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Harvey Pekar

Harvey Pekar
Born Harvey Lawrence Pekar
(1939-10-08)October 8, 1939[1]
Cleveland, Ohio, United States
Died July 12, 2010 (age 70)
Cleveland Heights, Ohio, United States
Occupation Comic book writer, filing clerk, music and literary critic
Nationality American
Genre Underground comics
Subject Autobiography
Spouse Karen Delaney (1960-1972)
Helen Lark Hall (July 1977-Feb. 1981)
Joyce Brabner (1984-2010; his death; 1 child)

Harvey Lawrence Pekar (; October 8, 1939 – July 12, 2010) was an American underground comic book writer, music critic, and media personality, best known for his autobiographical American Splendor comic series. In 2003, the series inspired a well-received film adaptation of the same name.

Frequently described as the "poet laureate of Cleveland,"[2][3] Pekar "helped change the appreciation for, and perceptions of, the graphic novel, the drawn memoir, the autobiographical comic narrative."[4] Pekar described his work as "autobiography written as it's happening. The theme is about staying alive, getting a job, finding a mate, having a place to live, finding a creative outlet. Life is a war of attrition. You have to stay active on all fronts. It's one thing after another. I've tried to control a chaotic universe. And it's a losing battle. But I can't let go. I've tried, but I can't."[5]


  • Life 1
  • Career 2
    • American Splendor 2.1
    • American Splendor film 2.2
    • Other comics work 2.3
  • Theater, music and media appearances 3
  • Death and work released posthumously 4
  • Legacy 5
  • Awards 6
  • Bibliography 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Harvey Pekar and his younger brother Allen were born in Cleveland, Ohio to Saul and Dora Pekar, immigrants from Białystok, Poland. Saul Pekar was a Talmudic scholar who owned a grocery store on Kinsman Avenue, with the family living above the store.[6] While Pekar said he wasn't close to his parents due to their dissimilar backgrounds and because they worked all the time, he still "marveled at how devoted they were to each other. They had so much love and admiration for one another."[7]

As a child, Pekar's first language was Yiddish, and he learned to read and appreciate novels in the language.[8]

Pekar said that for the first few years of his life, he didn't have friends.[9] The neighborhood he lived in had once been all white but became mostly black by the 1940s; as one of the only white kids still living there Pekar was often beaten up. He later believed this instilled in him "a profound sense of inferiority."[10] However, this experience also taught him to eventually become a "respected street scrapper."[10]

Harvey Pekar graduated from Shaker Heights High School in 1957, then attended Case Western Reserve University, where he dropped out after a year.[6] He then served in the United States Navy, and after discharge returned to Cleveland where he worked odd jobs before being hired as file clerk at Cleveland's Veteran's Administration Hospital. He held this job even after becoming famous, refusing all promotions until he finally retired in 2001.[6][10]

Pekar was married from 1960 to 1972 to his first wife, Karen Delaney. His second wife was Helen Lark Hall. Pekar's third wife was writer Joyce Brabner, with whom he collaborated on Our Cancer Year, a graphic novel autobiography of his harrowing yet successful treatment for lymphoma. He lived in Cleveland Heights, Ohio with Brabner and their foster daughter Danielle.[11]


American Splendor

Pekar's friendship with Robert Crumb led to the creation of the self-published, autobiographical comic book series American Splendor. Crumb and Pekar became friends through their mutual love of jazz records[12] when Crumb was living in Cleveland in the mid-1960s. Crumb's work in underground comics led Pekar to see the form's possibilities, saying, "Comics could do anything that film could do. And I wanted in on it."[13] It took Pekar a decade to do so: "I theorized for maybe ten years about doing comics."[14] Pekar laid out some stories with crude stick figures and showed them to Crumb and another artist, Robert Armstrong. Impressed, they both offered to illustrate, and soon Pekar's story "Crazy Ed" appeared in Crumb's The People's Comics, and Crumb became the first artist to illustrate American Splendor. The comic documents daily life in the aging neighborhoods of Pekar's native Cleveland. The first issue of American Splendor appeared in 1976.

Pekar's best-known and longest-running collaborators include Crumb, Gary Dumm, Greg Budgett, Spain Rodriguez, Joe Zabel, Gerry Shamray, Frank Stack, Mark Zingarelli, and Joe Sacco. In the 2000s, he teamed regularly with artists Dean Haspiel and Josh Neufeld. Other cartoonists who worked with him include Jim Woodring, Chester Brown, Alison Bechdel, Gilbert Hernandez, Eddie Campbell, David Collier, Drew Friedman, Ho Che Anderson, Rick Geary, Ed Piskor, Hunt Emerson, Bob Fingerman, Brian Bram, and Alex Wald; as well as such non-traditional illustrators as Pekar's wife, Joyce Brabner, and comics writer Alan Moore.

Stories from the American Splendor comics have been collected in many books and anthologies.

American Splendor film

A film adaptation of American Splendor was released in 2003, directed by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman.[15] It featured Paul Giamatti as Pekar, as well as appearances by Pekar himself. Pekar wrote about the effects of the film in American Splendor: Our Movie Year.

In 2006, Pekar released a four-issue American Splendor miniseries through the DC Comics imprint Vertigo.[16] This was collected in the American Splendor: Another Day paperback. In 2008 Vertigo released a second "season" of American Splendor that was collected in the American Splendor: Another Dollar paperback.

In addition to his autobiographical work on American Splendor, Pekar wrote a number of biographies. The first of these, American Splendor: Unsung Hero (2003), documented the Vietnam War experience of Robert McNeill, one of Pekar's African-American coworkers at Cleveland's VA hospital.

Other comics work

Harvey Pekar at WonderCon 2005, San Francisco

On October 5, 2005, the DC Comics imprint Vertigo released Pekar's autobiographical hardcover The Quitter, with artwork by Dean Haspiel. The book detailed Pekar's early years.

In 2006, Pekar released another biography for Ballantine/Random House, Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story, about the life of Michael Malice, who was the founding editor of[17]

Pekar was the first guest editor for the collection The Best American Comics 2006 published by Houghton Mifflin, the first comics collection in the "Best American series" series.

In June 2007, Pekar collaborated with student Heather Roberson and artist Ed Piskor on the book Macedonia, which centers around Roberson's studies in the country.[18][19]

January 2008 saw another biographical work from Pekar, Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History, released through Hill & Wang.

In March 2009, Pekar released The Beats, a history of the Beat Generation, including Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, illustrated by Ed Piskor.[20] In May 2009 he released Studs Terkel's Working: A Graphic Adaptation.

In 2010, Pekar launched a webcomic with the online magazine Smith, titled The Pekar Project.[21]

In 2011, Abrams Comicarts published "Yiddishkeit," co-edited by Pekar with Paul Buhle and with Hershl Hartman, depicting many aspects of Yiddish language and culture. Artists in this anthology include many of Pekar's collaborators.

Theater, music and media appearances

In the late 1980s, Pekar's comic book success led to a guest appearance on Late Night with David Letterman on October 15, 1986. Pekar was invited back repeatedly and made five more appearances in quick succession. These appearances were notable for verbal altercations between Pekar and Letterman, particularly on the subject of General Electric's ownership of NBC. The most heated of these was in the August 31, 1988 episode of Late Night, in which Pekar accused Letterman of being a shill for General Electric and Letterman promised never to invite Pekar back on the show. However, Pekar did appear on Late Night again on April 20, 1993, and appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman in 1994.[22]

Pekar was a prolific record collector as well as a freelance book and jazz critic, focusing on significant figures from jazz's golden age but also championing out-of-mainstream artists such as Birth, Scott Fields, Fred Frith and Joe Maneri. He reviewed literary fiction in the early 1990s in such periodicals as the Los Angeles Reader, the Review of Contemporary Fiction, and Woodward Review. Pekar won awards for his essays broadcast on public radio. He appeared in Alan Zweig's 2000 documentary film about record collecting, Vinyl.[23] In August 2007, Pekar was featured on the Cleveland episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations with host Anthony Bourdain.[24]

While American Splendor theater adaptations had previously occurred,[25] in 2009, Pekar made his theatrical debut with Leave Me Alone!, a jazz opera for which Pekar wrote the libretto. Leave Me Alone! featured music by Dan Plonsey and was co-produced by Real Time Opera and Oberlin College premiering at Finney Chapel on January 31, 2009.[26]

In 2009, Pekar was featured in The Cartoonist, a documentary film on the life and work of Jeff Smith, creator of Bone.[27]

Death and work released posthumously

Shortly before 1 a.m. on July 12, 2010, Pekar's wife found Pekar dead in their Cleveland Heights, Ohio, home.[6] No immediate cause was determined,[28] but in October the Cuyahoga County coroner's office ruled it was an accidental overdose of antidepressants fluoxetine and bupropion.[29] Pekar had been diagnosed with cancer for the third time and was about to undergo treatment.[6] He was cremated and buried in Lake View Cemetery, next to Eliot Ness.[30] His headstone features one of his quotations as an epitaph: "Life is about women, gigs, an' bein' creative."[31]

Some Pekar works were to be released posthumously,[30] including two collaborations with Joyce Brabner, The Big Book Of Marriage and Harvey and Joyce Plumb the Depths of Depression, as well as a collection of the webcomics that ran as a part of The Pekar Project.[32] Working with illustrator Summer McClinton, Pekar also finished a book on American Marxist Louis Proyect, tentatively called The Unrepentant Marxist, after Proyect's blog. In the works since 2008, the book was to be published by Random House. After a conflict between Proyect and Joyce Brabner, Brabner announced that she would hold the book back indefinitely.[33] As of April 2014, those four titles have not been released.

In December 2010, the last story Pekar wrote — "Harvey Pekar Meets the Thing", in which Pekar has a conversation with Ben Grimm — was published in the Marvel Comics anthology Strange Tales II; the story was illustrated by Ty Templeton.[34]


Frequently described as the "poet laureate of Cleveland,"[2][3] Pekar "helped change the appreciation for, and perceptions of, the graphic novel, the drawn memoir, the autobiographical comic narrative."[4]

His American Splendor "remains one of the most compelling and transformative series in the history of comics."[35] In addition, Pekar was the first author to publicly distribute "memoir comic books."[36] While it is common today for people to publicly write about their lives on blogs, social media platforms, and in graphic novels, "In the mid-seventies, Harvey Pekar was doing all this before it was ubiquitous and commercialized."[36]

In October 2012 a statue of Pekar was installed at the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Library, a place he visited almost daily.[37][38]



Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner at Hallwalls, Buffalo, New York (October 4, 1985)
  • American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar (Doubleday, 1986)
  • More American Splendor (Doubleday, 1987) ISBN 0-385-24073-2
  • The New American Splendor Anthology (Four Walls Eight Windows, 1991) ISBN 0-941423-64-6
  • Our Cancer Year, with Joyce Brabner and Frank Stack (Four Walls Eight Windows, 1994) ISBN 1-56858-011-8
  • American Splendor Presents: Bob & Harv's Comics, with R. Crumb (Four Walls Eight Windows, 1996) ISBN 1-56858-101-7
  • American Splendor: Unsung Hero, with David Collier (Dark Horse, 2003) ISBN 1-59307-040-3
  • American Splendor: Our Movie Year (Ballantine Books, 2004) ISBN 0-345-47937-8
  • Best of American Splendor (Ballantine Books, 2005) ISBN 0-345-47938-6
  • The Quitter, with Dean Haspiel (DC/Vertigo, 2005) ISBN 1-4012-0399-X
  • Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story, with Gary Dumm (Ballantine Books, 2006) ISBN 0-345-47939-4
  • Macedonia, with Heather Roberson and Ed Piskor (Ballantine Books, 2006) ISBN 0-345-49899-2
  • American Splendor: Another Day (DC/Vertigo, 2007) ISBN 978-1-4012-1235-3
  • Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History (Hill and Wang, 2008) ISBN 978-0-8090-9539-1
  • American Splendor: Another Dollar (2009) ISBN 978-1-4012-2173-7
  • The Beats (2009) ISBN 978-0-285-63858-7
  • Studs Terkel's Working: A Graphic Adaptation (2009) ISBN 978-1-59558-321-5
  • Circus Parade by Jim Tully. Foreword by Harvey Pekar. Introduction by Paul J. Bauer and Mark Dawidziak. (Kent State Univ. Press, 2009) 978-1-60635-001-0
  • Huntington, West Virginia "On the Fly" (2011) ISBN 978-0-345-49941-7
  • Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular and the New Land, with Paul Buhle (2011) ISBN 978-0-8109-9749-3
  • Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me, with JT Waldman. Epilogue by Joyce Brabner. (2012) ISBN 978-0-8090-9482-0
  • Harvey Pekar's Cleveland, with Joseph Remnant. Introduction by Alan Moore. Edited by Jeff Newelt (2012) ISBN 978-1-60309-091-9


  1. ^ "United States Social Security Death Index," index, FamilySearch Accessed 19 Mar 2013, Harvey L Pekar, 12 July 2010.
  2. ^ a b "The Original (Goodbye Splendor)" by Anthony Bourdain, The Travel Channel, July 13, 2010
  3. ^ a b "Harvey Pekar Dies: Comic book writer was 'poet laureate of Cleveland'" by Marc Tracy, Tablet, July 12, 2010
  4. ^ a b c "HARVEY PEKAR: Remembering the man — and legacy — one year later" by Michael Cavna, The Washington Post, 7/13/2011
  5. ^ "Harvey Pekar" (obituary), The Daily Telegraph, July 13, 2010
  6. ^ a b c d e f Connors, Joanna (July 12, 2010). "Cleveland Comic-Book Legend Harvey Pekar Dead at Age 70".  
  7. ^ Pekar, Harvey; Remnant, Joseph (illustrations) (2012). Cleveland. Zip Comics and Top Shelf Productions. p. 53. 
  8. ^ "Exclusive: A Smorgasbord of Art and Comics Celebrating Harvey Pekar’s Yiddishkeit | Heeb". Retrieved April 24, 2012. 
  9. ^ Cleveland by Harvey Pekar, illustrated by Joseph Remnant, Zip Comics and Top Shelf Productions, 2012, page 42.
  10. ^ a b c "Grimes, William (July 12, 2010). "Harvey Pekar, 'American Splendor' Creator, Dies at 70".  
  11. ^ Ulaby, Neda (July 12, 2010). "'"Harvey Pekar Dies; Authored 'American Splendor.  
  12. ^ "Who is Harvey Pekar?",
  13. ^ Momo College
  14. ^ "Harvey Pekar",
  15. ^ IMDB Movie Page. Retrieved December 28, 2008.
  16. ^  
  17. ^ "The Voice of the City". Overheard in New York. Retrieved April 24, 2012. 
  18. ^ "Macedonia – Yahoo! Shopping". Retrieved April 24, 2012. 
  19. ^ "Sequart Research & Literacy Organization Columns – High-Low #15: Pekar, Piskor and a Preview of Macedonia". Retrieved April 24, 2012. 
  20. ^ "Novel Graphics looks at Hoover, Beats, Genetics" San Diego Comicon International v2, July 13, 2006. Retrieved July 10, 2008.
  21. ^ "The Pekar Project". Retrieved July 12, 2010. 
  22. ^ "'"David Letterman brought Harvey Pekar, his Cleveland cool and a big blow-up to 'Late Night. 
  23. ^ "SHOOTING MYSELF IN THE MIRROR: The Obsessive Cinema of Alan Zweig".  
  24. ^ "Harvey Pekar Meets Anthony Bourdain". August 18, 2007. Retrieved April 24, 2012. 
  25. ^ Evan (July 14, 2010). "Harvey Pekar: A Timeline of a Comic Book Icon – ComicsAlliance | Comic book culture, news, humor, commentary, and reviews". ComicsAlliance. Retrieved April 24, 2012. 
  26. ^ "NPR: Harvey Pekar Makes His Opera Debut". Retrieved April 16, 2014. 
  27. ^ "The Cartoonist: Jeff Smith, Bone and the Changing Face of Comics". Retrieved July 12, 2010. 
  28. ^  
  29. ^ Galbinca, Pat (October 20, 2010). "'"Coroner rules that Harvey Pekar's death due to 'natural causes. The Plain Dealer. Cleveland, Ohio. Retrieved October 20, 2010. 
  30. ^ a b Itzkoff, Dave (September 1, 2010). "The Unsettled Afterlife of Harvey Pekar". The New York Times. 
  31. ^ Harvey Lawrence Pekar
  32. ^ Dueben, Alex (October 19, 2010). "NYCC: Remembering Harvey Pekar".   Archive version requires blocking-off text in order to make black-on-black text visible.
  33. ^ "Articles tagged 'Pekar' on Louis Proyect's blog, Unrepentant Marxist". Unrepentant Marxist. Retrieved 2014-04-07. 
  34. ^ What I Bought (15 December 2010), by Greg Burgas, at Comic Book Resources; published 17 December 2010; retrieved 25 June 2014
  35. ^ "The Reading Life: Harvey Pekar's Jewish question" by David L. Ulin, Jacket Copy, The LA Times, July 12, 2012.
  36. ^ a b "Graphic Memoir: The Legacy of Harvey Pekar" by JT Waldman, The Prosen People, The Jewish Book Council, July 3, 2012.
  37. ^ [2]
  38. ^ "Harvey Pekar statue unveiled at library is tribute to the late graphic novelist from Cleveland" by Tom Breckenridge, The Plain Dealer, October 14, 2012.
  39. ^ "The Harvey Awards". The Harvey Awards. Retrieved July 12, 2010. 

External links

  • "Harvey Pekar, ‘American Splendor’ Creator, Dies at 70" William Grimes, The New York Times, July 12, 2010
  • "His Everyday Life Was in His Comics" Stephen Miller, The Wall Street Journal, July 13, 2010
  • Interview on The Sound of Young America: MP3 Link
  • New York Press Interview
  • Walrus Comix interview
  • Article by James Hynes about Pekar's last appearance on Late Night with David Letterman
  • Harvey Pekar at the Internet Movie Database
  • collaboratorsAmerican SplendorList of
  • Archive of Pekar's Jazz Reviews for the Austin Chronicle
  • Another archive of Jazz reviews
  • November 10, 2005 Interview on Fresh Air with Terry Gross
  • Profile of and Commentaries by Pekar on WKSU-FM, Kent, Ohio
  • Boppin' With Pekar, a one-hour public radio program on jazz history with Harvey Pekar, Jerry Zolten and Phoebe Gloeckner
  • Online obituary for Harvey Pekar
  • "Harvey Pekar dead: American Splendor comic writer was 70" Terence McArdle, The Washington Post, July 13, 2010
  • "Tribute in La Cucaracha"
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