Comic book writer Harvey Pekar, whose American Splendor captured with wit and angst a live lived in the downbeat surroundings of rust-belt Cleveland, Ohio, was found dead in his home early Monday, authorities said. He was 70.
Officers were called to Pekar's suburban home by his wife about 1 a.m., Cleveland Heights police Capt. Michael Cannon said. His body was found between a bed and dresser.
Pekar had been suffering from prostate cancer, asthma, high blood pressure and depression, according to Cannon. Pekar had gone to bed about 4:30 p.m. Sunday in good spirits, his wife told police....
Pekar's American Splendor comics, which he began publishing in 1976, chronicle his grousing about work, money and the monotony of life. He was encouraged in his efforts by a good friend, the underground comics icon Robert Crumb.
Pekar's comics were, and are, pretty remarkable stuff: Writing about his own life, and working with various artists, Pekar managed to wring high drama from the most mundane of activities. (One Pekar strip, collected in 2007's American Splendor: Another Day, has our man recounting his battle with a broken toilet, and ends with him triumphantly hoisting a plunger above his head and proclaiming, "TODAY I AM A MAN!")
In addition to inspiring—and paving the way for—countless indie cartoonists and writers, Pekar was an outspoken advocate of alternative comics. In 2006, he guest-edited The Best American Comics anthology, writing in his introduction,
From the 1960s to the present, superhero titles like Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, and X-Men remained the most popular. This was absurd. Without dealing with the merits of current superhero comics, they still form a division of the science fiction genre, which should not dominate comics anymore than they do prose books, films, or television, all versatile forms of expression. While there is no realistic movement in straight comics, there is one in alternative comics. Realism has been so important in the novel, theater, film, and visual arts. How can mainstream comics ignore it and other movements that flourish in other art forms? Mainstream comics greatly ignore the medium's potential.
In any event, there is a nice variety of comics represented here, although you notice no superhero stuff is included. I looked at superhero stories but just didn't run across any that (I thought) were particularly good. If you're a superhero fan and you're angry because they aren't present here, I guess you'll just have to vent your anger your anger on me.
Despite his impressive comics work, Pekar's probably best known to the mainstream masses as the subject of the great 2003 film American Splendor, which starred Paul Giamatti as Pekar and also featured Pekar as... well, Pekar.
Pekar's also the man that a decidedly pissed David Letterman described as being "terribly impolite" during a now-legendary 1987 Late Night appearance. It seems fitting to end this post with this clip, in which Pekar's both a total pain in the ass and incredibly smart and entertaining. That's a pretty unique combo, and it's one that'll be missed.