Comics author Harvey Pekar has died


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Comic book author Harvey Pekar, whose autobiographical series “American Splendor” was made into the 2003 film, has died. Pekar, a cancer survivor, was found by his wife, Joyce Brabner, early Monday morning at their Cleveland area home; he was 70 years old.

Pekar wrote his first comic strip in 1972; it was illustrated by his friend, R. Crumb. He began publishing regularly, or semi-regularly, a few years later. “American Splendor” was illustrated by a variety of artists and focused on the minutiae of Pekar’s life as a file clerk.


“Pekar’s greatest strength is the tension between his ordinariness as a man and his extraordinary skill in chronicling it,” James Hynes wrote of him. “He is thoughtful, articulate and, above all, angry, a rare and precious attribute in his age of yappie nihilism.”

Pekar was born to Polish immigrant parents in Cleveland; he was raised there and tried one year of college at Case Western Reserve before joining the Navy. After returning, he eventually found work as a file clerk at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital, where he stayed for 37 years, retiring in 2001.

In the evolving world of graphic novels, Harvey Pekar’s “American Splendor” was a regular reminder that comics could be adult. Pekar’s world — working class, day-to-day — was almost the antithesis of superhero comics. Unlike other adult comics that were written and illustrated by the same team, like the Hernandez brothers’ “Love and Rockets,” Pekar’s series didn’t have a visual identity. His use of different artists from issue to issue meant that the only through-line was his story, and that always hinged on Pekar’s character: obsessive-compulsive, jazz-loving, curmudgeonly.

“People still don’t realize how versatile and how good a medium comics is,” Pekar told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “If you look at the stuff I’ve written, they’re like play scripts. You write the dialogue and direct it for the artist. But comics are undervalued because they’ve been used in such a limited way. People judge by what they know, and what they know is ‘Superman.’ ”

Pekar’s other work included “The Beats: A Graphic History” and 1994’s “Our Cancer Year,” which he co-wrote with Brabner about his year of battling lymphoma. “Cancer didn’t kill me, so it isn’t the worst thing that could happen,” he told The Times. “Whatever it is that ends up killing you is the worst thing that can happen to you.”

— Carolyn Kellogg


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