Monday, 12 July 2010

Harvey Pekar 1939-2010

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"Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff."

Sad news. Harvey Pekar, the writer of the comic book series American Splendor, sadly passed away on Monday. While comics have understandably long struggled to shake the juvenile-fantasist tag, few did more to dispel that image and open up the possibilities of the medium than Harvey.

Though the Sixties comic counter-culture led by the like of Robert Crumb pushed the envelope taboo-wise, the sex and drugs schtick of The Furry Freak Brothers and Crumb's Fritz The Cat still showed an underlying immaturity - Pekar took this supposed maturity and replaced it with the real deal, using himself as his subject, Pekar rooted his comics firmly in everyday life, detailing with a wry observational eye his personal problems, his day job at a hospital, his struggles with his success as a writer and even his on-going battle with cancer.

As well as helping comics to grow up, Harvey himself was impressively obsessed with remaining true to himself and not getting artistically compromised, in fact he was loathe to quit his job as a file clerk, despite his success. This quest for purity was neatly captured by the 2003 movie adaptation, which played the real Harvey off against Paul Giamatti's film Harvey to ensure that any Hollywood artifice was kept to an absolute minimum. But never was this aspect of Harvey's personality more apparent than during his infamous appearances on David Letterman's chat show. Unfazed by the notion of celebrity and refusing to play the media game, Harvey would go toe-to-toe and give the host considerable amounts of shit, to the point of being banned from appearing on the show after he called Letterman out for trying to silence his criticisms of General Electrics, on the grounds that they owned the TV network that broadcast the show.

God bless you, Harvey, you cranky old bastard.