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Harvey Pekar Said This Would Happen

July 12, 2010

Harvey Pekar is dead. The American writer and grump died this morning in Cleveland at 70.

If you only know of Pekar from the Paul Giamatti film American Splendor, you’ve missed out. In the early ’70s, Pekar launched a comic book of the same name, drawn by several artists, most notably Robert Crumb.

The autobiographical series opened up Pekar’s miserable life as he shared stories of his dull clerking job, his mental health issues, his appearance, his troubled love life and all the things he hated — which was pretty much everything, thus rendering the title of the series particularly funny.

And this stuff is funny. It’s grotesque, in the truest sense of the word, but fascinating, a gloomy look at a real man and his real mind in a real way… but never pandering. His 1994 work, Our Cancer Year, told the blunt, touching story of his prostate cancer battle, something few writers had yet to open up about.

We never got the sense that he was affecting a persona, like Howard Stern or Gilbert Gottfried or even David Letterman, on whose show Pekar once famously tore into NBC parent General Electric. That got the recurring guest barred from Letterman’s show for a decade.

If you’re a reader of more modern alternative comics, particularly Daniel Clowes or This Will All End In Tears or Blankets or any of the current crop of “real mainstream” graphic novels, you’re reading the artistic descendents of Harvey Pekar. He took the new generation of underground comics and derailed its dope-and-acid mentality, bringing reality to it. This changed comic books forever, and I’d say even modern blogging is descended from Pekar.

So thanks for everything, Harvey. In the end, your worst fear, death, came to pass. Or was it? Maybe you feared life more. You sure did embrace it, in your odd, dark way. It had to end, though, and it has. But I guess you saw that one coming.

Harvey Pekar, 1940-2010

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