Jewish Journal

Harvey Pekar, alt comic writer, dies at 70

by Adam Wills

July 12, 2010 | 11:24 am

Harvey Pekar, writer of the alternative comics series “American Splendor,” which was adapted for a 2003 film, has died. According to the Los Angeles Times, Pekar, a cancer survivor, was found by his wife, Joyce Brabner, early Monday morning at their Cleveland area home; he was 70 years old.

Pekar wrote his first comic strip in 1972; it was illustrated by his friend, R. Crumb. He began publishing regularly, or semi-regularly, a few years later. “American Splendor” was illustrated by a variety of artists and focused on the minutiae of Pekar’s life as a file clerk.


Pekar was born to Polish immigrant parents in Cleveland; he was raised there and tried one year of college at Case Western Reserve before joining the Navy. After returning, he eventually found work as a file clerk at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital, where he stayed for 37 years, retiring in 2001.

In the evolving world of graphic novels, Harvey Pekar’s “American Splendor” was a regular reminder that comics could be adult. Pekar’s world — working class, day-to-day — was almost the antithesis of superhero comics. Unlike other adult comics that were written and illustrated by the same team, like the Hernandez brothers’ “Love and Rockets,”  Pekar’s series didn’t have a visual identity. His use of different artists from issue to issue meant that the only through-line was his story, and that always hinged on Pekar’s character: obsessive-compulsive, jazz-loving, curmudgeonly. [LA Times]

Pekar’s 2005 graphic novel, “The Quitter” (art by Dean Haspiel), documented his upbringing as the son of Jewish immigrants. Another of Pekar’s graphic novels, 1994’s “Our Cancer Year,” co-written with his wife, documented the writer’s fight against lymphoma.

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