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Harvey Pekar, Graphic Novelist, Dies

Obituary page contributor Terence McArdle writes:

Harvey Pekar, 70, the graphic novelist whose autobiographical comic book "American Splendor" chronicled his life as a filing clerk, record collector, freelance jazz critic and one of life's all around misfits, was found dead early today at his home in suburban Cleveland.

The AP reported that police were called to Mr. Pekar's home by his wife about 1 a.m. and the artist was found between a bed and dresser. Mr. Pekar had been suffering from prostate cancer, asthma, high blood pressure and depression, police said.

"American Splendor" developed a cult following among those who don't ordinarily read comic books. Quite possibly the first autobiographic comic, it was filled with Mr. Pekar's wry observations and complaints about the monotony of life in Cleveland and his frustrations in human relationships.


Initially, Mr. Pekar approached cartoonist R. Crumb who he knew through their mutual record collector's love of jazz, to illustrate his self-published work. Later, Mr. Pekar's illustrators included Drew Friedman and Joe Sacco.

After a diagnosis of prostrate cancer in curtailed his writing in the 1990s, Mr. Pekar returned in with "Our Cancer Year" (1994), a colloboration with his wife, Joyce Brabner.
A 2003 movie, "American Splendor" was based on the series with Paul Giametti playing Mr. Pekar. It led to yet another collaboration with Brabner, "Our Movie Year" (2004).

In one of the movie's finest moments, Brabner meets Mr. Pekar for the first time at the airport after a lengthy correspondence. She tries to imagine what he looks like and conjurs four different images of him by four different illustrators.

A full obituary will follow.

By Adam Bernstein  |  July 12, 2010; 12:08 PM ET
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Next: Gospel great Walter Hawkins dies at 61


God bless and God rest Mr. Pekar. I truly enjoyed his sensitive musings about the ups and downs of contemporary life. Like Mr. Samuel Johnson, Mr. Pekar's "ramblings" conveyed the ironies of contemporary life that mar the sensitive soul. His work and comic strip cried out with the angst of the lost soul of the working man. I will miss him. The loss of his everyman appeal showed once again that we should not ask for whom the bells toll...

Posted by: steven7753 | July 12, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

In 1987, when I was Literary Manager at Arena Stage. I adapted "American Splendor" as a play and it was produced in what was then the Old Vat Room, directed by Jim Nicola. The theater brought Harvey (and later Joyce) in to consult. Only having seen him at his acerbic heights on Lettermen, I wasn't sure how things were going to go. But he was wonderful throughout the rehearsal process--thoughtful, funny and gentle. I was touched to see, 16 years later, that "Thanks to Arena Stage" appeared in the end credits of the movie.

Posted by: skreg2000 | July 12, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

I find this news to be very depressing. Of course, almost **everything** about Pekar was depressing, but in a very good way. Making life's quotidian annoyances into epic travails is normally an objectionable trait, but he did it **right**. Then, when a true calamity like the disease (of a family, not just of a person) described in "Our Cancer Year" comes along, it takes that same talent to make it into art rather than just whining. His passing is a major loss not just to the comics world but to American culture in general.

Posted by: seismic-2 | July 12, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Here's to an American Original in all his depressing splendor. Long live Harvey Pekar!!

Posted by: drumdominic | July 12, 2010 1:26 PM | Report abuse

Not to be nit-picky, but a lot of people never heard of Pekar (myself excluded) until he made those hilarious appearances on David Letterman.

Why doesn't WaPo mention any of that? Can you people get anything right around here?

Posted by: tony_in_Durham_NC | July 12, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

>> @tony_in_Durham_NC:

For the record, The Post mentions that here:


Posted by: Michael Cavna | July 12, 2010 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: lproyect | July 12, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

A guy dies and you post a picture of the guy who played him in the movie? And even recount a good bit in the movie? Not cool.

Posted by: NorwegianShooter | July 13, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Whoops, the picture is probably Pekar. Sorry.

Posted by: NorwegianShooter | July 13, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

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