Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Reader's Diary #1414- Harvey Pekar (writer), various illustrators: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar

I had seen the infamous clips of Harvey Pekar being "interviewed" by David Letterman before but quickly put them out of my head, not thinking about him again until reading The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar, a double collection of two American Splendor anthologies. Harvey Pekar was the grandfather of graphic memoirs.

That's a pretty neat title for someone who never himself drew. Instead he tended to badger artists friends into illustrating his work. Fortunately, he seemed to have some pretty talented friends. His most common collaborator, and the only one whose work I was previously familiar, was Robert Crumb. I'm okay with Crumbs thick-lined, almost grotesquely exaggerated cartoons, but it was Gerry Shamray's work that really blew me away. He used negative space like no one I've ever seen before.

Actually, all of the authors here are to be applauded for finding any way to illustrate Pekar's work. Half the time they're simply rants, the other half really text-heavy stories and observations. (Future graphic memoirists have found a better balance of words and pictures, for sure.) Nonetheless, it all works as a complete package, a package meant to give a sense of who Harvey Pekar the man is (or was, as the case might be).

At first I wasn't sure I'd like Harvey Pekar all that much. Or even at all. He seemed to take pride in being cheap and using his friends. Worse, he had a misogynistic streak. (Any woman who dared turn him down was a "bitch," or even a "cunt" in one case.). Not that I ever got over my reservations completely, but by the end, I grew to discover that he was more complex than that, he was more sensitive than he first appeared, and he had a penchant for self-deprecation. Nonetheless, he came across as honest and for a study of another man's life, you could do worse than The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar. 


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