EXPIRED: 07/12/10 – Harvey Pekar, 70, lived in Cleveland, Ohio all of his life. At the age of 26 he got a job as a file clerk at a V.A. hospital there and kept at it for the next 35 years. It was monotonous.
And it was just the thing that led him to create his life’s work, an autobiographical comic book called American Splendor that chronicled his constant complaining about work, money and the monotony of life.
Underground comic book artists like Robert Crumb, Colin Warneford, Joe Sacco and Frank Stack made the tales, which were published nearly every year since 1976, a huge cult success. Other artists who have lent their pen to the series include Gary Dumm, Greg Budgett, Spain Rodriguez, Joe Zabel, Gerry Shamray, Mark Zingarelli, Dean Haspiel, Josh Neufeld, Jim Woodring, Chester Brown, Alison Bechdel, Gilbert Hernandez, Eddie Campbell, David Collier, Drew Friedman, Ho Che Anderson, Rick Geary, Ed Piskor, Hunt Emerson, Bob Fingerman, and Alex Wald. Even Pekar’s wife, the writer Joyce Brabner, took a spin at illustrating his life.
In the late 1980s, Pekar’s popularity got him invited on Late Night with David Letterman. But he was argumentative and he bad-mouthed General Electric (NBC’s owner) so the show banned him as a guest for nearly a decade.
Then in 2003 the comic book became a movie, directed by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman and starring Paul Giammatti as Pekar.
He finally quit his job as a file clerk, became a prolific freelance jazz and book critic and started to find a nice niche for himself as a biographer. He wrote about Robert McNeill, one of Pekar’s African-American coworkers at Cleveland’s VA hospital, Michael Malice, the founding editor of OverheardinNewYork.com, Heather Roberson a student studying in Macedonia, and more traditional works about Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Studs Terkel.
Pekar had been working to bring American Splendor to the web but had suffering from prostate cancer, asthma, high blood pressure and depression.