Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

July 12, 2010

Harvey Pekar, RIP


All condolences to Mr. Pekar's family, friends and collaborators. Upon hearing the news, I posted the following on Twitter, which by request I'll re-post here:
Harvey Pekar was a key figure in the transition from underground to alternative comics, the self-publishing movement, the rise of graphic novels at prose publishing houses (Our Cancer Year was in the Class of '94 -- the preview year for the way comics are now), and, over time and in a bunch of ways, the wider cultural acceptance of comics.

He was also a great writer, so admirably and fiercely protective of his reputation that he's never been given the work-by-work appraisal, discussion and strong debate he deserves. He did great work with great artists -- his comics with Crumb are remarkable -- although the Pekar that exists in my head is drawn by folks other than the superstars with whom he worked.

I'm not sure how to describe his presence, but it was formidable no matter if you were lucky enough to have his interest and support or if your only encounters with him were his trying to talk you up issues-wise on a purchase of American Splendors at the old Chicago con. Harvey Pekar looked fully-drawn and inked when everyone else was sketched.

I appreciate how consistently blunt he always was about the financial component of writing, in an industry that keeps quiet about that kind of thing he was really loud. One Harvey Pekar comic was a better, more bracing guide to what it's like being a writer than 1000 soft-pedaled magazine articles. He was like the uncle that pulled you aside at graduation and told you the unvarnished truth.

Vastly under-appreciated is the display of values in Pekar's work, stories that would spotlight someone else's display of virtue and his hearty endorsement of it -- acts of friendship or generosity, a session of intense conversation, small kindnesses. There was a strong civics component to American Splendor, a number of comics that were simply about getting along with one another.

It is impossible to describe how important Pekar was to a generation of comics readers who sought something outside the overwhelming fealty to genre by the big publishers, how strongly his worked clashed with the dominant ethos, how instructive it was to be caught up in his quotidian travails and realize those things could carry you along as much as any other kind of art. Thank you, Mr. Pekar."
A full obituary will appear on CR tomorrow.
posted 9:00 am PST | Permalink

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