Harvey Pekar has died at the age of 70. As Rob Harvilla writes on Sound of the City,
Comic book icon, brief Hollywood star (via 2003’s American Splendor, coming soon to thousands of Netflix queues near you), thoughtful jazz critic (here he is on free-jazz deity and fellow Cleveland native Albert Ayler), and Voice contributor, Pekar was the living embodiment of that most durable of American archetypes: the Lovable Curmudgeon. He was found dead by his wife, Joyce Brabner, early this morning; an autopsy is pending, though it’s hard not to note — as does the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s excellent, thorough obit — that their signature artistic collaboration was called Our Cancer Year.
In American Splendor, Pekar’s autobiographical comic book series, he portrayed himself as a “rumpled, depressed, obsessive-compulsive ‘flunky file clerk’ engaged in a constant battle with loneliness and anxiety.” But, of course, he was much more.
He was born to Polish immigrants, he was a college dropout, he served in the Navy, he married three times, he (and wife Joyce Brabner) became the legal guardian of a 9-year-old girl, and he was, actually, a file clerk, at a VA Hospital, until he retired in 2001. In retirement he continued to write his jazz reviews and American Splendor.
The filmmaker David O. Russell (Three Kings), who was on the Sundance jury that awarded American Splendor the grand prize, said, “It’s really great for people to see someone like Harvey Pekar, this guy who wants to remain authentic, isn’t going to buy [garbage], isn’t going to the malls, keeps on collecting old jazz music that’s important — that kind of independence.”
As Harvilla writes, “Pekar simply did the only thing he really could do: keep going, keep living, keep writing, keep kvetching.”
We’ll miss you, Harvey.