Thursday 15 December 2011

Harvey Pekar - "Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff."

Just the fact that he was buried alongside Eliot Ness (the real one, who was played by Kevin Costner in The Untouchables), would probably be enough to get him noticed; but, without that, Harvey Pekar attracted plenty of attention during his lifetime. When I heard he'd died eighteen months ago, I felt as though I'd lost a dear friend, even though we'd never had any first-hand contact.

I discovered Harvey in the movie about his life, American Splendor.      If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favour and buy the DVD. It features Paul Giamatti as Pekar, as well as appearances by Harvey Pekar, as himself, and animated versions of him, based on his comic book series, which is also called American Splendor.  

Harvey Pekar won't appeal to the beautiful people. He was the quintessential outsider; a very ordinary looking man, who lived all his life in Cleveland. Anyone who has ever glanced in a mirror, and been disappointed with the reflection looking back, will relate to Harvey. 

Paul Giamatti plays Harvey, here visiting a doctor, where he learns he has a problem with his vocal chords, while a kangaroo looks on. (Australians like to see kangaroos in American movies. Makes some of us think of kangaroo steak and chips. Yum.) 

Harvey's next visit to the doctor didn't turn out quite so well. He was diagnosed with lymphoma and underwent a course of chemotherapy. I bonded with him at that time, probably because I was going through chemotherapy myself. I had chronic lymphocytic leukemia and endured six months of treatment. It was an educational experience.

What prompted me to write this post was an interview I came across with Alan Moore, a long-time friend of Harvey, published in Fast Company. Alan Moore is sometimes described as "the best comic writer in history." His graphic novels have provided the basis for a number of Hollywood films, including From Hell (2001), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), V for Vendetta (2005) and Watchmen (2009). 

It's an interesting interview. Part of it said this:
What Pekar represented to Moore were the small heroics of making one's way in life, of stealing quiet victories against a backdrop of disappointment and disadvantage. "Harvey came from Cleveland, where the creators of Superman came from," says Moore. "But Harvey represented a very different kind of hero that exists in real life.
"What I really admired about Harvey was, he was a resolutely blue collar artist, and one of only working class voices that I'd come across in comics with a level of political commitment, especially a left-wing one," he adds. "I mean, this man had a spectacular meltdown on the Letterman show about a strike going on at the network that it was not publicizing. He never tried to rise above that class."
Anyway, here's the story of Harvey Pekar meeting with Anthony Bourdain.

And here's a classic Harvey Pekar story which tends to prove that "Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff."

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