Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Harvey Pekar, 1929-2010

Harvey Pekar
I only met Harvey Pekar once, at the Cannes Film Festival, where he was helping promote the film based on his autobiographical comic-book series, American Splendor which starred Paul Giamatti as Pekar. He was as dry and dour and grumpy as I expected him to be, which made for a very interesting interview. (He was there with his wife Joyce.)

Here's Pekar on the David Letterman show.


Hal Gracie said...

I never really made up my mind about Pekar’s work (what I read anyway), but sad news. Loved the film of American Splendor. I’ve had ‘Our Movie Year’ on my ‘to read’ pile for a few years now.

Finished your Comic Art book finally. Very interesting stuff. A lot of it was news to me. Like Kevin Smith, I’m still a bit bemused by the whole penciller / inker thing. Even knowing the difference, I wonder why an artist would want to be one of those and not both on his own work. Interesting to see some samples too – Dave Gibbons seems to do more detailed thumbnails than Steve Dillon’s pencils.

I think I knew this book existed a decade ago when I picked up the other one. But given I might have tried to write a script in comic book format at some point (I didn’t), I can’t do much drawing wise beyond stick figures, so thought I wouldn’t get much from the second book. If anything, I think it would be even more useful to budding comic book writers than the first volume.

There were a couple of artists I didn’t really care for. J.Scott Campbell being one of them. I’m sure he’s a fine artist and good bloke, but – just my prejudices here – his work seems to stand for everything that I think is wrong in comics. Maybe the creators deserved the new freedoms and cash Image brought them, and maybe DC and Marvel deserved the competition. But I just think that the readers didn’t deserve it. All of these books simply cloned and repackaged, with the artists deciding that they were all writers too. Maybe Danger Girl is a comics classic, but I couldn’t help thinking that 15 year old boys would be better off with a copy of Razzle. And at least given Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman started off writing for magazines like that, there’s a chance the stories there would be more imaginative.

I thought with Joe Quesada it would be more of the same, but his interview was quite revealing. I’m not sure I would ever read a comic in the same way again, seeing loads of scene setting and pointers for readers just joining with that issue, etc.

Good to have a couple of the ‘photo realistic’ artists interviewed too. At one point I thought this was the future and old-school art was on the way out. Didn’t happen though, and it looks like neither McKean or Ross are engaged in anything bar covers anymore. It’s a real shame that Brian Bolland went that way too.

20+ years ago I remember meeting a bloke called Igor Goldkind, a bigwig at Fleetway if I recall. It was obvious he’d been the photo model for a bad guy in Gaiman & McKean’s Black Orchid and it kinda freaked me out. He looked like a bond villain and even had a name to match.

John Romita Jnr was my favourite of the interviewees. I really warmed to him and, although the likes of Spider-man #whatever isn’t on my shopping list, I thought I’d like to see what he’s up to today. I had no idea he was the Kick-Ass illustrator, another item on my unread pile (I obviously don't pay proper attention to the artist credit). Probably a nice little earner, that one. Good for him.

Anyway, loved the book and it’s sent me right back to Volume #1. I can’t believe it’s over a decade since that came out.

Hal Gracie said...

Pekar was only 70, btw.

Mark Salisbury said...

So glad you liked it Hal. It's been so long since I worked on it, but your comments certainly take me back. I do remember enjoying my chats with Bolland, Gibbons, Dillon, Quesada, Romita and Hitch in particular.

A couple of the inclusions were, I seem to recall, suggested by the publisher, including J. Scott Campbell who had something of a following at the time and who maybe feels a little out of place today...

Adam said...

I met Harvey (and Giamatti) at a screening of the film in London. They were both jetlagged and spaced out, plus I think Harvey was still getting over his second bout of cancer (sounds like the third did for him...).
I loved the comics, and I'm glad I did my (little) bit for getting the collections published in the UK. As his collaborator Dean Haspiel wrote in the LA Times:
'Dollars to donuts, Harvey is already writing scripts for the likes of Picasso and Michelangelo to draw and giving them crap about their fancy-pants layouts while toasting an ice cold glass of orange soda with Raymond Carver, Henry Miller and Van Gogh; listening to Joe Maneri play some freestyle jazz with Thelonius Monk.'
RIP Harv!

Mark Salisbury said...

RIP indeed. But I'm sure Harv will have something to say about that...