Sunday, April 17, 2016

Guest Review - Harvey Pekar's Cleveland

    Here's another Guest Review bDavid Wright, with a look at one of the most unique voices in the comics industry.

   Harvey Pekar's American Splendor used to be a regular buy for me, when Harvey was still alive.  Not only did he write comics, but also jazz reviews, and other articles.  

   They even made an independent movie adapted from the comic called American Splendor, which is a well made film.  

   My brother and I met him once too at the Dallas Comic Con.  A lot of times Pekar portrays himself as a curmudgeon, but in public he's not that way at all, he's rather funny actually.  

   At the Comic Con he was there hawking his books, signing autographs, and talking about getting a great Grand Slam breakfast at Dennys.   

   Cleveland was the first book published after Pekar's death, so when it came out I had to read it. Pekar starts the novel by talking about baseball, and I'll admit I'm not a huge fan of the sport. 

   But I believe he does it because the Cleveland Indians won the 1948 World Series that year, and that was a highlight of his younger years, and gave him a deep sense of pride for his city. 

   It continues on with a brief history of Cleveland starting around the 18th century, and eventually into the '40s, which is when Pekar grew up. There's a little bit about him growing up as a child, his family's grocery store, which one of his previous books, The Quitter, goes a little bit deeper into if you care to read more about that.  

   He was raised in a Jewish household. 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 job as a file clerk at the Veteran's Administration Hospital has been written about many times in his regular series American Splendor. 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 by moving and 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 other vignettes, one is about Cleveland's largest book stores and the owner, another about shopping in the farmers market, and one about Pekar selling his vast jazz record and book collections.  

   I got the feeling, however, from reading Cleveland that Pekar had come to terms with life. That perhaps his current wife, Joyce Brabner, had shown him how to relax a bit more (retirement might have had something to do with that too). Also enjoying the simpler things in life, like owning a home or gardening, and eventually raising a foster daughter) could be fulfilling and life enhancing. 

   I also have to mention the artist, Joseph Remnant. He was superb. His art reminded me a lot of Robert Crumb, another one of Pekar's past collaborators. Remnant really captured the nuances in Pekar's writing, his rendering of the buildings and the inhabitants of Cleveland added a lot to the story and atmosphere of the city.  

   Pekar died some years back, and like a lot of writers and artist their absence is missed, but he left a body of work that can still be enjoyed.

Grade A


(** Editor's note - when I posted this, I accidentally credited this guest review to Glen Davis - now correctly attributed to David Wright. Apologies all around, and thanks!)


Glen Davis said...

I didn't send that to you. Did you mistake me for someone else?

Chuck said...

Ack! My mistake, Glen - now corrected. Sorry about that!