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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Harvey Pekar z"l RIP

On Mon. July 13th, the great autobiographical comic writer Harvey Pekar passed away at age 70.

Not surprisingly, there have been numerous reports and tributes to the legend in cyberspace from websites, blogs and online news sources.

It would take a long time to compile a list of all of these links, but I will provide 11 of them along with quotations.

The Associated Press article has been republished in various news sources. Among them is the version which appeared in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz :
Lucy Shelton Caswell, curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University, said it was inaccurate to describe Pekar's work as cult.

"His work was accepted by the mainstream," Caswell said. "It was bought by public libraries and read widely. The cartoon library has all of Pekar's works in its collection."

The Jewish version of AP (JTA) also filed a story :
Jewish comic book writer Harvey Pekar, who chronicled his life in the autobiographical "American Splendor" series, has died.

Pekar died early Monday morning in his Cleveland-area home. He was 70. Pekar had prostate cancer, asthma, high blood pressure and clinical depression, according to reports.

The "American Splendor" series, which began in 1976 and had its most recent issue in 2008, was made into a movie of the same name in 2003.

Shalom Life provided a brief obituary :
Born and raised in Cleveland, Pekar wrote about his life and wrapped it with humour in American Splendor and his other works. In 1994, he co-wrote Our Cancer Year with his then-wife about his experiences with lymphoma. Then in 2005, he published a graphic novel titled The Quitter. It tells the story of Pekar’s childhood, as the son of two Jewish immigrants in the 50s and 60s. American Splendor: Another Dollar, the last version of his famous comic series, was published in 2009.

In his hometown, Arlene Fine filed an obituary for the Cleveland Jewish News :
Pekar, the son of Polish immigrants Dora and Saul Pekar, husband of Joyce Brabner and father of Danielle, achieved great fame but not much fortune for his award-winning autobiographical series American Splendor, in which he chronicled the mundane trials and tribulations of his everyday life as a hospital file clerk. Renowned underground comic-book artist Robert Crumb first illustrated the series.

Pekar’s contributions to the literary community in Northeast Ohio will be honored at ALL LIT UP: An evening of literary excellence on Sat., Sept. 11, at PlayhouseSquare’s Palace Theatre.

The Jewish Week mentions the comics project he was working on with JT Waldman, tentatively titled How I Lost Faith in Israel :
The death this week of Harvey Pekar--the renowned, cantankerous cartoonist, and a Jew from Cleveland--cast a somber mood over the cultural landscape. But for Jews in particular, the loss was significant. One of his less publicized projects that he's currentlly under contract for, before his death on Monday, at age 70, was a history of Israel.

According to his illustrator on the project, JT Waldman, who had been working on the project with Parker for Hill and Wang over the last three years, the book was to be finished in the coming year. He plans on finishing it, too, he said.

Waldman said in an email earlier today: "I have been working with Harvey since 2007 on a project about the history of Israel. We have been working with an editor at Hill & Wang for almost 3 years on this project. I spent time with Harvey in Cleveland this past winter and spoke with on a weekly basis."

Waldman added: "I'm in shock and deeply saddened to have lost my mentor/friend as well as my creative collaborator."

Jeff Newelt discussed wth MTV some other projects that Pekar had been working on :
MTV: Where do things stand with “The Pekar Project” now? How far ahead did Harvey work on the scripts?

NEWELT: There are still a bunch of comics yet to come out on “The Pekar Project” that we have in the can and done. I’m actually going to write a tribute comic of my own, too. Before Harvey passed away, we would jam and he liked my ideas. He kept bugging me to write a comic, so I’m going to pay tribute to him by writing my first comic about my experience as editor on “The Pekar Project” and working with him, drawn by the four “Pekar Project” artists.

With so many “Pekar Project” artists around, I’m sure we can expect more tributes on the site in addition to mine, too.

MTV: I know Harvey had been working on a few other books, too. Were you involved with any of those? Do you know what their status is?

NEWELT: The first branch-off of “The Pekar Project” is coming out this year. He was working on a graphic novel called “Cleveland,” which comes out during the summer of 2011 from this company called Zip Comics. The script was ready for that. It’s one-third history of Cleveland, one-third Harvey’s experiences there, and one-third biographical sketches of Cleveland characters. It’s drawn by Joseph Remnant, one of the definitive Pekar artists.

New Jersey Jewish News editor-in-chief Andrew Silow-Carroll shared some of his thoughts about Pekar via his blog:
Pekar’s comics, which were created in collaboration with top artists, chronicled a certain kind of Jewish type seldom encountered in the media or popular imagination: the blue collar Jew who never quite grasped the brass ring that propelled so many of his co-religionists into the suburbs and the professions. We all know a cousin or an uncle like Pekar: smart or maybe not-so-very, hard-working but perhaps too curmudgeonly or principled or uncompromising or self-sabotaging to play the kinds of games that spell typical success.

Beth Davies Stojka has been publishing her conversations with Paul Buhle (one of Pekar's collaborators, who appeared on a panel with him at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival earlier this year) about Pekar. Thus far, there are just 2 parts.
part 1 :
He was delighted when the two of us were working on this book Yiddishland for next spring, because it gave him a reason to read a whole lot of newly translated Yiddish novels, translated into English. He had just never read those before, and he went down to the bookstore of a friend and bought some, and went to the library and got a bunch of others, and read them with enormous pleasure.
part 2 :
more people heard about him through the movie than any other way. Way more people. Then they would read comics. But it’s almost like people thinking of Art Spiegelman as a Holocaust comic artist, and being unaware of anything else. And not too interested in anything else! That’s sort of an aside, but I’m not sure people really wished to identify with blue collar life in Cleveland. So do they identify with him? They may identify with him in the human emotional issues, without identifying with his life in the VA. Although it’s a perfectly natural white collar job. Sort of an average clerical white collar government job.

Israeli author Etgar Keret, who had also been on a panel with Pekar, wrote briefly about Pekar :
I've had a speaking event with Harvey Pekar in the Jewish museum in SF less
than three months ago. It was the first time we've met but reading some of
his biographical comics I've felt I knew a lot about the guy. I was tired
and jetlagged but Pekar was super energetic and curious and funny, and I
thought to myself that all these age issues are so irrelevant. Here we are a tired elderly forty two years old writer from Israel and a young seventy
plus comics' artist from Cleveland sit together before their event. Yesterday night I've heard he died. I'm glad I've had the chance to meet
this guy for a strange evening I'll never forget.

The Jewish Review of Books presents one of the latest Pekar stories - "Gut Shabbes" - which was published in their Summer issue. Apparently, Pekar himself picked up a copy of the issue just last week. For their premiere (Spring) issue, Pekar contributed a comic-style review of Robert Crumb's adaptation of the first book of the Old Testament, Genesis. There is a hyperlink on the "Gut Shabbes" page to the Genesis review.

An explanation of the story for those who might not understand it. Harvey is trying to impress the Jews by showing that he knows how Jews greet each other in Yiddish. What he tells them is "Gut Yontev" which means "Good Holy Day" which is what a Jew would say to another Jew on a holiday. They seem surprised that he thinks it's a holiday, since it wasn't that day. At the end they tell him "Gut Shabbes" which means "Good Sabbath"(it must have been Friday night, or - judging by the lighting of the story - Saturday.

Finally, I present you with a link to Archcomix which has preview pages for the book Yiddishland :

Rest in peace, Harvey.

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