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Jul. 12 2010 - 4:51 pm | 246 views | 1 recommendation | 7 comments

Harvey Pekar’s struggle with fame and aging

American Splendor

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The death of Harvey Pekar, graphic memoirist and chronicler of everyday lives, will most likely go down the way his artistic career usually did: those who know him will be hit hard, but most will barely notice.

His name in tomorrow’s obituaries might not spark recognition, but two details of his life could — the movie “American Splendor,” based on his illustrated book of the same name and his appearances on David Letterman in the 1980s, both of which brought a fame that The New York Times called “uneasy” this afternoon.

Uneasy might describe his work as well, due to his unflinching honesty. Whatever veneer Pekar might have placed over his private life in writing memoir, it was not glossy. Late last year, in an interview with The Faster Times, Pekar talked about worry:

Well, I mean RIGHT NOW, I’m doing OK… Of course I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, you know, something bad to happen… I’m always fearing that there’s something bad around the corner… something I got from my mother… you know pessimism.. She’s always telling me “There’s another HITLER AROUND THE CORNER”… ALWAYS STUFF LIKE THAT…

It was no different in his work. In a piece about aging for SMITH, posted early this year, he writes:

I wonder if there are a lot of older people that are in decent shape physically and financially, and still worry their asses off.

That kind of honesty tends to shorten your reach in a culture as enamored with distraction as ours. But I sense a real loss in that kind of bluntness, which has nothing to do with stepping on other people to aggrandize himself or sensationalize life, but simply lays out the human condition as-is. Perhaps the memory of Pekar will outgrow his natural life. And he won’t have to worry … the shoe has sadly dropped.


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  1. collapse expand

    I don’t think it was Harvey’s bluntness that kept him from pop-culture superstardom. More like his brilliance. You can’t produce something on that level of genius and get noticed in a culture whose concept of observational humor is “The Office.”

  2. collapse expand

    Surely he did not have to make such a drastic move to leave Cleveland?

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    About 10 years ago, this lady in her 80s told me a childhood story about the day her mom tied her to a post on the porch. It was punishment for riding her tricycle past the curb at the end of their block. In the middle of the story she said to me, 'Wait, mom didn't tie me to the porch, she tied the tricycle to the porch. I just remembered that.' I've been fascinated by memory ever since.


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