Harvey Pekar

  • Born: October 8, 1939
  • Died: July 12, 2010
  • Location: Cleveland, Ohio


Harvey Pekar is your American Idol.

Police: Cult comic writer dead at 70 in Ohio

JAKE COYLE, The Associated Press

CLEVELAND (AP) — Harvey Pekar, whose autobiographical comic book series "American Splendor" portrayed his unglamorous life with bone-dry honesty and wit, was found dead at home early Monday, authorities said. He was 70.

The cause of death was unclear, and an autopsy was planned, officials said. Pekar had prostate cancer, asthma, high blood pressure and depression, said Michael Cannon, a police captain in suburban Cleveland Heights.

Officers were called to Pekar's home by his wife about 1 a.m., Cannon said. His body was found on the floor between a bed and dresser. He had gone to bed around 4:30 p.m. Sunday in good spirits, his wife told police.

Pekar took a radically different track from the superhero-laden comics that had dominated the industry. He instead specialized in the lives of ordinary people, chronicling his life as a file clerk in Cleveland and his relationship with his third wife, Joyce Brabner. His 1994 graphic novel, "Our Cancer Year," detailed his battle with lymphoma.

The dreary cover scene shows him sprawled beside his wife on a snowy curbside with shopping bags on the ground. "Harvey, forget about the groceries, honey. Let's get you inside first," she says.

Pekar never drew himself but depended on collaborations with artists, most notably his friend R. Crumb, who helped illustrate the first issue of the ironically titled "American Splendor," published in 1976. It was made into an acclaimed 2003 film starring Paul Giamatti as Pekar. The most recent "American Splendor" was released in 2008.

"Harvey was one of the most compassionate and empathetic human beings I've ever met," Giamatti said in a statement. "He had a huge brain and an even bigger soul. And he was hilarious. He was a great artist, a true American poet, and there is no one to replace him."

Pekar's quirky commentary developed a following, and his insights and humor were often a bit on the dark side.

Lucy Shelton Caswell, curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University, said it was inaccurate to describe Pekar's work as "cult."

"His work was accepted by the mainstream," Caswell said. "It was bought by public libraries and read widely." The cartoon library has all of Pekar's works in its collection, she said.

"He will be remembered as an innovator who wrote stories about ordinary things that were then illustrated by some of the most notable cartoonists of the late 20th century," Caswell said. "People identified with what he was writing about and the stories that these people were drawing because it was so ordinary."

In 2003, the New York Film Critics Circle honored "American Splendor" as best first film for the directing-writing team of Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. Part feature and part documentary, and with occasional animated elements, the film's tearing down of the fourth wall — with Giamatti, as Pekar, often appearing alongside the real Pekar — paralleled his comic's realism.

Pekar, himself, introduces the film and the character based on him: "This guy here, he's our man, all grown up and going nowhere. Although he's a pretty scholarly cat, he never got much of a formal education. For the most part, he's lived in ... neighborhoods, held ... jobs and he's now knee-deep into a disastrous second marriage. So if you're the kind of person looking for romance or escapism or some fantasy figure to save the day, guess what? You've got the wrong movie."

Pekar, who was a repeat TV guest of David Letterman, told The Associated Press in a 1997 interview that he was determined to keep writing his "American Splendor" series.

"There's no end in sight for me. I want to continue to do it," Pekar said. "It's a continuing autobiography, a life's work."


Coyle reported from New York. Associated Press writer Doug Whiteman in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.

To visit the funeral home obituary - http://www.tributes.com/show/Harvey-Pekar-88944698

Condolence & Memory Journal

I am totlaly wowed and prepared to take the next step now.

Posted by Deena - JZQkhzNtVgixEHniNOQ, MN - XPXOmOGrKNZbbmpU   June 24, 2011

Cheers pal. I do appreciate the wriitng.

Posted by Genevieve - xPZOYPKQd, ID - uvkXqyTQpuFaedd   June 23, 2011

Anthony Bourdain wrote a wonderfully eloquent piece about Harvey's cultural significance:


Posted by Bill Copes    July 20, 2010

To the family of Mr. Harvey Pekar: Please accept our sincere condolences for your loss. May you find comfort knowing that by means of God's Kingdom, all human suffering and even death will one day be completely removed! (Please read 1 Corinthians 15:25; Isaiah 25:8; Revelation 21:4)

As for our loved ones who are now sleeping in death, the King of God's Kingdom, Jesus Christ, has promised that he will raise these ones back to life on earth; and restore humans and the entire earth to their originally designed perfect condition. (Please read Acts 24:15; John 5:25-30; John 11:11-44; Job 33:25; Genesis 1:28; Matthew 5:5; Psalm 37: 10, 11, 29; John 3:16; Romans 6:23; Isaiah 9:7)

May these scriptural promises comfort, strengthen, and sustain you during this difficult time. With heartfelt sympathy for your loss, Mr. & Mrs. F. Weston (Beaverg2009@yahoo.com)

Posted by Bea Weston    July 16, 2010


I looked Mr.Pekar up in the Cleveland phone book one time and there he was. Wanted so badly to call but decided to respect his privacy instead. Unpretentious, great sense of humor, had a way of depicting the common life and common man in an uncommon way. Hope he finds splendor in the afterlife.

Posted by louise krieder - fan   July 13, 2010

Living in San Francisco and raising my family there, I've nonetheless worked to stay in touch with my large extended family and my city of origin, Cleveland. Harvey helped me do that, via his particular, focused slice of life in the city on the Lake. In recent years, he helped me with an educational comic book I'm working on with the California Federation of Teachers. I actually just visited him this past Thursday and he graciously advised me on how to proceed with our project, while also telling me about his current project, a comic book about Israel. In addition, he agreed to consult with my brother, Matt, an elementary school teacher in the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood, on a comic writing project Matt has going for his students. He's been gracious in his giving of free help, so I was shocked to hear of his death so soon after we met and all the more grateful for his assistance.
Thank you Harvey, for paving the way and opening the door for so many.
Bill Shields

Posted by Bill Shields - San Francisco, CA - Reader/Advice Receiver   July 13, 2010

I was born and raised in Cleveland. Pekar fairly depicted his environment - a suburb on the very edge of a very poor city. His battles with cancer and his job as a file clerk, go hand-in-hand with where he lived, all of them setting the tone = slightly depressive, yet oddly humorous. Pekar - you have added Cleveland to the comic map!

Posted by Helene HOffman    July 13, 2010

Default Album

Harvey Pekar is your American Idol.
Harvey Pekar, left, Joyce Brabner, right, and their foster daughter Danielle, center, pose for the film "American Splendor," directed by American Shari Springer Berman, a life story of grumpy, frumpy comic-book writer Harvey Pekar, during the 56th Film Festival in Cannes, France, Sunday, May 18, 200
Portrait of the anti-hero as a young man. Harvey Pekar flexes his ordinariness.
Harvey Pekar, subject of the nominated best feature film "American Splendor," arrives with his wife, Joyce, for the 2004 IFP Independent Spirit Awards in Santa Monica, Calif., on Saturday, Feb. 28, 2004.
Civil servant to the rescue. A panel from "Quitter," written by Harvey Pekar and illustrated by Dean Haspiel.
In this 1986 file photo comic-book writer Harvey Pekar poses with a copy of his "American Splendor" in his Cleveland Heights, Ohio home. Pekar, whose comic was made into a 2003 film starring Paul Giammati, was been found dead in his Ohio home early Monday, July 12, 2010.