When news broke on Monday that American Splendor creator Harvey Pekar was found dead in his Cleveland Heights, Ohio home, I wrote via Twitter: “I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting him in person, but [Pekar] is and will always be an inspiration to struggling creators.”
Pekar is best-known for the pioneering comics series American Splendor which told the story of Pekar’s own life and the lives of the people around him in his home in Cleveland. It was this series which lead to several guest appearances on “Late Night with David Letterman,” the last of which in 1987 got him banned from the show:
Afterwards, Pekar continued to write his comics and collaborate with several artists, one of whom introduced him to the filmmakers who would create a film about his life in 2003 starring Paul Giamatti, in which he also appeared, and subsequently wrote about in a series of Splendor stories.
What I find inspirational about Pekar is that as a writer, he had a story to tell that he believed in, and not only did he get to tell that story every day of his life, he was able to draw people into sharing his belief that stories about everyday people were important. It didn’t hurt that he was in the right place and the right time to befriend legendary underground artist R. Crumb and make use of him as a personal artist with the release of his first Splendor story in 1976, but that doesn’t explain why so many artists after Crumb not only signed up to work with him, but consider having done so one of the highlights of their careers.
Dean Haspiel, one of the later Splendor artists and also the artist for Pekar’s autobiographical graphic novel The Quitter—as well as the inspiration for the Ray Hueston character in the HBO series “Bored to Death,” but we’ll get into that some other time—was interviewed all over the place and one of the quotes I like the best is from this piece on his personal blog:
Harvey Pekar was a pioneer of the autobiographical comic book and it was working with him on The Quitter that put me on the map in our beloved industry. Harvey lived life and every last detail was written and drawn and published. He couldn’t have done half of it without his wife, Joyce Brabner. The best way to honor Pekar now is to read his life, just like he would have wanted you to.
And remember that no single person’s life is unimportant.