.

Rest in peace, Harvey. Lord knows you deserve some.

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  • I think you have put your finger on what it was that made Pekar’s work so remarkable– what it documented may not have been remarkable, but the truth in the way the documentation was rendered was perfect.

    I saw him give a talk last year and it was like American Splendor come to life. In response to my question from the audience he said that he wrote “for people who will get it”, and I thought that was a pretty good credo for any artist.

  • Warren Terra

    I’ve never read his comics, but the film was a masterpiece. It was clear that the people involved in the film deeply loved Pekar, a love they shared with many other people who read or produce comics.

  • Allyson

    As someone born and raised in Cleveland, the AS comics always resonated with me not just because he had the talent for making his stories resonate, but also because, for me, his work embodies the spirit of Cleveland. It’s sometimes rough, sometimes boring, but nonetheless beautiful, and significant in its own way.

    I love reading AS and seeing places that are closed or otherwise gone. He immortalized a significant temporal and physical space in my childhood. His work wasn’t just true to readers; it was true to the city itself.

    • SEK

      That didn’t occur to me while I was writing this, but you’re absolutely right: most everything I know about Cleveland comes from American Splendor. Not that the two events are commensurate, but when James bolted for Miami, I wasn’t disappointed on behalf of Cleveland itself so much as Pekar’s Cleveland. He owns that city the way Joyce owns Dublin, to my mind.

    • Being from the “greater Cleveland area” (Akron, but with plenty of time spent in Cleveland) I’m completely with you not only on this, but also on the movie. I even saw it with an (ex) girlfriend when it came out, and we came out with opinions that wavered between “Ok” and “nice” (her) to “wonderful and excellent” (me), and discovered the reason the film had resonated more strongly with me was the fact that it reminded me of home (as the comics do). It’s definitely a loss for NE Ohio.

  • rm

    I discovered American Splendor at Kovac’s Comics — Pekar’s neighborhood shop, depicted once or twice in the comics — when I was in high school in the early eighties, when the series was fairly new. I sat through some boring Letterman minutes to catch his subversive refusal to be a good guest, and now I am glad I did. The comics really are a great body of work and a great legacy. A big loss.

  • Pingback: America Has A Little Less Splendor Today « Around The Sphere()

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