Monday, January 28, 2013

REVIEW: Harvey Pekar's Cleveland

Writer: Harvey Pekar
Artist: Joseph Remnant
Review: Will Dubbeld

I had been largely unaware of Harvey Pekar's work for most of my comic reading days, being only peripherally familiar with American Splendor until the biopic was released. I picked up a collection of Pekar's work that coincided with the film and was instantly smitten with it.

Harvey told tales of an everyman's life through his eyes, opinions and foibles, colored by a perpetually curmudgeonly outlook that lent an endearing tone to his work.

After a forward by Alan Moore, Cleveland begins with an illustrated history of the city and its environs beginning with the initial settlement up through the present day. He treats us to a recollection of listening to a Cleveland Indians game from the 40s that was piped through his elementary school PA system , and vignettes like these were at the core of Peker's work. Little slice of life anecdotes that lent the reader insight into his thought processes and nostalgic attitude towards day to day activity. Seemly written in a stream of consciousness approach, Harvey Pekar always managed to bring together full circle his narrative.

The book provides an interesting cross-section of Cleveland's neighborhoods and racial demographics as well as the political and socioeconomic dichotomy of the city. He speaks of Cleveland as a decaying city, once great but since reduced to a level that will never recapture the glory it held when he was listening to an Indians game over the schools PA.

The book ends rather abruptly, without a sense of closure, which I noticed was representative of his body of work but did not ever leave me with an unfulfilled feeling. The book closes with some excellent photos and afterwards by the artist and Pekar's wife, Joyce Brabner.

It's difficult for me to adequately express how well Harvey crafted his comics, and I was frankly hesitant to tackle a work of this caliber. Pekar was mostly unheard of in mainstream comicdom, but deserves to be lauded in the same breath as Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, or Möebius Giraud, considering the work he did in pioneering alternative forms of graphic storytelling. As under the radar as Peker was, he kept his name and address in the Cleveland phonebook for his entire life, enabling fans to call or visit and this alone speaks volumes about his character.

Sadly, Cleveland was to be one of Harvey Pekar's final pieces, as he was found dead of an accidental overdose of prescription medication in 2010. He was 70 years old.
The world of independent/underground comics has yet to recover or find a suitable heir to Pekar, and I doubt that it ever will. He left a legacy and extensive body of work that I recommend to anyone, comic reader or not. Ignoring Harvey Pekar and his musings does a disservice to the medium and to the memory of a 70 year old file clerk from a Cleveland VA hospital who wrote some of the finest comics ever to hit the stands.

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