Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Practical creativity (a tribute)

I first was introduced to the work of Harvey Pekar in 2003, when the movie "American Splendor" came out. For those who might not know, he was a writer who had the brilliant idea of using the comic book form as serious essay and autobiography, with a little humor thrown in, too. Even though he had no drawing ability, he developed a way to work with artists who did to create his stories, beginning in the 1970s with R. Crumb. This evolved into a series of comic books titled American Splendor -- an appellation both ironic and heartfelt.

After I saw the movie, I read a couple of the book-length collections of American Splendor and developed an appreciation for Pekar and his achievements. On the one hand, he depicted the little everyday happenings of his life -- going to a boring job day after day, buying groceries, finding an apartment, fixing a car -- but at the same time, he was celebrating their beauty, and their sheer American-ness. Many have described him as a depressed crank, but I think he was just telling it like it was. He styled himself as full of problems, but really, he was a remarkably intelligent person living the life of an ordinary human being.

Although he kvetched about his job as a file clerk at the Cleveland, Ohio, VA hospital, he also appreciated it and stayed there until retiring at the age of 62. The job grounded him, provided a living wage and sense of security that enabled him to indulge in his creative pursuits on his own time. His third marriage, to a fan, endured and ultimately settled into what seems like a happy home life. A native of Cleveland, he lived there all his life and expressed a real love for the place. In addition to writing American Splendor, he was a respected jazz and book critic and continued to keep irons in the fire (an ambitious blog project, an opera).

Call me crazy, but I find him an inspiration: This is someone who was able to survive and not only keep plugging away at his creative work on his own terms but send that work out into the world and turn it into something concrete and real that communicated with many other people.

Harvey Pekar died yesterday at age 70. From one of the commentors on the article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer:
Unlike some basketball player that just left, the loss of Mr. Pekar is a major loss for the city and literature. RIP Harvey
A very good obit here, from the Guardian.

No comments: