Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Harvey Pekar: How One Man Changed My Life

I have always taken comics seriously. No one that I knew growing up took them seriously, but even as a boy I could remember thinking of the potential that could exist within the pages of a comic book. When I read my first page of American Splendor I realized I was not alone in the world in many ways. His life is full of issues and revelations just like anyone else. Dealing with loneliness, depression, sickness, arguments at work, a trip to the grocery store, American Splendor covered many aspects of everyday life. But he was also a much different man than most, and his uniqueness made the book even more appealing. Harvey was an engineer of truth. This guy could not be anything less than completely genuine, and it was dark, and a wonderful mess, and none of it had ever been done before. Every story about unrequited love, the endless string of shitty jobs, and this broken planet that we are all struggling to navigate in a peaceful way made my life a little bit easier. I felt that after reading his work, meeting this man was now my only priority. I've never wanted anything more than the ability to create something real in an ugly and fake world, and this desire to manifest itself developed only after I read the work of Harvey Pekar.

Finding people that didn't want to be found on the internet was a field that I had some experience in from a previous job. I decided to put my skip tracing abilities to use and search for the man who meant so much to me. What I was shocked to learn was that his number was in the phone book. There it was: "Harvey Pekar, Cleveland Heights Ohio". So naturally I had to call. My girlfriend and I sat together at the cheap sterile lunch table in the break room and I made the call that would forever change my life. To my surprise, he was polite as hell and I was worried about this because of the way his comics read. I had been working on my opus to comicdom "The Death of God" for some time, and he listened patiently to the plot synopsis and told me that it all sounded good.
This was a guy who sold his entire record collection to self-publish his own comic storyboards that were stick figures crudely drawn on notebook paper, they were full of stories about a guy who wanted to get laid but couldn't and worked as a file clerk at a VA hospital, and I respected him immensely as an artist so it meant a lot when he said he thought I had a good idea. Give the masses Ed Hardy T-Shirts and spinning rims on a bouncing car and they will be happy, I wanted to write a more real story that reflected an authentic kind of existence but in the realm of fantasy, and my inspiration to think differently about the way comics can be written came from Harvey. He did it against all odds. And to those who loved American Splendor, these books meant everything. Spiegelman and Eisner wrote serious comics and had inflated egos, but Harvey wrote the same kind of comic with almost no ego at all. In that way the book was completely different than anything that had ever come before.

In Korea, I might not have made it if not for Harvey. Getting started there was the toughest thing in the world. A two year relationship had just ended, and I was sixty pounds overweight and miserable. I would come home at 2 in the morning and talk to Harvey about everything. He was the most humble guy in the world, and this cat had an honorary PHD in depression. No matter how hard I tried to convey the impact that his work was having on people everywhere, he just never understood. He was one of the great writers of our time, and we had entire conversations about orange soda and jazz and easy money. He had more integrity than thirty men. He would listen to me talk about my shitty life for hours and never complained once.

One day in a small Korean office I shed tears for the man who changed everything for me. No other single human being had more of an impact on my life than Harvey. Rest in peace my friend. I hope that you have now found real happiness, and I hope that somehow you are able to see how many lives that were affected by your writing.

By: William R. Davis Jr.

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