Friday, April 11, 2014

How Maus and Harvey Pekar Changed My Life

By: William R. Davis Jr.

I originally thought comics were kind of stupid as I grew older. I read them when I was young, knew about the superhero characters in general, but the mythologies, the creators, the shit I really salivate about now, I had no idea what it was really about at the time and wrote comics off completely. Went to Uni. Studied English. They make you read all of these high handed, terrible books, and the professors are mostly assholes. It's like a secret club for assholes. "Academics" if you will, I hate most of them. 

There's a lot of mental masturbation going on at some Universities, and a ton of it happens in the English departments at their respective schools. There were other students that felt the same way. Naturally we all found our way to the back of the classroom. I was talking with this guy who was a huge comic fan, I can't even remember his name anymore. 

I was like: "C'mon man. Mutants. Aliens. Superheroes. I like this stuff, but it's kids stuff." 
He said: "I'll prove you wrong." 

He gave me Maus to borrow. I read it, then I read it again, and again, and again, and again. Finally it clicked, and I realized the power of sequential art, and the limitless potential of words and pictures and comics. Comic books can do so many  things that other art forms can't do. Maus is maybe one of the best books I've ever read; definitely my favorite. 

Slowly found my way into Eisner, Ware, Moore; some of the other fringe independents. And then I found American Splendor. It hit me like a ton of bricks. It just spoke to me. I had to work full time during school at a student loan company called Sallie Mae. The majority of my job was trying to get people to pay their loans that were late over the phone, so they gave us this software to find people who didn't want to be found. One day I said:"Fuck it", and looked up Harvey Pekar's number (creator of American Splendor). 

It's a rare name so he wasn't very to hard to find. Although doing this is pretty unethical because it had nothing to do with my job, it was the best decision I've ever made. I called Harvey, and he was the nicest guy in the world: humble, smart, interesting, and willing to take my calls! I talked to him many, many times. He would even listen to my problems; give me advice, a true mentor! I even contacted the English department and got him to speak at Ball State University. He even wrote a couple of comics about his visit. Regretfully I couldn't physically be there because I was in Asia at the time. Either why, I had added a small chapter to the Pekar mythos, and that made me proud.

One unceremonious day when I was in Korea he died, and I woke up to a text about it from my friend, a TEXT! It was fucking terrible, one of the worst moments of my life. My hero was dead and I read about it in a text message almost as soon as I opened my eyes. 

After Maus I found out more about comics as American mythology, the stories behind companies and creators, the history of sequential art, and all of that other stuff that keeps fanboys like me awake at night. 

Maus started me back into comics, American Splendor and Harvey Pekar cemented my lifelong love of comics, and then I bought a bunch of superhero books off of my buddy for barely any money at all and started to re-read them in a different way. The rest is history.

The medium today suffers from a stigma that's been attached to it for years. People who only read one Wolverine book or see some sub-par cartoon might go: "This sucks." And just not look at it again. It is, and was, for many years marketed to children, so a lot of people just haven't seen the good stuff yet. I truly think I could get anyone to like comics, they just have to choose the right ones. Take a book like the aforementioned Maus, it's a holocaust survivor's tale, also a book about family, and a perfect use of the strengths of sequential art (Cats/ Nazis and Mice/Jews). It won the Pulitzer Prize! There are comics about every subject and genre, therefore there are comics for everyone.

It's all about what you like. People might only know Spider-man or Captain America, but even this is starting to change. Acceptance is slowly growing. I've read a ton of comics at this point. Reviewing and interviewing makes that a necessity in my life. I can almost tell how deep a person's got within the first couple sentences. They start with something like Maus or superhero books and then maybe pick up Watchmen, then they segue into something else. Everyone's path is a little different. 

Have you ever seen High Fidelity? There's that scene where John Cusak is organizing his records and his worker comes in and says: "How are you doing it?" Cusak smugly answers: "Autobiographically. I can tell you how I got from Deep Purple to Howling Wolf in seven steps." Comics are like that as well. Real fanboys are really quick to call a person out and are very proud of knowing minutia. It's not an easy hobby to get into. As much as "Comic Book Guy" from the Simpsons is a stereotype, he's a very hilarious one because there's a lot of truth to the character. I hated my professors so much. They were so arrogant. I remember one smug asshole: "I know a ton about comics. I read Persepolis." Great book, but I found myself thinking: "What a fucking douche bag." I think at least part of that has to do with, I'm one of those comic book guys! 

Thanks for taking a minute to stroll down memory lane with me faithful readers. Starting from nothing and growing the HCB into the most polarizing comic book related website on the internet has been one wild ride. Our critics are many, but so are our supporters. Protecting the medium of sequential art is a duty that we have all sworn to undertake. The hacks and hackettes out there will ruin it for profit , strangle everything we love about it, and leave it to die if we refuse to confront companies that are trying to feed us sub-par content on a weekly basis. At the same time, there are so many creators out there doing wonderful things that are going largely unnoticed. We're going to make sure they get credit for their amazing contributions. 

At the end of the day it is all about integrity, creativity, and fun at The Hammond Comics Blog. We take what we do here seriously. What some have called in the past "fan boy rage", I call passion. How can you truly say you love something and be void of passion? We're still having a blast writing and talking about comic books, so keep yourself tuned in to The Hammond Comics Blog for weekly reviews and interviews by writers who are here to protect and defend one of the last great American art forms. Here's to many more years of angry comments and emails. We couldn't be happier to receive your feedback and keep the conversation going.

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