When you live in Cleveland it's hard to transcend
October 9, 2012 8:49 PM   Subscribe

"From off the streets of Cleveland" goes the tagline for American Splendor, but in fact, from 1972 to the end of his life, Harvey Pekar lived in nearby Cleveland Heights. Much of that time was spent inside the Cleveland Heights Library.

On October 14, a memorial and statue honoring Harvey Pekar's work will be dedicated inside the library, "Harvey's first love and second home".

The memorial is Joyce Brabner's response to the drive to erect a statue over her late husband's grave. After Harvey died in 2010. . .
there were all these New York folks banging the drum, saying Harvey needs a statue, he was a working class hero, a literary lion, our man. I thought they were nuts . . . The New York Times asked me whether there'd be a statue of Harvey and I said, are you kidding? . . . This city has never been able to raise enough money to build a statue of Superman, who was created not so very far away from Harvey's old neighborhood.
Harvey is buried in Lakeview Cemetery, along with several other colorful figures from Cleveland's past, including John D. Rockefeller and President James A. Garfield. Readers of American Splendor will remember that Joyce debuted in Issue #9 with a visit to the Garfield Monument, the centerpiece of Lakeview Cemetery, a short walk from where Pekar lived at the time.
Harvey was planted next to Eliot Ness, one untouchable beside another.
A fundraiser was held to cover burial expenses. There was more talk of raising a statue at the gravesite . . .
[at the fundraiser] I made a crack on-stage about how we could orient the statue so it might look as if Harvey was flipping the bird at John D. Rockefeller.
As it happens, sculptor Justin Coulter was tending bar at the event. He'd just lost his job at a bronze casting foundry . . .
In no time after, I was looking at these clay maquettes of Harvey . . .
Kickstarter was engaged for funding; eventually over 800 people raised $38,356.

In keeping with Harvey's status as a collaborative artist, an interactive design eventually emerged, disqualifying the gravesite as a home for the memorial. Finally, the memorial found a home indoors at Harvey's second home, the main branch of the Cleveland Heights - University Heights Library.

The memorial is intended to be a place to encourage patrons to think about comics, a place to read and even make comics.
[It's] about celebrating what he did in graphic novels, comic books for grown ups, comic books as literature, comic book auto-biography . . . That's something I could be behind, celebration not celebrity.
Yes, bronze Harvey emerges from off the page of comic-book Cleveland, but there's also a slate board with ruled panels on the back -- a blank comic book page in waiting -- and a desk to be kept filled with chalk, paper and pencils.

The memorial bears three inscriptions; two in English, one in Yiddish:
“Comics are words and pictures. You can make anything you want with words and pictures.”
“Anybody's life story is potentially the source of a great novel, comic book or movie.”
“Oy! What do you want from my life anyway?”
The dedication event is entitled “Harvey Pekar: A Literary, Library Life,” and will feature a presentation by JT Waldman, the illustrator who collaborated with Pekar on his posthumously published graphic novel, Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me.
I want people who make comics, read comics, and enjoy comics to know that I believe in this art form . . .

Harvey believed in comics.

He lived out his life in comics.
Links
Seth Kushner's Culture Pop #25: Harvey Pekar, Tribute to "Our Man" featuring Josh Neufield, Dean Haspiel, Ted Hope, Shari Springer-Berman, Robert Pulcini, Michael Taylor, Joseph Remnant, Jeff Newlet, and Joyce Brabner. I pulled many of the Brabner quotes from here.
The Pekar Memorial Kickstarter site linked above provides some background, including several video clips.
Harvey Pekar Statue in Progress: Update #4 (Oct 08)
Harvey Pekar Statue: Hot! Hot! Metal! (Sep 30)
Harvey Pekar Statue Update: What Joyce Did With Her Wedding Ring (Sep 11)
Harvey Pekar Statue Under Construction (Aug 30)
 
posted by Herodios (22 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'd wanted to finish this yesterday -- it would have been Harvey's 73rd birthday -- but I didn't make it in time.

"Well, there's a reliable disappointment."
 
posted by Herodios at 8:50 PM on October 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


I feel like this post deserves a more insightful response, but all I can think at the moment is "thank you". Despite loving the little I knew of Pekar (mostly in American Splendor), I hadn't realized he'd died, and am touched by these reactions.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 9:07 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


That library was kinda my "second home," too. I'd see Harvey in there on occasion but never wanted to keep him from reading.
posted by Artnchicken at 9:09 PM on October 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


I donated! I hope to someday visit the statue.
posted by feckless at 9:23 PM on October 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Harvey was a good guy. I wish I'd spent more time talking to hm.
posted by mwhybark at 9:24 PM on October 9, 2012


I wonder how Harvey would have regarded the whole idea of a statue of himself, given his proletariat leanings? Maybe that's a subject for a lecture in the Pekar Studies series that will inevitably happen at some university, somewhere (Case Western, maybe?) in the future.

Still wish I'd gotten to meet him in person.
posted by motown missile at 9:38 PM on October 9, 2012


Great post, thanks so much. I really enjoyed Harvey Pekar's work, and am glad to see tribute being paid to him. Somehow, he made ordinariness seem special.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 10:34 PM on October 9, 2012


I never knew or met Pekar, but I do have an American Splendor story. One of the volumes he wrote was about someone I went to high school with. The book came out, and the reviews went on about how this character was ridiculous and unbelievable, his motivations and psychology a mess so absurd that this couldn't be close to real life. And then I read the book, and Pekar just nailed the guy, it was totally the person I knew from my teens. The story was such an accurate picture of a ridiculous figure that it came out too ridiculous to believe, and was thus 100% accurate. I became a fan after that, and I still am.
posted by 1adam12 at 11:41 PM on October 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


Now I'm sad all over again that Pekar is dead.

Thanks for the very nicely put-together post, I guess.
posted by item at 3:42 AM on October 10, 2012


Top notch FPP - thanks. Harvey's ornery refusal to knuckle under in the face of depression, a "flunky job", romantic blowouts, poor health . . . it was a little bit of inspiration, for a long time, when I needed it. "Every day's a brand new deal, right? Just keep on workin' and sump'n's bound ta turn up" is still kind of a mantra for me.

Hope that I get a chance to visit the statue.
posted by ryanshepard at 3:48 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


> I wonder how Harvey would have regarded the whole idea of a statue of himself, given his proletariat leanings?

By description, it's a small statue on top of a desk that is intended to be stocked with paper and pencils for people to use. And the back is meant for people to draw comics on. There can't be a more appropriate memorial.
posted by ardgedee at 4:07 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fantastic story, great post. Thanks to all involved!
posted by whuppy at 6:06 AM on October 10, 2012


Well. This is nice.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:18 AM on October 10, 2012


It was my childhood and adolescent library too, and it set a standard that no local library has lived up to since; but on going back, of course, it's changed a lot too. Local libraries have evolved to meet different needs, and I know that that's good because that's what the needs are now, so they should evolve to meet them, and indeed have to to survive; but I can't help but be a little sad about it.

Anyway. This is a good thing.
posted by longtime_lurker at 6:22 AM on October 10, 2012


Seeing Harvey shrugging at the world forever makes me tear up even now. His work did so much for me when I was younger. Dammit. Great truibute.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:39 AM on October 10, 2012


I was two blocks from the library during my 4 years in Cleveland (went often, never saw Harvey). Cleveland Heights is a great town.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 7:21 AM on October 10, 2012


I never knew or met Pekar, but I do have an American Splendor story. One of the volumes he wrote was about someone I went to high school with. The book came out, and the reviews went on about how this character was ridiculous and unbelievable, his motivations and psychology a mess so absurd that this couldn't be close to real life. And then I read the book, and Pekar just nailed the guy, it was totally the person I knew from my teens. The story was such an accurate picture of a ridiculous figure that it came out too ridiculous to believe, and was thus 100% accurate. I became a fan after that, and I still am.

If you are talking about who I think you are talking about, I whole-heartedly agree based on my limited interactions with him as a "friend" of a friend, and I say that with no malice.

Also, the original Chef Boyardee (Biordi) is buried in Lakeview. Of course, like the typical Cleveland story, he invented his sauce in Cleveland early last century but made his money in Pittsburgh (if I am remembering the story right).
posted by Falconetti at 8:58 AM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for this. I still miss Harvey.
posted by languagehat at 9:15 AM on October 10, 2012


I had a chance to interview Harvey Pekar when the Michael Malice book came out (which was one of the most exciting things I've ever done). When I went out to the lobby to get him, it was somehow as if the entire room had been "American Splendor"-ized.

I can't explain it, but somehow the visual effect of Harvey Pekar was such that he looked completely, freakishly real while everything else in the room looked like it had been drawn around him, as it was in some of the scenes in the "American Splendor" movie.

And he was exactly like you'd expect--crabby, shlumpy, totally unglossy. It was wonderful.
posted by supercoollady at 9:59 AM on October 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I know Joyce and think she's fabulous -- I can't even imagine the amount of work that went into putting this together, which is why both my husband and I were pleased to contribute to the Kickstarter that helped make it happen. It couldn't be in a better location -- that was one of my favorite libraries when I lived on that side of town. Can't wait to see it in person soon.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 11:07 AM on October 10, 2012


Harvey knew the real action was access to the stacks at Cleveland Public Library -- 'the people's university™'. After 1982, CLEVNET joined the CH-UH system to CPL and you could get almost anything held at CPL loaned to your local branch up in The Heights without going downtown -- if you were willing to wait for it.

According to the Pee Dee, CPL is also honoring Harvey with a special edition Harvey Pekar Library Card, bearing his likeness as rendered by Joseph Remnant (illustrator of Havey Pekar's Cleveland. If Crumb was dead, I'd say Remnant was channelling him).


Has Cleveland reached Peak Pekar?
 
posted by Herodios at 10:22 AM on October 11, 2012


Follow-ups and Piccies:

A close-up
Unveiling (brief video)
Pee Dee Eight pics. Several views.
Cleveland Jewish News
Chopper 5

Went. T'was nice. Good crowd. Many memories of Harvey by library staff. A bit of insight into the collaborative process. Some video. A song.

Went upstairs for the unveiling. Joyce notes that the HP memorial comics desk is near where the 'graphic novels' are held -- and that at CH, they're prominently displayed and available to read without "white gloves and plastic wrappers."

There are quite a lot of them.

A locked drawer contains among other things, books that inspired Harvey. I share with Harvey a fondness for the Homer Price stories, particularly, The Donuts (natch) and the Super-Duper, which no doubt contributed to Harvey's views of superhero comics before Marvel was Marvel.

The crowd wasted no time making comics on the memorial's blank slate panels, but not being big on crowds, I thinned out long before it did. Maybe I'll stop by and scrawl something there later.

Final thought from Joyce: "Library cards are more valuable than charge cards."
posted by Herodios at 11:59 AM on October 15, 2012


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