Harvey Pekar Dead at 70

Published 5 years ago by , Updated February 24th, 2014 at 11:27 am,

Harvey Pekar Harvey Pekar Dead at 70

The notion that a comic book could revolve around a short-tempered, obsessive-compulsive file clerk from Cleveland may sound strange at first, but that is the basis of the autobiographical American Splendor graphic novel series by Harvey Pekar (who passed away last night at age 70).

Born Harvey Lawrence Pekar on October 8, 1939 in Cleveland, Ohio, Pekar was of Jewish-Polish descent and was (by his own admittance) an angry, hot-headed teen that often butted heads with his parents.

He eventually wrote about this early period of his life in the 2005 graphic novel The Quitter, the title of which references his decision to drop out of college; his failed stint with the Navy; and the numerous, minimum-wage jobs that Pekar worked prior to his job as a file clerk at a Cleveland Veteran’s Hospital in 1966 – a job he kept until his retirement in 2001.

A connoisseur of Jazz Music and an avid record collector, Pekar began his professional writing career as a music critic just a few years after he settled comfortably into his career as a file clerk.  Inspired by the early work of his new acquaintance – the then unknown, avant-garde illustrator Robert Crumb – Pekar began writing his American Splendor comic book series in 1972.

Pekar began publishing his autobiographical series – which literally detailed the every-day experiences of his ordinary life – annually in 1976.  Despite receiving immense critical praise and numerous accolades ( which included the American Book Award and the Peabody Award), Pekar was the sole financier of his American Splendor series and spent several years unable to profit from his writing.

He spent most of the ’90s attempting to sell the rights to a movie adaptation of the series.  Those efforts eventually paid off and resulted in the 2003 Sudance Festival Award-winning American Splendor film (see below), which starred Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar and Hope Davis as his third wife, Joyce Brabner.

American Splendor movie Harvey Pekar Dead at 70

Pekar was the sort of painfully honest, self-deprecatory personality that even your average stand-up comedian would blush at.  Through his American Splendor books, Pekar addressed pretty much every aspect of his life – his generally grumpy, slovenly nature; his occasionally sexist attitudes towards women; mostly, his struggles to cope with every-day life.  In 1994, he and Joyce Brabner even collaborated on the graphic novel Our Cancer Year, which chronicled the graphic details of Pekar’s bout of lympathic cancer during the Gulf War in the early 1990s.

Several years and numerous cancer relapses later, Pekar finally passed away in the early hours of July 12, 2010.  He was an immensely influential writer, whose work in the comic books medium has been cited as an inspiration by the likes of Alan Moore – among numerous other, professional writers.  I’ve always felt a strong connection to Pekar’s work on a personal level as well, and am but one of many who is surely mourning the loss of one of the comic book medium’s true innovators and most brilliant contributors.

R.I.P. Harvey Pekar (1939-2010)

TAGS: Obituaries
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  1. He really does belong in the same conversation as Alan Moore. He was an amazing man and he will be sorely missed. r.i.p harvey pekar

  2. i was never a huge fan of his, but i do respect the guy immensly… he was as real as anything could be, no fear of showing his true colors… his work shows his life, everyday life… not beating his arch rival like in so many of todays comics… he was real, he wasnt afraid to be dark, truthful and humble, he wasnt afraid of anything, cancer, being looked down upon, andletting other people know his true self… he will be missed… RIP…

  3. Pekar and Crumb… those 2 names conjur up immense memories from my College days in Toronto (late ’80s) with fellow students in an animation course…

  4. Not to be mean, but unless he is going to die in a year I think you made a typo.

    away in the early hours of July 12, 2011.

    Sad to hear this. I wasn’t an avid reader of his work, but I respected it and the movie was pretty good as well. It’s kind of disappointing when people talk about all the great comic films no one mentions this one.

  5. @Daniel F

    American Splendor is such a unique entry in the comic book movie genre that I guess a lot of people just forget that it was originally a comic book to begin with.

    Also, thanks for pointing out that error. Not sure how that one slipped by.

  6. i agree sandy. While it’s not the greatest comic film of all tome it’s very good which we don’t get to say often enough with comic films. With Harveys nack for writing stories and Pauls gift for acting how could it be bad.

  7. Harvy revolutionized non super hero comics especially non action comics which mostly only appeared in newspapers in tiny strips before him.