by Kevin Czap
Last night I spent the evening at the Dobama Theater, a part of the Cleveland Public Library, to join in a celebratory memorial service for Harvey Pekar. I hope all of you reading this know how significant a figure Harvey is, but if not, I wrote a bit about what him and his work means to me at my other blog shortly after he passed last July. For more information, there’s no shortage of writing about (and written by) him. Anyway, the purpose of this event Tuesday night was to get together with a portion of the community that knew and supported Harvey throughout his life. Some folks had come up through grade school with him, some had only known him tangentially as a part of the culture of Coventry Road. My big take away from the event is that one of the most important things Pekar’s work did was to highlight real people, real lives, and in that little community theater it was all right there.
After a reception of donuts and orange “pop,” everyone gathered into the theater to listen to each other share stories and poems and blog posts about their memories of Harvey. A lot of tearjerkers, a lot of little anecdotes that highlighted new aspects of Pekar’s life (one old friend, after speaking about how she knew him, was revealed to have been the unwitting unrequited crush, portrayed by the curly-haired redhead in the movie version of American Splendor), all keeping to the spirit of Harvey’s honest take on life. At one point we were treated to a special reading of an excerpt of the forthcoming book Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland, coming out sometime early next year from Top Shelf. That book has been high on my list of anticipated releases since it was announced – I think it’s some of the best artwork we’ve seen Pekar paired with in a while (which is really saying something) and it’s a full-on account of this city I’ve adopted that he stayed true to for so long.
I’ve been harping a lot about scenes for about as long as I’ve been writing for the Comix Cube, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. But I want to be clear that it’s not coming from some urge to validate comics or to project some kind of image. It’s simply that I see a healthy, personal community of people working together in the flesh is the best way to have a society. I get such an amazing feeling when I interact with others – I get the same feeling when I can see the results of such a community in a place like Cleveland, brought together in whatever small ways by the consistency of Harvey Pekar. What makes Harvey such an inspiration for me is that this is a big part of what his comics are about.
One of the major points of the evening last night was Joyce Brabner’s (Harvey’s wife, co-author on several projects and writer in her own right) reading. Through it, she conveyed that the couple was, at least in part, driven by the conviction that great things are not the sole dominion of the gifted few. As great and as one-of-a-kind as Harvey was, part of his whole point was that anyone can do what he did. Anyone can find something to write about if they feel so inclined. Anyone can self-publish a comic. As Darryl calls them in his recent posts, “normal comics” are the domain of everyone, since everyone lives a normal life. Part of what Pekar and Brabner are highlighting is that these so-called normal lives are significantly more interesting than a lot of us give them credit. For me, this idea is still revolutionary, and is major fuel for the work I do.
Finally, as part of a mission to spread this idea, Joyce is beginning a kickstarter campaign to fund a statue of Harvey and comics to be built at the library. This would be a really important landmark to have in Cleveland, and so I hope you can donate or help spread the word. Check out this facebook page for more info and updates. According to Brabner, the plan is begin the fundraiser on November 1st.