Monday, 19 July 2010


It's a daily double in the papers today: my obituary of Harvey Pekar appears in the Independent, you can link to it here. And no, I didn't spell 'comix' 'commix', that's just a literal! In writing the piece, it was difficult to avoid launching into a detailed (and thus far too lengthy) analysis of just where Pekar fit in the spectrum of, say, Robert Crumb on one end and Woody Allen on the other--I found it far easier and more telling to link him to Henry Miller, outside the realms of comix and comics, and he is, along perhaps with the Beats, the true inheritor of Miller's legacy.

I also thought one of the real beauties of the film American Splendor was the way it took Pekar and his work with the seriousness it deserved (and it is probably Paul Giamatti's best, least stylised performance). I really wanted to draw a comparison with Philip K Dick, whose 1950s work, including his mainstream novels not published until much later, usually deal with people caught in the reality of such mundane work and lives, and who like Pekar saw that as a by-product, not just as reflection of society itself. And like Dick, he was a fanatic collector of records; I would have liked to write more about his jazz reviews, but again, space wasn't available.

As with Dick, Pekar's work turned out to be prophetic, in its way, as more and more people found themselves caught up in the financial meltdowns and victimised by the antics of the money-pushers. I meant to stress the irony of his medical coverage via his employment: the Veterans Administration is, like Social Security, one of the last remaining targets of the right in their efforts to dismantle the New Deal and other post-war efforts at making an egalitarian society. For all its faults, the VA is a shining example of government run socialised medicine in a system whose flaws we already know all about.

One other thing about Pekar I enjoyed was the way he never did anything to improve his image or presentation, not for David Letterman, and not, according to one obit, for comic conventions. He remained stubbornly true to his persona, which may be seen as self-indulgence, or may be seen as a kind of Tolstoyan self-belief. It was also impressive how he turned in his last decade to different kinds of projects, things and people about which he cared deeply, in the world outside his Cleveland life.

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