|Born||Harvey Lawrence Pekar
October 8, 1939
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|
|Spouse||Karen Delaney (1960-1972)
Helen Lark Hall (July 1977-Feb. 1981)
Joyce Brabner (1984-2010; his death; 1 child)
As a matter of fact, I deliberately look for the mundane, because I feel these stories are ignored. The most influential things that happen to virtually all of us are the things that happen on a daily basis. Not the traumas.
I'd been familiar with comics, and I'd collected 'em when I was a kid, but after I got into junior high school, there wasn't much I was interested in.
I'm doing research for a large comic book on the Beat Generation guys – Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and those guys.
It didn't take long to establish myself, as far as people thinking my work was good. They liked it from the start.
I always wanted praise, and I always wanted attention; I won't lie to you. I was a jazz critic, and that wasn't good enough for me. I wanted people to write about me, not me about them. So I thought, 'What could I do? I can't sing, I can't dance, I can't act or anything like that. OK, I can write.'
I think you can do anything with comics that you could do in just about any art form.
I was 16 years old, and I was just flailing around, looking for an interest. I heard, you know, these jazz records. They were modern records, at the time in the '50s, and I realized that I didn't fully get what was going on. But I liked a lot of what I heard.
I want to keep doing as much work as I can, and I want to keep the level high. I'm wondering if something is going to happen to me to screw it up.
I'm from the beatnik generation, where everybody wanted to be a poet or writer or something. And at that time, I was a jazz critic, and I was always thinking, theorizing about what makes great art or what's important in art.
I'm always shook up and nervous and I've got the hospital record to prove it.
I think you can find all the elements that you can find in great literature in mundane experiences.
The way I write is, I listen to things in my head, and then I copy them down. I memorize conversations and things like that; I seem to be able to do that pretty well. I suppose in that respect there's some improvisation, although I work over the stuff after I've got it down on paper.
People writing about me have said that I've influenced a lot of people, and there are some artists who have credited me with influencing them.
It's extremely seldom that anybody wants me to change what I've written about them. Generally I portray them in a good light, if they're friends.
It makes you feel good to know that there's other people afflicted like you.
Some of the most valuable stuff I do has to do with my dissenting from the general opinion about people in movements.
I've probably had my day in the sun. I think I've influenced a lot of comic book writers.
It dawned on me that comics were not an intrinsically limited medium. There was a tremendous amount of things you could do in comics that you couldn't do in other art forms – but no one was doing it. I figured if I'd make a try at it, I'd at least be a footnote in history.
I worry about getting work, and then when I get it, I worry about doing it well. I don't want to just go through the motions and give people stuff. This stuff is really important to me.
I like to go back over history and check out what people have written and whether I agree with it or not.
People who are readers of fiction aren't particularly interested in comic books.
I continue to be disappointed that people don't try and diversify the kind of work they are doing in comics.
I don't write about certain arguments I have with my wife. I'd get my head torn off if wrote about certain things.
I really don't have a lot in common with the people who attend the Comic Con. It's like assuming that all people who write prose are the same.
I don't want to play myself up as a hero, because it would make me unbelievable. I'd rather settle for people thinking that I'm a bum, but digging my stories, than liking me and not being able to believe in my stories. That's one reason I've been hard on myself, because I want my stuff to be believable.
I'd like to see the comics' style expanded. I'd like to see artists synthesize traditional comics arts style with fine-arts styles or whatever. I like to see innovation. I don't like it when an art form becomes stagnant.
I write scripts in storyboard fashion using stick figures, and thought balloons and word balloons and captions. Then I'll write descriptions of what scenes should look like and turn it over to the artist.
I try and write the way things happen. I don't try and fulfill people's wishes.
Everybody's like everybody else, and everybody's different from everybody else.
You can find heroism everyday, like guys working terrible jobs because they've got to support their families. Or as far as humor, the things I see on the job, on the street, are far funnier than anything you'll ever see on TV.
My work looks like a comic book in form, but it's not a typical comic book in content. I write autobiographical stuff.
Even a pretty traditional comic book writer can make valuable contributions to the Internet.
Sometimes I want to convey something complex philosophically, and sometimes I just want to portray myself in a situation that I think other people have been in many times, but it hasn't been written about much.
It seemed to me you could do anything in comics. So I started doing my thing, which is mainly influenced by novelists, stand-up comedians, that sort of thing.
There hasn't been enough change in comics to suit me. I don't know why exactly.
I wake up every morning in a cold sweat, regardless of how well things went the day before. And put that I said that in a somewhat but not completely tongue-in-cheek way.
Cleveland has a very bad reputation, but there's a lot of stuff that's left over from when there were very wealthy people – the Art Museum and a world class symphony that's still world class.
I'm just tired of people saying I'm a self-hating Jew because I'm critical of Israel or make fun of old Jewish ladies. I do not hate myself. And Jews who criticize Israel aren't necessarily mentally ill.
There's no limitation on comics, nothing. From a logical standpoint, how can there be a limitation on comics? You can use any word in the dictionary. You can put them in any order you want to. You can use a vast variety of illustrating styles. People could do all sorts of things.
I came up with American Splendor. Some people think it's American Squalor.
When I was a kid, back in the '40s, I was a voracious comic book reader. And at that time, there was a lot of patriotism in the comics. They were called things like 'All-American Comics' or 'Star-Spangled Comics' or things like that. I decided to do a logo that was a parody of those comics, with 'American' as the first word.
I'm trying to get every man involved in art, into experimental music, or painting, or novel-writing.
I've just been writing stuff down as it comes to me. I haven't thought, 'Let me write some major opus here.'
I decided I was going to tell these stories. I went around and met Crumb. He was the cartoonist. I started realizing comics weren't just kid stuff.
Israel's creation was politically amazing and caused by a number of unusual events. And I understand. For centuries, Jews endured horrible suffering, and like other people, deserve the right to self-determination, but the way Israel is going now frightens me. Jews make awkward colonial overlords.
I think you can do anything with comics that you could do in just about any art form.
I was sort of on a mission with 'American Splendor.' I wanted to try to prove that comics could do things. I wanted to expand them beyond superheroes and talking animals. And I knew that was going to take a long time. But I just started writing an autobiography about my quotidian life.
I was influenced by autobiographical writers like Henry Miller, and I had actually done some autobiographical prose. But I just thought that comics were like virgin territory. There was so much to be done. It excited me. I couldn't draw very well. I could write scripts and storyboard style using stick figures and balloons and captions.
I think the people who would be the least interested in my work would be people who read lots of comic books.
A respectable-sized audience hasn't really been able to follow developments in jazz since the free jazz movement in the '60s. Some of them can't even get with John Coltrane. Audiences are diminishing more and more rapidly. Some of the top young musicians with something new to say can't get record companies to put out their stuff.
American Splendor is just an ongoing journal. It's an ongoing autobiography. I started it when I was in my early 30s, and I just keep going.
I guess I wanted to show people, among other things, that you don't have to be a hero to get through cancer. You can be a craven coward and get through. You have to stay on your medication and take your treatments, that's all.
I'm kind of concerned about 'Ego & Hubris' because I'm thinking that people will read it and maybe even be entertained by it, but at the end of it, you know, they'll wonder, 'Why did this guy write this? What was the point of it?'
I concentrate, more than I think virtually any comic book artist has in the past, on the so-called mundane details of every day life – quotidian life. What happens to a person during a working day, marital relations, and stuff like that.
I kept on buying records and listening to them. Finally, I was able to hear the relationship between the jazz improvisers' solos and the underlying structure that it's based on, the chord progression. That was pretty easy to do in the swing era, y'know, when jazz was, like, pop music, you know. It had made the charts and everything like that.
If there is something to worry about, my mind has a tendency to worry about it. That can cut two ways. It can really keep you on the ball, but if you worry about every little thing, it's not a good use of time and energy.
Of course I don't think I have it made by any means. I'm too insecure, obsessive and paranoid for that.
I met Robert Crumb in 1962; he lived in Cleveland for a while. I took a look at his stuff. Crumb was doing stuff beyond what other writers and artists were doing. It was a step beyond Mad.
I have to be a freelance writer for the rest of my life, unless I get some kind of real lucky break. But other than that, I'll always have to work. I always worry about whether my stuff is going to get over. Will they like this, will they like that?
It's real easy for me to write a lot of stories. I just go and I live through something, and I go home and write about it. It's that quick.
Things improved a little bit in the '80s; there was kind of a revival of alternative comics, but then they went downhill in the '90s.
I can't write in a whole lot of different styles, trying to please the highbrows one time and the lowbrows the next. I pretty much have a basic style I employ.
I write about my life, choosing incidents that I think will be, for one reason or another, significant to people. Often because they may have experienced the same things.
I thought I had a great opportunity when I started doing my comic book in 1972. I thought there was so much territory to work in.
The film's success so far involves winning a couple of prizes at Cannes and Sundance, and getting some very nice reviews in newspapers and magazines. That hasn't had a big impact on my life yet.
I've gotten more and more cut off from the regular comic-book world, from straight comics and stuff like that. Once in a while, I'll take a look at something.