Okay. This is going to be a little random…so stick with me. My apologies for bouncing around a little…
Harvey Pekar died on July 12, 2010, likely from complications from prostate cancer (though that is presently unconfirmed). He had previously beaten cancer (as documented in the “American Splendor” movie or more thoroughly in “Our Cancer Year,” which he wrote with his wife, Joyce Brabner). This time, it looks like cancer won. Cancer’s a dirty, mean, rotten bastard. But by most accounts, so was Harvey. So that works. (I kid, I kid…)
I’m going to devote a sizeable chunk, if not the entirety of this week’s “Empty Checking” to Harvey’s career…but I did want to put a couple of things in print, too.
Harvey’s work has had a HUGE impact on my life. As you all know by now, I’m a big comic book fan. Part of the reason for that is that “American Splendor” kept my love for the medium alive in the early part of this millennium. There was a time where all I paid any attention to at all was Batman, Bone, and Harvey Pekar. “The Quitter” is one of the finest “graphic novels” (aka: comic books) out there and can easily stand on the shelf with any autobiography Barnes and Noble has up for sale. But I could say that about pretty much anything under the “Splendor” heading, too. Harvey kept me reading and helped me see that comic books aren’t just for kids. He, along with Jeff Smith and a couple of REALLY good Batman arcs, helped to re-kindle a love (for comics) that I thought had turned into just a casual friendship. I owe him big—and so do the guys at the Fantasy Shop that have taken so much of my money, now that I think of it.
I also owe him big for a lot of what I’ve done as a musician. Look through the liner notes of my last two CDs. Go on. I’ll wait.
What do you MEAN you don’t own them???
Well, if you DID, you’d see that on the “Inspiration Page” for both releases, I listed the “American Splendor” movie and/or some of Harvey’s books as inspirations. (Dunno why I didn’t list at least one of them on the first one…MAJOR oversight…lousy Past-Derek…) In fact, his work “Another Day” was part of the inspiration for a Blue Tattoo song that may or may not survive into the current band (name unconfirmed) that Dave and I are working on. (If it doesn’t, it’ll certainly find its way to a DB solo CD.) The passion and dedication Pekar showed for his work inspired ME to work. I really don’t think that the last CD I did (“Out from the Light”) would have come together if I hadn’t been reading “Splendor” at the time. I mean that.
I wrote Pekar a fan letter a year or two ago. He didn’t reply. I didn’t expect him to. But I did get to say thanks, and I’m glad I did. The guy produced some really genius stuff and between the influence of his work, the movie, and the Eytan Mirsky song, I’m not sure what my life and career would look like if Harvey Pekar—Cleveland’s favorite curmudgeon—hadn’t drawn some stick figures and shown them to Bob Crumb all those years ago.
When my brother texted me the news of Harvey’s death, I actually had to get up from my desk at work and be alone for a minute. I know that’s stupid. I never met Harvey Pekar. Harvey Pekar wasn’t my friend. My fan letter had absolutely no impact on him what-so-ever. But I needed a minute to get my bearings. Vonnegut… Carlin… Cash… Salinger… McCourt… Pekar… A bunch of guys who wrote words I love have died in the past few years. And Pekar’s death hit kinda hard. Didn’t expect it to.
All the way home from work, I listened to the “American Splendor” song I posted in my last post. I had my windows down and the volume up. As I was driving down Delmar (I swear this DID happen), a guy that I’d say was a little older than I am heard the tune coming out of my windows. I guess he’d seen the movie, because I heard the guy yell “Harvey Pekar!” and he was waving at me. I waved back and the light changed. That would’ve made a great comic-strip. And I can’t think of a better tribute.
I want to leave you with a couple of things I think are cool. The following pictures were lovingly lifted from the website of Jeff Smith (creator of “Bone”) at www.boneville.com. Jeff is another one of my favorite names in comic books and in the past couple of years, he’s had the opportunity to meet and strike up something of a friendship (or at least kinship) with Pekar. I thought these shots were pretty cool and I wanted to throw them on this post. All due credit to www.boneville.com. These photos are NOT my intellectual property, and I make no claim to their rights.
Enjoy the orange soda, Harv. You earned it.