Saying Goodbye to Harvey Pekar

Harvey Pekar thing by Dan Goldman

Harvey Pekar thing by Dan Goldman

You and I have a lot to learn from the life of Harvey Pekar. He was an odd bird for sure and a very  talented one.

Pekar died at his home in Cleveland Heights, Ohio (USA) in July at the age of 70. If you’ve not heard of him, he was a comic book writer, graphic novelist, jazz critic/collector and file clerk best know for the American Splendor comic bookseries in which he depicted his struggles with anxiety, depression and the ordinary moments of everyday life.

If you have read his work or seen the movie about him (also titled American Splendor), you may have noticed the NLD-ish/Aspergerian nature of his personality. He was a super-perseverator, an obsessive collector of jazz and blues records, a gruff, socially awkward college drop-out and a self-described “neurotic”.

Pekar didn’t fit the profile of a comic book writer. He didn’t write about fictional super-heroes or children with anthropomorphic dogs and precocious philosophies. Instead, he wrote about real encounters with real people. These included his wife, Joyce Brabner, and his co-workers at Cleveland’s VA Hospital where he worked as a poorly paid file clerk. He also couldn’t draw. Instead, various illustrators, including his friend R. Crumb, gave his beautifully written, ressentiment-laden words widely different visual expressions in each of his stories. This was a radical, new approach, but it worked.

Learning about how Harvey Pekar made his life work, although through the  dramatization of a movie, inspired me to become a filmmaker and blogger on my own terms and despite having NLD. I respect him for delegating the art work he couldn’t do to others while he forged his way into a world that probably wouldn’t have invited him in, and he changed it. As I’m carving out a unique niche for myself in social media, sharpening my creative and analytical abilities and getting help on tasks that require good executive functioning skills, I’m remembering that this kind of thing has been done before by Harvey Pekar. Knowing this gives me encouragement. Hopefully, it will do the same for you.

Here he is in the 1980’s in one of his many guest spots on The David Letterman Show. It’s an infamous interaction between Pekar and Letterman. If you’re old enough, you may remember it. I’ve also included a scene from the film American Splendor starring Paul Giamatti as Pekar having a conversation with his on-the-spectrum buddy Toby Radloff (played by Judah Friedlander). In real-life, Toby too has a fan-following and was regularly seen on MTV back in the 80’s.

The film is innovative, with a blend of actors and the real-life people they play included in the mix. You should rent  it, read some of Pekar’s American Splendor series and take a look at his on-line comics. If the illustrations challenge your visual-spatial abilities, perhaps you could try reading them slowly, no one’s grading you here. You might like them.

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