Return to Splendor
He’s the father of autobiographical comics. Now his life has been made into a movie. But
who is HARVEY PEKAR? Words: Miles Fielder
he name llary'ey l’ekar may not mean much to you.
hill in comic hook circles he‘s a living legend. Since
tlte early l‘)7(l.s l’ckar has been writing stories about his own life and the liy-es of other regular .loes 7 stories. as he says. 'from off the streets of (‘ley'eland. one of the most fucked up cities in the country". the one in which he was horn. grew up attd still liy'cs.
Before l’ekar. nohody wrote for comics this w ay: you either looked at pictures of men and women in capes and lights or you pawed mm the sex. psychedelic and rock'n'roll of ‘underground comix'. First published in NW». l’ekar's ironically-titled American Splendor payed the way for something new. giy'ing rise to the autohiographical comic genre now embraced by such luminaries as Daniel ('low'es. Chris Ware and .loe Sacco. l’ekar‘s funny. poignant. truthful and troubling stories of everyday life prompted lime magazine to describe him as 'the Lenny Bruce of comics'.
Pekar's comics hay'e been illustrated by some of the medium‘s fittest talents. most notably Rohert ('rumh. llis stories have been adapted for the stage three times. and now l’ekar's own life story is the subject of a critically praised film called. appropriately enough. American .S'plendor.
When I call l’ekar at his home in (‘leyeland I get his wife. .loyce Brabner. ‘Hary'ey's not here right now'.’ she says. 'lle's gone into town.‘ He screwed up. got the Mid-West America time difference wrong. Damn. .loyce tells me llaryey will he
60 THE LIST FESTIVAL GUIDE .‘1 in.) -1 8-»: .‘
hack soon. \leantime. why dont I talk to her.’ ‘l‘ye heen tnarried to Nancy for Ill years.‘ she says. "lheies nothing I can't tell you ahout him.‘
'l‘hc now (i.‘\-yc;it>oltl l’ekar is a self tatigltt writer. He hegan his career as a music and hook critic. hut. looking for a creatiye outlet. tried his hand at comics. ('omics. see. were full of untapped potential to tells tales of eyeryday lite, l’ekar couldn‘t draw for shit. hut when he showed his writing twith stick figure illustrationsi to his pal. Rohert ('rumh. ('rumh saw something he liked so much he offered to illustrate them.
l’ekar has puhlished .‘llllt’l‘lt‘rlll Splendor roughly annually for the past 35 years. But there is little money in comics. so he contintted his day ioh as a tile clerk at \'.\ Hospital. where he started working in Who and from which he has only recently retired. .'lll1(’ll('(lll Splendor hrought l’ekar notoriety. though. In the late l‘)8(ls he appeared on [on \lcln rill/i Dot/d l.<'ll('l'l)l(ll1 eight times. until his outspokenness (particularly for his left w ittg politicsi got him hanned.
slrnt'rlt'on Splendor also attracted tltc attention of Joy cc Brahncr. She tells me she was intrigued to know what llaryey. who is regularly caricatured hy the yarious artists who hay e drawn .l/nerlr'on Splendor. was really like. llrahner went to \isit l’ckar and something must hay e clicked. hecause they got hitched immediately. Since being married she‘s had to deal \\llll lll\ domestic mess (he‘s tt llttttl'tlct‘l. ltcis lttitl lit come [it terms with her political passions ishe‘s an actiyisti. and