Monday, July 12, 2010


A major RIP for Your Humble Narrator: Harvey Pekar, curmudgeonly Cleveland chronicler & author of the brilliant neo-realist comic American Splendor as well as such graphic novels as Our Cancer Year & The Quitter, has passed on at 70.

I was lucky enough to spend a day with Harvey in the mid-‘80s, when I interviewed him for the Erie Times-News. With my pal Stan, who took pictures, I drove to the Veterans Hospital where he worked & met his friends Toby & Greg, then drove him to his apartment in Coventry where we met his wife Joyce.

He was gruffly cordial to us, & gave a great interview. I did a second version of the story as a comic in imitation of Harvey’s style, illustrated by Gary Hardman, which ran in a short-lived magazine called Lip Mechanics. Pekar later sent me a nice postcard complimenting me on both stories.

Even before I met him, though, Pekar’s work was an inspiration to me—the presentational, or as he called it, “didactic” straightforwardness of his narrative style has a wonderful, unpretentious simplicity, but is also capable of surprising subtlety, complexity & variety, & it leaves you feeling like you know him. He brought out the beauty & mystery in everyday life; his comic’s title seems ironic at first, but Pekar really did find splendors on the streets of Cleveland’s east side.

As Stan noted when we talked about our visit this afternoon, it was great to read the reflections of a Rust Belt working man who was also a largely self-educated intellectual & who was able to share his outlook on life in his own way, even after he was somewhat accepted by the mainstream. His work rewards repeated readings, too—tonight I pulled down the five volumes of Pekar from my shelf, & noticed that they’re pretty well-thumbed. I’m proud to say that my 1987 edition of More American Splendor was given to me by Harvey himself.


  1. One day I walked out of Presti's bakery in Cleveland and there he was - Harvey Pekar walking up the hill leading into Little Italy. He was wearing a black t-shirt and black jeans on a hot, muggy day in the concrete jungle. He had his hands in his pockets and was looking down at his feet. I tried to think of something clever to say to him, but he looked kinda grumpy. So I just watched him walk by.

    I always rooted for him on the Letterman show. I swear Dave brought Harvey on just to make fun of the guy. Harvey hated Dave and once in an interview told of how Dave was a bit of a control freak and didn't like when Harvey went off script.

    Then this week I read about Harvey in a NYT article and his friend said he LIKED when people would recognize him and compliment him.

    Oh well.


  2. Based on the few hours we spent with him, he was superficially gruff but very nice & courteous, & he did indeed seem to appreciate recognition.
    Do you know if Presti's is still there? Sounds like my kinda place...

  3. There's a Presti's bakery/cafe, an actual Presti's bakery next door and two blocks down there's a small take out donut joint.

    I lived above the bakery and the bakery owner's daughter was kind of a b*t*h to me. So I usually went across the street to Corbo's bakery - which was much better - and made sure she saw me too. One day I went downstairs to get something for dinner. I saw some frozen gnocchi and asked how much they were. Shrew #2 at Presti's scowled at me and yelled ga-notch-eee. I said it's pronounced nyockee. So I went across the street to the Italian market and bought gnocchi. Oy.

    There are a few interesting places to go in the neighborhood. Guarino's is very Big Night looking but the food sucks and the owners are jerks. I know, I worked there.

    La Dolce Vita is good. Mamma Santa's is like Hectors except with great pizza.

    There's always the Polish Ponderosa.

  4. Haw haw! If you'd told the ga-notch-ee story to Harvey, he probably would have turned it into an "American Splendor" story...