Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Harvey Pekar (October 8th, 1939-July 12th, 2010)

Those apparently in the know in the world of underground comics are mourning the death of Harvey Pekar. If you have no idea who I'm talking about, I'm not surprised. He was the author of the underground comic book series American Splendor.

This series was unique in that it did not feature an heroic crime fighter or an avenging vigilante of some sort. No, it simply featured Harvey. Being, well, Harvey. Every day. It was his life as he knew it. What made it interesting was that this guy had a life that was, shall we say, less than interesting. He lived alone. He worked as a file clerk at a V.A. hospital. He collected Jazz records. He got mad at people. A LOT.

But people were eating this comic up. Maybe it was because they were sardonically funny. Maybe it was just because people liked to read them and think to themselves, "Hey, my life may be bad, but at least I'm better off than that guy.

But these comics made Harvey's life better. He met his future wife because she was a fan. He appeared on David Letterman many times (until he got tired of being Letterman's punching bag and told him off on national TV). And then, a few years ago, an HBO movie was made about his life.

Now, HBO doesn't make very much that's bad (Although I really didn't get the point of Entourage. Seriously. It's a series about an actor and his three hanger-on friends who go around Hollyweird trying to get laid all the time. And they made a series about this?!)

But I digress. HBO usually makes quality films, is what I'm saying. And I'd been wanting to see this film ever since I read this review a few years ago.

(By the way, he's not really naked. Trust me when I say you should be thankful for that)

So I resolved that the first time I found the film in the library I would check it out. So I did a couple of years ago. And I took it home and didn't watch it. I do that a lot. Mostly because I'm usually too busy watching my West Wing DVD's.

But this past Saturday, I found it again. It might have been fate trying to tell me something. So I checked it out, and took it home where it would probably not be watched again.

But then I read today about Harvey's death. So the first thing I did when I got home was watch the movie.

It's brilliant. Paul Giamatti plays Harvey spot on. And the way you know this is that the real Harvey Pekar narrates the film. And even acts in it a little. And most of the film's scenes were taken from Harvey's comic books, and since they are basically about his life, any movie taken from these books can't help but be pretty accurate.

But perhaps what makes the movie even more poignant now is the fact that I knew as I was watching it that the person being portrayed is now dead. At one point in the movie, while undergoing treatments for cancer, Harvey asks his wife if, since he is a guy who writes about himself (I'm paraphrasing) in a comic book, when he dies, will his character go on living, or will he just fade away?

I have never read any of the American Splendor comic books. And, since I'm sure that with Pekar's death the price of back issues will inflate exponentially, I probably never will.

But I salute you Harvey Pekar. Somehow you managed to take a dull and meaningless life and turn it into something better simply by doing the one thing you were apparently very good at: Telling people about your life.

You are my idol.

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