Jul 13 2010
I won’t even try to be a smart ass today because I am genuinely sad about the death of Harvey Pekar and don’t really want to make a joke out of it.
I also don’t feel like going into a long explanation of who Harvey Pekar is because I’m assuming most of you already know and quite honestly I don’t think I can do him justice with my half-assed attempt at an obituary. If you haven’t read American Splendor I command you to do so! I don’t even like comic books or illustrated novels but I love American Splendor! Likewise, if you have not seen the brilliant movie about Harvey, also titled American Splendor, you should watch it immediately.
Like most people, I was first introduced to Harvey Pekar via his confrontational Letterman appearances. If you are unfamiliar or a little younger than me, you need to keep those appearances in context. First of all, television had never seen anything like Late Night with David Letterman. It seems commonplace now but at the time Letterman’s antics were groundbreaking and shocking. He pushed the limits of what could be done on TV, specifically the limits of how entertaining the mundane could be. You simply did not see people on a major network dedicating entire segments to throwing things off a five-story building or stupid tricks performed by animals.
Now, add a cranky comic book writer from Cleveland who didn’t give a shit that he was biting the hand that feeds with every appearance and it was impossible to turn away. Again, this was decades before the TV was filled with self-destructive reality “stars” and it was fascinating to witness.
Like Letterman, Pekar pulled high drama out of the seemingly mundane. He simply told the story of his day to day life in comic book form, warts and all. Mostly warts. He was an outsider artist who managed to poke his head into the mainstream from time to time but only long enough to make himself uncomfortable, then it was back to obscurity at his hospital job in Cleveland. His books are incredibly engaging but as I sit here trying analyze why I feel that way I can’t come up with a reason. I mean he writes about riding the bus and working as a filing clerk but somehow you can’t wait for the next page.
I’m trying to think of some big smart-sounding way to end this but I guess it makes more sense to just say I’m glad people like Harvey Pekar exist.
Harvey’s first Letterman appearance. He came out swinging from the beginning. (Bad audio in some parts)
Things were still going OK at this point.
This gets a little bumpy.
Possibly Harvey’s last Letterman Appearance in 1993
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