There’s a direct line that can be drawn from the counter-culture movement in comics during the 70’s, to the push for creator-owned properties in the 80’s and 90’s, to the wellspring of diverse genres we enjoy today in modern comics. The starting point for that line was attached to a select few people. Harvey Pekar was one of them.
Harvey passed away yesterday morning at his home, sometime just before one in the morning. It seems a quiet way to go for someone who spent so much of his energy boisterously pointing out not only what was wrong with the world around him, but also the beauty he found in places few would think to look.
During a time when his peers were interested in the psychedelic and the bizarre, Harvey went another way, choosing instead to produce a mostly-autobiographical comic. American Splendor was the world as seen through his eyes, and showed both readers and fellow creators that “Comics are just words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures.”
American Splendor is as close to an unflinching look at life in America as you are likely to find, and serves as a touchstone across all forms of media as to what can be accomplished with a single voice, and a metric ton of determination and stubbornness. While Harvey may be best remembered among the general public for his contentious relationship with David Letterman, and the 2003 biopic of his life and work, I urge you to pick up the collected volumes of his work. They are important, rewarding works.
The world owes a lot to Harvey, and doesn’t even realize it yet. He is survived by his wife, Joyce Brabner, and their adopted daughter, Danielle Bartone.