Harvey Pekar dead at age 70

Harvey Pekar American SplendorSad news today as it was learned that comic book legend Harvey Pekar, creator of American Splendor and inspiration for the movie of the same name, passed away at age 70.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer is reporting:

Pekar, 70, was found dead shortly before 1 a.m. today by his wife, Joyce Brabner, in their Cleveland Heights home, said Powell Caesar, spokesman for Cuyahoga County Coroner Frank Miller. An autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death. Pekar and his wife, Joyce Brabner, wrote “Our Cancer Year,” a book-length comic, after Pekar was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 1990 and underwent a grueling treatment.

The New York Daily News is reporting:

No cause of death has been released, but Cannon said Pekar suffered from prostate cancer, asthma, high blood pressure and depression.

Pekar’s ailments were well-known to readers of “American Splendor” comic books, which chronicled the gruff Ohio native’s attempts to earn a buck in a world under siege by bureaucracy and idiocy. Pekar started self-publishing his stories in 1976, and became enough of a cult hit to be invited on David Letterman’s show several times in the ‘80s.

“I could be a way-worse person than I am,” Pekar told the News in 2005 when he released the graphic novel, “The Quitter.” “I realize that I’m pretty flawed, but you know – I haven’t killed anybody yet.”

It wasn’t until the 2003 release of the movie, “American Splendor,” starring Paul Giamatti as Pekar, that mainstream America really got to know all about the writer’s flaws, his bizarre courtship of his beloved wife Joyce Brabner, the adoption of their foster daughter, Danielle, and his heart-breaking struggle with cancer.

“Beneath the well-known gruff exterior, Harvey was a deeply compassionate person and of course, a brilliant mind,” said Jonathan Vankin, and editor of Pekar’s at Vertigo Comics, via email. “He created, almost single handedly, an entirely new kind of comics and his commitment to what he did was absolute and uncompromising. We’ve all suffered a huge loss today, in comics of course, but also in American culture.”

Not bad for the son of poor Polish immigrants, who was discharged from the Navy after only four weeks and dropped out of college, before landing a mind-numbingly boring civil service job. Somehow he made the mundane seem exotic.

“Harvey lived life and every last detail was written and drawn and published,” artist and frequent collaborator Dean Haspiel said. “The best way to honor Pekar now is to read his life, just like he would have wanted you to.”

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