Harvey Pekar, known for his American Splendor graphic novels that shone a spotlight on the mundane aspects of daily life, died this morning in his Cleveland Heights home. The curmudgeonly writer drew from his own life, living his entire life on the east side of Cuyahoga County and working as a file clerk at the Veteran’s Administration. He depicted accurately the kinds of desultory, rambling conversations people have with co-workers and casual friends. Even when writing about a dramatic incident in his life — his cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment in the early 1990s, which were the focus of his 2004 book, Our Cancer Year, written with his wife Joyce Brabner — he drilled down into the prosaic details that make up the texture of life experience.
Pekar also wrote books and columns for numerous alternative and specialty publications on many subjects in addition to his own life, including the Beats, Students for a Democratic Society, and the travails of his hometown. But few subjects engaged him as consistently as jazz, one of his lifelong passions. In the ’70s, he was such an avid record collector he said he wished jazz would die as a living musical form so that the number of recordings would be finite and it would be possible to collect every one. He later became less fanatic about collecting, but his love for the music always remained.
Pekar became more widely known outside Cleveland with the release of the 2003 film, American Splendor, starring Paul Giamatti, channeling Pekar as a nebbishy sadsack of the Woody Allen school. Pekar also appeared as himself in the critically praised indie film.
Pekar is survived by his wife and their foster daughter, Danielle. — Anastasia Pantsios