Comic book creator Harvey Pekar, who serialized his life in a series of critically-acclaimed graphic novels, was found dead by his wife Joyce Brabner shortly before 1 a.m. today in his Cleveland home, Cleveland.com reports. In 2003, Pekar's life and work were dramatized in the excellent film American Splendor (starring Paul Giamatti), and he described the comics as "a series of day-after-day activities that have more influence on a person than any spectacular or traumatic events. It's the 99 percent of life that nobody ever writes about."
The first comic Pekar wrote was illustrated by R. Crumb in 1972; the two met when Crumb was working for American Greetings in Cleveland. "He's the soul of Cleveland," Crumb said in 1994. "He's passionate and articulate. He's grim. He's Jewish. I appreciate the way he embraces all that darkness." Pekar won the American Book Award in 1987 for his first anthology of American Splendor and was a regular guest on "Late Night With David Letterman"—until Pekar's virulent rant against G.E. (which owned the network that aired Letterman's show at the time) led to his banishment from the program. (Clip below.)
Pekar was a college dropout who served in the Navy before returning to Cleveland and winding up at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Cleveland as a file clerk, a job he would hold until he retired in 2001. He was married three times, and met Brabner in 1983 when she wrote to him asking for an issue of American Splendor. The cause of death is unkown at this time, but Pekar was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 1990 and underwent a grueling treatment, which he chronicled in the book Our Cancer Year, which he co-wrote with Brabner. Below, Pekar's last appearance on Letterman:
Michael Malice, an author and website creator whom Pekar immortalized in his comic Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story , tells us:
The only reason Harvey Pekar complained so much is because he cared so much. His sense of benevolence was huge and it was real. The man did not suffer fools gladly because he had an intense sense of interpersonal justice, and treated everyone as a peer. Though he liked positive attention, he did not take it seriously for a second.
One night, after his world tour to promote the film American Splendor, he gave me a call to catch up on what he had done. "You hung out with THE Alan Moore?" I interrupted at one point. "Yeah," he said sarcastically. "THE Alan Moore." I immediately realized my idiocy, given who I was speaking with. But you never felt like you were talking to Harvey Pekar, living legend. You were always talking to Harv, a regular guy who was interested in having a good conversation, and taking each day as it came.
Malice also wrote a eulogy on Mediaite, "He was violently uninterested in status and stature; it was never Harvey Pekar, legend. No matter who he was with, it was simply two people having a conversation."