There are many autobiographical comics out online and in the world. But, no one did it better than Harvey Pekar. Here’s a great discussion by fellow Crossroads Alpha member Jason Sacks from Comics Bulletin

Harvey Pekar and American Splendor: A Comics Bulletin discussion

A column article, Classic Comics Cavalcade by: Eric Hoffman, Jason Sacks

This past Sunday, Jason and Eric sat down to discuss Harvey Pekar and his singular comic book American Splendor. This first part of a two-part discussion discusses the cultural and aesthetic impact of American Splendor on the comic book medium.

American Splendor

Eric Hoffman: I think it’s important that Harvey Pekar essentially began a subgenre of comics. With so many autobiographical comics out there today – Persepolis, Joe Sacco’s journalism, Bechdel’s Fun Home – it’s easy to forget that, much like Bill Monroe did with bluegrass, Pekar almost single-handedly invented a genre. Aside from R. Crumb and Justin Green, there really wasn’t anybody else doing that at the time – and anyway, Crumb and Green produced a less extensive a body of autobiographical work. Pekar was ahead of everybody: Maus – one of the more noteworthy early experiments in autobiographical comics – didn’t get going until about four years after Pekar began publishing (American Splendor began publication in 1976, the year of the bicentennial, and Maus in 1980). Pekar also inspired many of the notable late 1980s/early 1990s autobiographical comics – Seth (whose work is more or less meta-autobio), Chester Brown, Joe Matt or Julie Doucet. Lynda Barry’s work is also worth mentioning, yet her work is distinguished by her admitting that much of it is fictional, though inspired by autobiographical elements. So Pekar really seemed to be the one breaking new ground.

Jason Sacks: He talks quite a bit in his early strips about how creating these comics was a creative outlet for him, alongside his reviews of jazz music and literature, but that comics were a financially losing proposition. So along with really breaking new ground, he really did sacrifice himself for his art. But the autobio elements of Pekar’s work aren’t necessarily the powerful aspects of it for me. Like with Justin Green’s work and R. Crumb’s work, so much of what Pekar delivers is powerful and interesting because of the way he presents it – his naturalistic approach. He was very much blazing his own trail with his own very specific approach. That’s what made him so interesting when I discovered his material in 1985 and still what makes him compelling in 2014.

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Eric: What he devised – naturalistic, autobiographical comics – is on the surface such an elegantly simple idea. You have to wonder, why hadn’t anyone thought of this before? Okay, Justin Green had, maybe, or R. Crumb, but not in any sustained way – and Pekar certainly had exposure to the undergrounds; all of his pre-Splendor work was published in underground comix, beginning in 1972. Crumb’s early work was important – Pekar singles out The Big Yum Yum Book as being crucial to showing him that more could be done with comics than the superheroes or funny animal or genre work (western, science fiction, horror) that dominated the medium. The undergrounds, if they utilized any generic conventions associated with the medium, often did so in an ironic, satirical way, but for the most part the undergrounds were essentially humoristic – they satirized politics, sexuality, and so on – there was an irreverence there that for the more literary Pekar maybe put them on the same level of inconsequentiality as the superhero and funny animal stuff.

Jason: Pekar was a very literary minded guy and loved jazz. He was a working class intellectual, a man who never went to college and who had a series of shit jobs out of high school but nevertheless had a literary approach to the world. I think it’s clear from his early, Crumb-illustrated strips like “The Young Crumb Story” and “How I Quit Collecting Records” that Pekar was both open and closed in his mind, by which I mean he was open to new ideas and concepts and closed to doing things that didn’t reflect his specific view of the world.

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Eric: I would agree with that assessment. Pekar’s work in comics is fairly linear. It breaks new ground but once his voice was established it essentially did not deviate from the naturalistic storytelling he developed early on.

Jason: It’s fascinating that his work with all the different artists allows Pekar to create work with different approaches and energies. The stories illustrated by Crumb are very different from the Gary Dumm stories or the Sue Cavey stories. And that gives his work a wonderful sense of diversity as he works in the same general genre. Some of his pieces are very detailed and, for want of a better term, story-like. “An Everyday Horror Story” and “A Marriage Album” are stories being told by a writer, but their tones are different from each other because Gerry Shamray’s approach is so different from Val Mayerik’s. And that approach is different from some of his more observational pieces.

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Eric: Pekar was quite astute at choosing artists for particular stories, I’ll grant him that. Because of finances, he had to hire a lot of local, Cleveland-based cartoonists to illustrate his work – Shamray, Dumm, Greg Budgett and Joe Zabel – and these guys weren’t always the most technically proficient, so that also contributed to American Splendor’s underground feel, though as you mention Pekar did also use, especially later, a number of above-ground, professional artists, including Mayerik (who incidentally illustrated the Cleveland-based Howard the Duck, whose script duties Pekar was offered in the wake of Steve Gerber’s leaving Marvel). I think that the financial restraints of American Splendor really helped to shape its presentation – Pekar published Splendor in magazine format, I think because for the printers he used that was less expensive than comic-sized, and on cheap newsprint.

Sacks: Because of that, the comic has a hand-created feel, especially the self-published issues before Pekar went on Letterman and eventually his comic went to Dark Horse and Vertigo. I didn’t know they offered Pekar the writing chores on Howard!

Eric: That’s an interesting story in and of itself. Of course Pekar turned Howard the Duck down. But getting back to a discussion of Pekar’s establishing a literary form, you mention that Pekar was an intellectual guy, well-read, and Pekar’s use of comics to create what is essentially a literary body of work also sets him apart even from any other autobiographical cartoonists. Consider his background: an autodidact, a jazz critic, an omnivorous reader of literature – his list of favorite authors includes Emile Zola, Anton Chekhov (which is notable as some critics have gone so far as to label Pekar “an American Chekhov”), Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Dostoevsky, George Ade. In an introduction to one of the numerous American Splendor trade paperback anthologies Crumb meeting Pekar in 1962 describes him as a “hipster” who listened to modern jazz, spoke with a “bop lingo . . . seething, intense . . . always moving, pacing, jumping around, just like a character out of Kerouac.” Pekar’s often said that he didn’t read very many comic books and it was largely because he wasn’t at all interested in superheroes. Again, quoting Crumb’s introduction, the “subject matter of [Pekar’s] stories is so staggeringly mundane, it verges on the exotic! . . . Pekar has proven once and for all that even the most dreary and monotonous of lives is filled with poignancy and heroic struggle.” Pekar instead finds the heroism of the everyday considerably more interesting than the “adolescent male power fantasy” of superheroes, which he describes in a 1994 interview as “consistently . . . the worst,” a generic convention that “prevents talented writers and artists from doing other, conceivably better, work.” Those are pretty strong words, and, though I don’t entirely agree with him – there are some artists and writers whom I don’t think would have any interest whatsoever in the medium if it weren’t for the superhero – Pekar does make a point that comic books up until very recently were considered illegitimate, in part because of the adolescent mindset of this dominant genre, one that for a considerable length of time stunted and limited the medium’s growth. Pekar was essentially utilizing an established literary genre – autobiography – in the medium of comics. Unlike Green or Crumb, or a number of the later creators he inspired, Pekar wasn’t a comic book creator who decided to do autobiography. He was an autobiographer who decided to do comics.

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Jason: You lead beautifully into why I was so intrigued by Pekar when I first discovered his work. As we’ve discussed many times, my beginnings come with the super-hero comics of the 1970s, especially the comics of the young turks and rule-breakers like Steve Gerber, who is still one of my favorite writers of all time. One of the comics that Gerber wrote and that I reread over and over again was “Star Wauggh,” a Howard the Duck two-part parody of you-know-what, illustrated by Mayerik. I must have read and reread that comic twenty times in the late 1970s. Flash forward a half dozen years and I’m starting college and wander into a well-curated bookstore to look for an intellectually stimulating book or magazine. And on the magazine rack next to the Utne Reader and the New York Review of Books was American Splendor #10, with a cover drawn by Mayerik. On the cover Joyce is shooting dagger eyes at Harvey as he washes dishes and thinks “Poor dishwashing has always been my Achilles heel… if I could upgrade my dishwashing I could really disarm my enemies.

American Splendor

Eric: That’s a great cover.

Jason: That was a kind of mind-blowing moment for me as a comics fan – the juxtaposition of a mainstream cartoonist into such a different moment.

Eric: This was an independent bookstore you were in?

Jason: Yes, and of course that store is gone now. What made it so amazing for me was this strange juxtaposition – a man I associated with mainstream comics was doing something completely different that showed a different way of creating comics . . . which is then followed inside the issue by “A Marriage Album,” illustrated by Mayerik, which stands among Pekar’s finest stories.

Eric: I can imagine how disconcerting that must have been to see that cover.

Jason: Not disconcerting. It was thrilling. A whole new world of comics was promised behind that cover.

Eric: What’s interesting is that Harvey Pekar is definitely not Superman, he’s not a hero. That’s the irony of the comic’s title, because America, especially in a post-industrial city in decline like Cleveland, is not splendorous. There are minor triumphs, even if they are simply moments of sweet relief, like finding one’s car keys, or avoiding a small catastrophe. There’s enough in the way of those achievements that sometimes it seems a triumph in just being able to avoid a defeat.

Jason: Right. Harvey’s not a hero as much as a survivor.

Eric: Yes, that’s a very good distinction.

Jason: As the Mayerik cover says “Harvey’s latest crapshoot…”

Eric: Pekar was brilliant at establishing a consistent, and consistently sympathetic comic book persona. Often the centerpiece of the stories, the character “Harvey Pekar” – in distinction to the actual Harvey Pekar – despite his being illustrated by a plethora of different artists (as you noted earlier), is surprisingly coherent. “Our man,” “our guy” – he’s this hapless, yet affable, working class schlub, perennially down on his luck, just trying to get through “the horror of another day,” celebrating life’s little glories and lamenting its many huge disappointments. It’s a very effective, empathetic persona – and very Jewish, let it be said: he’s the classic self-deprecatory, neurotic schlemiel – because he’s honest about his short-comings, and this in a way excuses his behavior and this makes “Harvey Pekar” an appealing, if somewhat curmudgeonly irascible, character.

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Jason: I like a lot of what you say there – the connection to the Jewish tradition of storytelling and the schlemiel at the center, the persona of Harvey that is a little different from the real Harvey, the way that the artists change our perception of Harvey as we experience his stories. He kind of lampoons himself in the David Letterman stories, which is part of why they’re uncomfortable in weird ways – more a self-parody than an exploration of himself.

Eric: Well, he was play-acting quite a bit in his Letterman appearances.

Jason: Clearly, and he alludes to that.

Eric: It’s interesting how Pekar self-reflexively toys with this sympathetic persona in his Letterman appearances. You mentioned this earlier, but I watched those performances on YouTube again recently, and it occurred to me that while at first he’s gently mocking the working-class schlub from Cleveland persona he’s known for in his comics, once he came to realize that neither Letterman nor Letterman’s audience had read those comics, that he realized the joke was essentially on him, as opposed to the opposite. Pekar probably was going to point out how this smart, hip NYC audience had nothing on the working class guy from the Midwest. He later stated that he went along with Letterman at first, but soon got tired of being the butt of Letterman’s jokes. I think by saying that, he’s essentially admitting that he was in over his head. It’s fairly obvious Letterman didn’t read his stuff and the interviews really lack substance; looking at Pekar’s work, it’s pretty clear that Pekar is big on substance. He wanted to sell his books, his appearances didn’t result in any significant uptick in book sales, and soon it really didn’t seem worth it to be condescended to.

Jason: Oh yeah, he obviously hated the slick huckster side of the TV appearances. He hoped to mock Dave and TV, but he was out of his league. Classic case of an intellectual veering into a space that he’s not ready to be in and getting cut off.

Eric: It was the right decision. The joke was really played out by the time of his final appearances. I think he pulled that CBS stunt (criticizing GE, then owner of the NBC network on which Letterman was aired, of their breaking antitrust laws and manufacturing parts of atomic weapons) on purpose, in order to stop the producers at Letterman from inviting him back. That and he was filled with righteous indignation and felt compelled to kill three birds with one stone: inject substance, air grievances, and sever his relationship with Late Night.

Jason: Much as I loved them at the time, they were ultimately destructive to his persona.

They’re compelling to watch and among the more interesting Letterman bits, but yeah, overall they were damaging. The thing is, I do see Pekar as an intellectual. Not just because he was extremely well-read (I mean, who studies Dreiser for fun?) but because his approach was with his intellect first. That dichotomy between high and low, so to speak; between the brainy guy who writes jazz criticism and overreacts to problems, and the ways that his emotions sometimes overcome that intellect.

Eric: Good point.

Jason: That’s a big part of what I empathize with in his work, myself, because I’m that type of person too (though not as well read and I am a college grad with a job that uses my brain).

Eric: I do see a lot of myself in Pekar. I write for Comics Bulletin, much as he wrote for jazz magazines, I publish books, I read “litchoor” and yet I’m also working two jobs and struggling to pay the bills. I think there are many people in similar situations as Pekar’s. Who in this day and age can make money writing or drawing comics? Very few.

Jason: Including many of the professionals working in the industry, right?

Eric: Exactly. And remember: it took a very long time for Pekar to turn a profit at American Splendor. That was largely because of the movie.

Jason: My dad was a lot like Pekar: with just a trade degree in culinary management and an ever-questing intellect, he kind of brought himself up by his intellectual bootstraps to learn a lot about the world. My dad was brilliant but never lost the “Brooklyn” side of him that lived on the streets and spoke Yiddish with his parents. So Pekar has a lot of resonance for me on a number of levels, but I think that could be true of anyone.

Eric: That’s something else I can relate to: an appreciation for more intellectual pursuits, but without the seemingly compulsory pretension many individuals think such interests afford them.

Jason: Yes, nicely said.

Eric: In one of his Letterman stories – the first one, I think – he says he’s going to give the audience what they want (or what he thinks they want). So in a way, the Letterman stories accurately represent his self-parody.

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Jason: Just taken to an extreme. Because, I mean, he stayed married to Joyce for many years and most women wouldn’t put up with the guy portrayed in his stories. Not the level of cheapness, self-involvement, and irascibility that he presents. Some of it is self-effacement and show, of course. But much of it is true as well. I’ve heard over and over that Pekar was a lot like the guy in his stories.

Eric: Joyce is often portrayed as being pretty fed up with him, though. In Our Cancer Year, she threatens to leave him a few times, and in other stories as well. I do think Pekar honestly portrayed her impatience with his behavior. His take on it seemed to be: hey, we both have a bunch of faults, I may have more than she has, but we both know that each of us is the only one who will put up with it, which is a pretty reasonable way to stay married, if you ask me.

Jason: True. I saw that in my parents, too, so it makes sense to me. They would drive each other insane but stick together no matter what.

Eric: You get to a point, I think, where you realize that this person may drive you crazy, but it’s a crazy you can live with, tolerate, maybe even come to love in a way. Whereas there’s the crazy you can’t live with, and you don’t know if the next person in line will be that person.

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Jason:Our Cancer Year is a pretty searing book in quite a few ways. The stress on each of them, the stress on their marriage, the existential thoughts it brings up. It was fascinating rereading “An Everyday Horror Story,” where Harvey loses his voice shortly after his second marriage and has existential doubts about his life, and “I’ll Be Forty-Three on Friday,” which is written while he’s adrift after his second divorce. It was as if those normal existential problems were nothing when compared to the Big C.

Eric: I think Our Cancer Year, which is really his first sustained narrative, is probably his most consequential work. It has its faults, which we can go into greater detail when we discuss individual stories later on. But what is great about Pekar, especially in a book like Our Cancer Year, and in many of his short stories, is that Pekar doesn’t try to hide his inadequacies from the reader, and this makes him more relatable. A 1994 interview quotes Pekar as saying: “I believe almost all of us lead dramatic, interesting lives and have a lot more in common than we realize . . . I try to write about various aspects of my life as accurately as possible, hoping people will be able to identify with my work and take comfort from it, realizing that I have some of the same problems they do, that they’re not unique in this respect.” I’d say he achieved that.

Jason: Yes, absolutely. That’s a great quote and is exactly how I felt rereading these stories. I seldom nod knowingly when reading comics, but I could see so much of myself and my family in his stories. Maybe that’s part of what we were getting at above: it’s naked autobiography, unembellished and unfiltered. It’s not sanitized. It presents Pekar with all his flaws and as such we can see ourselves in it.

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Eric: I find it interesting that following Pekar’s success with the 2003 film, his stories had somewhat lost their edge, their gravitas. Once he’d achieved some nominal success, and even though he continued working at the VA (to achieve his pension), his stories, especially in Our Movie Year, and in his later work with DC, dealt primarily with his newfound fame. I noticed that most of our favorite stories we chose to discuss derive from the first 16 issues of American Splendor, the self-published ones. It’s a fairly common story for a lot of artists. You always hear about that happening with musicians: their first record is their heart, their second record is their heads, and their third record is their wallet.

Jason: Despite the presence of some of the greatest artists in the world working on the post-movie work (Gilbert Hernandez, Joe Sacco), the resonance wasn’t there in those stories.

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Eric: There are a few exceptions but, yeah, for the most part I found myself thumbing through some of those later works looking in vain for a notable story to discuss. Many of them seemed sort of tossed off, anecdotal, or a kind of self-parody. Here’s another eccentric story featuring Toby Radloff or Mr. Boats, etc.

Jason: For all their flaws, the pieces by Sue Covey or Gary Dumm or Gerry Shamray (whose work I legitimately love) are somehow more powerful. Maybe more bespoke?

Eric: Maybe. As I said, his later work isn’t entirely without merit. Certainly he produced some of his best work late in the game: I’m quite fond of Ego & Hubris, his biography of Michael Malice. The Quitter, with Dean Haspiel, remains one of his better full-length works, though as an autobiography (this time his entire life up to the point of publication as opposed to the usual slices-of-life of which Splendor is primarily comprised), it does rehash some older material. The posthumous Cleveland, marvelously illustrated by Joseph Remnant, again while it covers a lot of the same material as The Quitter frames it within the context of the city in which Pekar spent his entire life and with which he will be forever associated in much the same way Joyce is associated with Dublin.

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Jason: The Remnant book is wonderful, yes.

Eric: Perhaps self-publication, the fact that it was his hard-earned money going into publishing the work, had something to do with the greater significance of those earlier stories.

Jason: I like how Pekar tried different approaches to his writing, taking on new ideas and approaches. That is the sign of someone who’s moved past First Album Syndrome and into long-time professional. The material may not be as good, but on some level he’s aware of that and tries to push himself. But the fact that he was doing obscure work that was only seen by a few people definitely fed what was great about his early work.

Eric: What’s interesting is that you can now see some of the stylistic conventions Pekar introduced in American Splendor, even in the later stories – narrative, tone, structure, timing and pacing; the timing and pacing really derives from the literary fiction Pekar read so voraciously – in the work of his descendants, especially Seth and Chester Brown, even when they are not working a strictly autobiographical vein. Joe Sacco’s work is worth noting, because his tone and structure are very Pekaresque as is his inserting himself into his journalistic pieces. That’s an interesting case of cross-pollination, I think, because Sacco has in turn influenced Pekar’s work., in particular the journalistic pieces Pekar did in the wake of Sacco’s Palestine – in particular Unsung Hero, Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me and (perhaps most explicitly) Macedonia, though obviously a lot of that comes from Brabner, whose work is pretty consistently overtly political: Brought to Light and Real War Stories, for example. Our Cancer Year includes a journalistic subplot involving his wife Brabner’s experiences with kids living in war zones – and that came out right on the heels of Palestine. Sacco also illustrated a number of Pekar’s later autobiographical work, and their collaborations are some of the better late Pekar.

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Jason: Yes, good point, and I’m not surprised to hear you reference Seth and Brown. I admire how Pekar stretched himself late in his career, and his influence was profound. But I think we’re saying “we liked his older, funny movies.”

Eric: In a way we are, yes. Though I think we both agree Pekar produced some of his best work after he ceased self-publishing, largely because of his bout with cancer. The last issue of Splendor, co-published with Tundra, came out in 1991, just after he was diagnosed, I think, and, aside from a few short mini-series and the piecemeal Our Movie Year book, nearly all of his output was in the “graphic novel” format, which certainly attests to the direction in which the medium has moved, particularly for his readership. He also did a few one-shots for Dark Horse. I’ve already mentioned Ego & Hubris, The Quitter and Cleveland. TheStudents for a Democratic Society, The Beats and his adaptation of Studs Turkel’s Working are interesting experiments with the comic book form, but primarily collaborative works and are basically extended essays in comics form, as are the Israel, Macedonia and Yiddishkeit works. Macedonia is especially self-indulgent; it’s basically a long essay presented in a comics form that isn’t at all naturalistic, narratively speaking. Israel, Macedonia and Yiddishkeit are the “words and pictures” philosophy Pekar espoused taken to a logical extreme. I don’t think you can do “just about anything you want to” in the comics format. Certain things work, and certain things don’t. Dave Sim took this same idea to another extreme in Reads and that work suffers equally for its going beyond what is useful in comics as a storytelling form. Of course, they are useful as cautionary tales in that those books really illustrate the limits of comics, or in a way highlight comic’s strengths by consistently underutilizing them. A number of these later Pekar works would have been better off as essays for Harper’s or the Atlantic. Our Movie Year and the travelogue Huntington, West Virginia on the Fly are also weaker Pekar, in that they are primarily short story collections that would have been better off presented in the pages of American Splendor.

Jason: The short form comic is pretty much something that you only see in mainstream comics, aside from Adrian Tomine. Pekar was a little ahead of the curve in moving away from the floppies to long-form. Perhaps we’re seeing a bit of a strain between his need to create short-form material and his real passion for long-form. I like your thought that he was trying to create material like the authors who he admired so much – and the feedback loop with other art comics creators is a part of that. He did a lot of stories with Frank Stack, who I know was a big advocate for long-form graphic novels too.

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Eric: Pekar also seems to have been ahead of the curve with regards to self-publishing. At that time, the only self-published comics were Wally Wood’s witzend and Jack Katz’s First Kingdom. Cerebus didn’t start up until the year after Pekar started Splendor and the Pinis’ Elfquest came a year after that. So he was really one of the first to take advantage of the then newly-established direct market. He was less successful than, say, the Pinis or Dave Sim – Pekar’s print runs were fairly small, only about 10,000 copies at its height, I think, of which he probably sold only enough to pay his artists and for the print run – and I don’t know if the Pinis or Sim were as aware of American Splendor as they were of First Kingdom, but nevertheless he was at the forefront of that push in the late 1970s toward the direct market

Jason: It’s interesting, though, because no matter what you think of the aesthetic quality of his later works, Pekar was always an innovator, always pushing the medium in ways that reflected his own personality. I admire that and appreciate it. The analogy to Sim is a good one because Sim did so much of the same thing, following his muse to create work that is innovative and interesting throughout his career, but ultimately in my opinion the latter half of Cerebus detracts from the first half.

Eric: Late Pekar is certainly much preferable to Late Sim.

Jason: Agreed. I interviewed the Pinis several months ago and they referenced Sim and Katz but not Pekar. Harvey was seen as more underground, I think, with the Crumb connection.

Eric: I suppose so. But in a way Pekar sort of establishes that link between undergrounds and ground-level publishing. Funny, I never thought of that before, but someone writing a history of the self-publishing movement could certainly make a case for that. I don’t know how aware Sim or the Pinis were of Pekar, but in a way it doesn’t matter because ultimately, Pekar beat them to seeing the inherent potential in the direct market for distribution of self-published material. Direct distribution made it possible for Pekar to get his work out there. As I said, during his period of self-publication – essentially the first sixteen issues of American Splendor which ran from 1976 to 1991 – he wasn’t a runaway success, even after appearing on Late Night with David Letterman and achieving a minor celebrity status, he couldn’t quit his day job as a file clerk at the VA. Having R. Crumb illustrate early stories was also important, and strengthened his resolve, reassured him that he had talent. I mean, who wouldn’t think they had talent if R. Crumb offered to draw their strip for them? Maybe an underground publisher might have published Splendor had he started it a few years earlier than he did, but by 1976 most of those publishers had closed up shop once the underground comix movement collapsed in about 1975 under its own inertia (and once Marvel Comics got in on the act, publishing Comix Book around that time). I always wondered why a publisher like Fantagraphics didn’t pick him up – they started publishing Love and Rockets in 1982. It wasn’t until the 1990s that Pekar, due to health reasons, ceased self-publication, if you don’t count the anthologies that were published by major book publishers (Doubleday) and distributed in bookstores in the 1980s, during that first push toward legitimization of the medium inaugurated by the publication of collected editions of Maus, The Dark Knight Returns, and Watchmen, among others, and marketed to bookstores like B. Dalton and Waldenbooks. A decade later and Pekar is being published by DC. Of course, DC only undertook publication after the movie was a financial success.

Jason: It’s kind of an amazing transformation in a small number of years – reflective in part of the fact that publishers were desperate for new material in the wake of the 1986 Renaissance – that Pekar went from self-published to Doubleday. He alludes to that in one of his stories, that the placement at Doubleday gave him a certain amount of legitimacy. I wonder if Vertigo sold him on the book with the same sort of promises.

Continued in Part Two: Jason and Eric discuss their favorite American Splendors.

© 2014 Jason Sacks and Eric Hoffman

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