Last week I was in Ohio with my family, just north of Sandusky on Lake Erie. While on vacation, I tend not to check in with the news of the world or the bother with the exploits of whichever seasonal sports team I'm obsessed with. I find it cathartic to let all that go and just relax. Now I've just learned that while I was gone, Harvey Pekar died in his home in Cleveland on July 12th. I had no idea.
A lot has been made of the alleged malaise of Cleveland, unfairly fanned by the insignificant news of Le Bron James' circus-like decision to leave the Cavaliers for Miami. But as I drove through Ohio last week, pondering 'malaise' and 'Cleveland', my mind focused mostly on Pekar, unknowing of his passing.
Pekar was the creator and writer of American Splendor, an initially underground comic which took the medium from its original restrictive world of superheroes and fantasy, and moved it into the infinite possibilities of documenting regular life. His portrayal of a man struggling to make ends meet while working as a clerk for a VA Hospital gave voice to the overwhelming anonymity and numbing inauthenticity of working life. His writing was blunt but carried a consistent honesty that drew you in and counted you as an equal.
I loved Pekar because he was an outsider. He was an artist but never vaulted himself into our culture's whorish, self-congratulatory realm of exceptionism. In Slimbo's Shelf, I've often posted up my own attempts at illustrated narratives. Pekar was always in my mind when I made these attempts.
Pekar is often maligned as a depressive misanthrope intent on documenting only the negative of Americana's day to day mechanics. But I would contend that Pekar rose above this. He saw beyond the deadening drone of everyday life; that there will always be small pockets of beauty and magic, often unseen to most. If his work exuded angst it was because he knew that we lived in an infinitely beautiful universe and that most of the souls we encounter on a day to day basis were oblivious to that beauty.
Harvey, I will miss you. And I thank you.