Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Guest Review - The Classics - Harvey Pekar's Cleveland

  Here with a Guest Review is our man David Wright, with a review of one of the most influential and unique independent comics creators in the history of the medium.  

   Back when I was taking some art classes at a junior college I started talking to another student about comics, and he told me he was into R. Crumb, and about the comic, American Splendor.  

   He described it as an independent comic about everyday life. That intrigued me enough to check it out once I was in a larger comic store. Sure enough, I became a fan as well, and met Mr. Pekar at a convention one time in Dallas.  (He's not half the curmudgeon he makes himself out to be in his comics or on TV. He was quite personable, actually describing to me and my brother about how much he enjoyed his Grand Slam at Denny's earlier that morning.)

   His last work, the graphic novel, Cleveland, pays homage to the town he lived in for many years. Pekar begins by talking about baseball, and I'll admit I'm not a fan. So beginning the novel with a historical look at a game about the Cleveland Indians winning the 1948 World Series was a bit dry for me, but it sets the stage for Pekar's love of the city. Winning the game brought a certain amount of pride living in the city as a young person at that time. 

   He continues with a brief history of Cleveland starting around the 18th century, and eventually into the '40s era that he grew up in. There's a little bit about him growing up as a child and his family's grocery store, which one of his previous books, The Quitter, is a little more in depth about, if you care to read more on that.  He was raised in a Jewish household, and also by his grandparents. They were of modest income, but Pekar found ways to amuse himself through books, sports and comics.

   As he grew older, he became interested in jazz, politics, women and also had to deal with finding a job. His clerical job for the Veteran's Hospital  has been written about in many of his other comics.  

   I found it interesting though in this book that he chose to write about one of his previous wives.  They seemed to be a natural fit for each other intellectually, but differed in their future goals. One of the things that drove them apart was that she'd earned a fairly respectable college degree and wanted to pursue some endeavor with it, perhaps getting a job for an Ivy League school. Pekar, on the other hand, had already established his clerical job, which fit well with his temperament, and he didn't really care to move.

   There are a few other stories and vignettes, one about Cleveland's largest book stores and the owner, shopping in the farmers market, and Pekar mentioning how he had to sell his vast jazz record and book collections.  

   I got the feeling, however, from reading Cleveland that Pekar had come to terms with life. It seemed that his current wife, Joyce Brabner, had shown him how to relax a bit more. Also that enjoying the simpler things in life, like owning a home or gardening, and eventually raising a daughter could be fulfilling and life enhancing. For sure, life still has its ups and downs, but Harvey was getting better at handling them with his family.  

   I also have to mention the artist, Joseph Remnant. He was great. His art reminded me a lot of  R. Crumb, another one of Pekar's collaborators in his American Splendor comic. Remnant really captured the nuance in Pekar's writing, his rendering of the buildings and the characters of Cleveland added a lot to the story and atmosphere of the city. 

   Cleveland not only is a great graphic novel about a great city, but does something that few of this other work didn't do, it made Harvey into a more approachable human being.   

Grade A



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