It takes a lot of work to make a comic. But how much more work is it to make yourself into the comic, warts and all?
That’s the career Harvey Pekar had – a filing clerk and friend of Robert Crumb’s who took his day-to-day life and turned himself into the non-hero of American Splendor, later turned into a movie with Paul Giamatti. At times, it seemed a labor of love – a wonderful comic doomed to the underground by its warts-and-all approach to everyday mundanity.
But it’s had a huge influence since, demonstrating that comics weren’t just for the fantastic, but could be for anyone and everyone’s life. Maybe it’s mild hyperbole, but without American Splendor, there would likely be no Craig Thompson.
Mr. Pekar died earlier today. I obviously didn’t know him, but I knew his work. However, the best memorial I’ve read was on the pages of The Bomb Bag, the blog for comic writer and editor Jason Rodriguez, who collaborated with Pekar and his wife Joyce on the anthology Postcards:
I loved working with the two of them. Harvey wasn’t an email guy, our editing and storytelling was done over the phone. He read me the script and asked for edits on the fly. I had to have a drink in hand and two in the belly every time I called him, he was so intimidating to me. I loved his work for most of my life, how do you edit someone that you idolize like that? I gave some suggestions and we sent the story off to Matt Kindt. It was the story of his marriage to Joyce told via postcards. It was touching and sweet and Matt brought life to it. I love the pages. I have one hanging in my office right now.
I fucked up a bit as the book was going through production. Well, fucked up a lot. I was so enthralled with Harvey as the centerpiece that I stopped properly attributing Joyce. Joyce let me know that I was being an asshole and I tried my best to salvage the situation. I apologized. A lot. To Joyce and Harvey. Harvey told me I was making good, just don’t ever do anything stupid like that again. I promised him I wouldn’t.
The book came out and it didn’t do too hot. That, combined with a bunch of other shitty circumstances knocked the wind completely out of me. I lost a lot of enthusiasm for comics. I became embarrassed and quite depressed. I still am, honestly. Whenever I talked to anyone in comics I felt like I was given the opportunity of a lifetime and I completely threw it away and that everyone knew it. So I stopped talking to folks because it was easier. I even stopped talking to Joyce, something that still eats me up. We were working on things, or at least talking about working on things.
Harvey’s death is kicking my ass. On the one hand, he was a great and talented guy who did a lot for me just by agreeing to work on an 8-page story. On the other hand, it makes me think about my perpetual state of anxiety that I’ve been in ever since. Harvey was a guy that did it despite the odds, and I couldn’t even get over a couple of minor hurdles. The man survived cancer, I was sidetracked by a bad review and a string of annoying months.