Not that today’s version of Comic-Con — or yesterday’s version, for that matter — was ever even close to being his scene, but it’s still going to be a little less fun and a lot sadder to be there knowing that Cleveland-born-and-bred Harvey Pekar has left the world at age 70. For those of you know who are not familiar with American Splendor, his great yearly autobiographical comics or his occasional graphic-novel sized books like Our Cancer Year, all I can say is that Pekar was a late-blooming writer who understood that comics were a medium appropriate for as many different kinds of stories as the stage or the theater. Since he had friends like underground comics legend Robert Crumb and since his own hilariously grumpy yet humanistic vision of the world was, in its way, a natural fit for the comic book form, it was where he found his artistic home. The world is a richer, funnier, kinder place because of it.
My excuse for being able to note Pekar’s passing here, where I’m supposed to write about movies, is that, after being discovered by David Letterman, who then discarded him when he decided to poke a few too many not-so-funny fingers in the eye of his then-bosses at General Electric, the movies eventually found their way to Pekar’s door. It was his good fortune that husband-and-wife documentarians Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini on their very first narrative feature managed to pull off one of the best movies of the oughts, and my choice, still, for the best comic book adaptation ever with their wonderful and hugely inventive 2003 film version of “American Splendor” featuring great lead performances by Paul Giamatti and Hope Davis. Naturally, I’ve got a couple of film clips.
The first it’s 100% pure, uncut Pekar. It’s also not too far from my own frequent train of thought when I’m shopping in areas rich in retirees of my and Pekar’s own ethnic.
More clips after the flip.
Here’s another great scene featuring Judah Friedlander of “30 Rock” — all but unrecognizable — as real-life ultra-nerd and Pekar friend Toby Radloff.
I’m happy to say that in a few weeks we’ll be running an interview by me with directors Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini, who have a new film coming out at the end of the month (“The Extra Man”). Otherwise, I’m kind of bummed. You see, my one and only encounter with Mr. Pekar was when I bought several of his books from him at his Comicon table at Artist’s Alley (technically against the rules, but, hey, this was Harvey Pekar). When he asked me my name and how I wanted them signed I said, it was Bob, that that it didn’t matter. “It’s not like I’m going to try and fool anybody that we’re close personal friends or anything,” I said, waxing a bit Pekarish myself.
“You just spent thirty bucks on my books. You are my friend,” said Pekar. Its silly, but right now I kinda sorta feel like we are. Anyhow, this brief clip is probably the Pekar philosophy/experience in a nutshell. He might have been struggling with depression, among other illnesses and issues, to the very end, but he kept going. Every day is a brand new deal.
My condolences to Mr. Pekar’s talented wife and collaborator, Joyce Brabner, and all his friends and fans in the world of comics.