Harvey Pekar

Harvey Pekar is an American comic-book innovator. Best known for his award-winning series American Splendor and the biographical movie of the same name, Harvey made himself into a comic-book hero, showcasing the daily life and observations of an ordinary person in Cleveland Heights, OH, and ironically continuing to follow him through the fame that came with the popularity of those very stories. His comics and graphic novels portray real life in a medium usually reserved for fantasy, and are accessible to the man in the street as no other comic is. As a comic-book writer, Harvey has worked with many famous and celebrated artists, from Zap Comix’s Robert Crumb and Spain Rodriguez to Watchmen creator Alan Moore. He has been featured on many talk shows, most notably his many appearances on the David Letterman Show. He has written several biographical works; his most recent, co-authored with Paul Buhle, are Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History (illustrated by Gary Dumm) and The Beats: a Graphic History (illustrated by Ed Piskor). Harvey is also a prolific book and jazz critic.

How I Got Into Comics

Harvey discusses his relationship to comics throughout his life, starting with his childhood collecting days and his interest in Mad Magazine. He became disenchanted with the formulaic nature of the comics of that time, but a lucky meeting with underground comics icon Robert Crumb would make him re-evaluate the medium. Crumbs work made him realize, “Hey, I was wrong about comics. You can write about anything in comics. If I start writing comics in areas that their producers ignored, like realism, I might at least get a footnote in history.” And so his journey began.

The American Splendor Movie

No one was more surprised than Harvey Pekar at the interest certain producers such as director/producer Jonathan Demme (The Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia) took in his comic, American Splendor. Why, thought Harvey, would they want to option a book that only sold a few thousand copies a year? But it wasn’t until Harvey was about to retire from his job as a file clerk in the Veteran’s Administration, that an illustrator friend of his in New York told him Indie movie producer Ted Hope wanted to make an American Splendor film. Hope had many Sundance entries, and two had become Grand Jury Prize winners: What Happened Was and The Brothers McMullen.

With funding from HBO, American Splendor was produced, with Harvey, his wife, and friends playing themselves at times. A film that broke the fourth wall in ways no other film had done, American Splendor not only became Hope’s third Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner, but also won the FIPRESCI Award at the 2003 Cannes Film Festival, the Critics prize at the 2003 Deauville Film Festival, and was nominated for five Spirit Awards and one Academy Award. It also brought Harvey some much-needed income at a crucial time in his life.

Hear Harvey tell tales of his experiences making the American Splendor movie.

















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