First acquisition of the year in the recovery plan of comics lost in removals, lent forever or that just vanished. Now it’s the turn of “American Splendor. The comics of Bob and Harv”, published by The Dome
Before explaining why everyone should read and/or own this book, I will tell you a few details that are absolutely irrelevant for most terrestrial readers, but are things that others will notice.
The layout is striking, especially with regard to the colour. It is understood that they wanted to recreate the colour palette of the aesthetics of the copies of the American Splendor collection. But, my friend, this is a book, it’s not enough to put black letters on a red or dark blue background. Fortunately, this only happens on the back cover, the flaps and the inside cover. The pages are in good condition.
Having overcome this small chromatic attack, the rest of its 108 pages, mostly in black and white, are correct and of a considerable grammage, and they are almost harder than the front cover
It opens with a pair of texts, one by Crumb on Pekar and the other by Pekar on Crumb.
Robert Crumb closes his with the following:
“Pekar is the only writer I’ve ever collaborated with (except for a brief flirtation around 1980, when I was working for a left-wing newspaper, where I illustrated four or five idealistic political strips scripted by one of the editors), and even though sometimes Harvey had to prod me to agree – hey, he was busy, he had a lot of work – when I see this album I’m glad he did.”
After a mosaic roll summary, there are two pages in colour, and the book closes with five covers of American Splendor, also in colour.
At the time, I heard some rather poor reviews of the 2003 docu-peli of the same name, but it’s a very good gateway to get interested in Pekar & Crumb’s work or even to watch it afterwards. It’s been on the tube for years now
To sum things up, I’ll use a bit of vagueness, here’s the publisher’s description.
“Somewhere between abulia and compulsion, Harvey Pekar one day started writing short scripts and convinced several artists to draw them. The result was American Splendor, a series of mundane comics in which the neuroses of everyday life operated as a vehicle to lucidity. Robert Crumb was one of those artists, perhaps the most notable, whose drawings amplified the voice of the Cleveland poet.
“Occasional reflections, minute anecdotes, chance encounters, ordinary testimonies, fragments of conversations. The alliance between these two fundamental names in underground comics gives rise to an experience where everyday life is elevated to mystical status.
“This anthology brings together all the pages Robert Crumb drew for American Splendor and is one of the few occasions on which the Philadelphia artist agreed to draw someone else’s scripts. Short pieces written by his friend Harvey Pekar, who in each of them shows himself to be a prodigious observer of his surroundings, of pedestrian Cleveland, of life on the move.
“Harv and Bob worked on these comics with an unexpected generosity, each gifting his clairvoyance and strong personality to the expressive needs of the other. The ultimate beneficiary is a third party: the reader. A true comic of proximity”.
Art in the mundane
This “comic of proximity” is the key. You may like it or not, but be prepared to enter into the inaction of the mundane and even tedious. Here, the most dynamic things don’t go beyond a couple of gestures. There are stories that don’t even rise to the level of anecdotes. The nostalgia of it all, once again, is how it is told and drawn.
It’s a book to own because it’s a different Crumb under Pekar’s lines, both of them achieve something very difficult, they extract diamonds from nothing. They turn the anodyne into a masterful exercise in creativity that is highly enjoyable. With these pages you can’t say that they have “aged badly”.
About Harvey Pekar
Harvey Lawrence Pekar and his younger brother, Allen, were born in Cleveland, Ohio, the sons of Saul and Dora Pekar, immigrants from Bia?ystok, Poland. Harvey is best known for his autobiographical comic book series “American Splendor”, a first-person account of his life.
The series was published on an aperiodic basis approximately every year since 1976. Pekar self-published the series until the early 1990s, when Dark Horse took over publication. In 1987, Pekar was awarded the American Book Award for the series. Dark Horse celebrated the 25th anniversary of “American Splendor” in 2001 with a special issue
“American Splendor” was illustrated by top artists such as Robert Crumb, Frank Stack and Joe Sacco. The international appeal of the comic strip was also evident through Pekar’s collaboration with Gateshead, England-based comic illustrator Colin Warneford for the issue aptly titled “American Splendour: Transatlantic Comics”.
Pekar began his writing career as a prolific music and book reviewer. His reviews have appeared in The Boston Herald, The Austin Chronicle, Jazz Times, Urban Dialect (a Cleveland-based newspaper) and Down Beat Magazine, among many other magazines. His reviews can be found on numerous websites and scattered among some of the personal pages of his devoted fans. Pekar also collaborated with his wife, Joyce Brabner, on the autobiographical comic “Our Cancer Year” (Four Walls Eight Windows).
On April 12, 1999, Pekar began freelancing for the acclaimed and award-winning radio station WKSU. Since his debut at the station, he has won two prestigious awards. In July 2000, he won first place in PRNDI’s (Public Radio News Director’s Incorporated) “Commentary/Essays” section for his article “What’s In a Name”. In March 2001, the RTNDA (Radio-Television News Director’s Association) awarded Pekar the 2001 Edward R. Murrow regional award for best writing for his article “Father’s Day”
The piece was entered in the national awards competition of the same name.
Pekar made two film cameos and appeared on “Late Night with David Letterman” eight times between 1986 and 1988
It was his interest in politics, and specifically NBC’s affiliation with General Electric, that got him kicked off the show. Eventually he was asked to return and Pekar made two more appearances in the early 1990s.
Despite keeping extremely busy with all his contributions to various types of media, Pekar kept a very low profile in Cleveland. In 2001, he retired from his job as a full-time archivist at the local veterans’ hospital, where he had worked since 1966
On 12 July 2010 Harvey Pekar, 70, was found dead in his Cleveland Height home of unknown causes, but in October, the Cuyahoga County coroner’s office ruled it an accidental overdose of the antidepressants fluoxetine and bupropion
Pekar had been diagnosed with cancer for the third time and was about to undergo treatment. He was cremated and buried in Lake View Cemetery, next to Eliot Ness. His gravestone bears one of his quotes as an epitaph: “Life is about women, concerts and being creative”
Some of Pekar’s work was published posthumously, including two collaborations with Joyce Brabner: The Big Book Of Marriage and Harvey and Joyce Plumb the Depths of Depression, as well as a collection of the webcomics that were published as part of The Pekar Project
His collaboration with illustrator Summer McClintonthe first book, The Unrepentant Marxist, was a book project on the American Marxist Louis Proyect, tentatively titled “The Unrepentant Marxist”, in honour of the American Marxist Louis Proyect project blog.
The book, which had been in preparation since 2008, was to be published by Random House. After a conflict between Proyect and Joyce Brabner, the latter announced that she would hold the book indefinitely
In December 2010, the last story Pekar wrote – “Harvey Pekar Meets the Thing”, in which Pekar has a conversation with Ben Grimm – was published in the Marvel Comics anthology “The Unrepentant Marxist” Strange Tales II marvel Comics anthology; the story was illustrated by Ty Templeton.
Harvey Pekar had a website very interesting website to read now. His harveypekar.com domain I guess it was bought, or something, by Warner Bros and now redirects to his website.
Thank goodness we’ll always have Archive.org, well, I hope and expect.