Monday, July 12, 2010

Harvey Pekar Passes at 70

I have to admit, I'm only marginally familiar with Harvey Pekar's comics. I remember him most as a crank on Late Night with David Letterman, whose infrequent appearances filled me with dread. Great, him again. He's going to stop the flow of humor and try to turn the discussion political. Actually, I have no idea how many times he went on Letterman's show; for all I know, it may have been only twice but apparently, I was tuned in both nights and they stayed lodged in my brain like a piece of steak gristle, worrying me from between my teeth, worrying me from inside my amygdala just like that.

But studying graphic design meant exposure to Pekar's comics, and from those I learned of a different Harvey Pekar, one much easier to take. Still problematic, but with the saving graces of self-effacing-- perhaps eviscerating, even-- honesty and sharp self-awareness. Somewhere along the line I read a story of his where (if memory serves) he tried to steal some jazz records from a friend's radio station and failed miserably because of his nervousness and over-active conscience. I recognized myself in that one, and from then on I had a soft spot for Harvey Pekar.

Not enough of one, however, to do more than read a few pages out of his books in the University of Georgia bookstore, or at Waldenbooks or Books-A-Million or wherever I encountered them. Other creators eventually found their way onto my home bookshelves-- Robert Crumb, Dan Clowes, Charles Burns, Los Bros Hernandez. But not Harvey Pekar, even after I enjoyed his input during an episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations where Bourdain visited Cleveland and hung out with him for part of the day. I never even watched the 2003 movie about him, American Splendor starring Paul Giamatti.

Why is that? I don't know.

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