Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Anna-Liza & Steve Suehiro-Harvey Pekar Tribute & The Deep Funk

Anna-Liza on her connection to Pekar :

Steve had heard about Harvey’s comics back in college. I was into comics as a kid, but it was mostly DC, Marvel, and Image stuff. I loved the combination of a well-drawn piece and a good story, but I wasn’t satisfied with most of the stories that were out there so I out grew those comics. I still had a passion for the art though, and I even drew the covers of my favorite comics which, at that time, were X-men and The Maxx. I think it was back in 2005 when I first heard about Harvey. We were at our local video/dvd rental place, and Steven picked up a copy of American Splendor. I absolutely loved the movie for its portrayal of a seemingly ordinary person going about his life. I knew then that this movie was a keeper so we bought ourselves a copy and added it to our permanent collection. Steven even bought copies of his graphic novels. I grew to like his writing style. It was just a guy making observations of the world around him, and perhaps those observations were what made him what he was. He was a thinker, a writer, a critic, a promoter, all those other roles that we play as humans, but most importantly he was just a guy who had ideas and he overcame whatever obstacles that came at him to make those ideas into reality. When I heard of his passing, I felt devastated. It felt as if the idea of the “American Dream” died with him. Dreams are what gives us hope. If hope withers away, where would we be? I think that is why I was inspired to create the Harvey Pekar Tribute page. I even drew Harvey’s profile so that I can use it as the FB profile pic. My intention was to provide a place that people can visit to honor the memory of Harvey, encourage others to stick to their dreams and not give up hope, and to enjoy some jazz music along the way.

Steve on his connection to Pekar :

I was first introduced to Harvey Pekar and his American Splendor comics in the late ‘80s by one of my dorm buddies in college who let me check out a few editions of American Splendor in return for allowing him to borrow a couple of Hunter S. Thompson hardcovers I had in my room. Though I had always been a fan of comic books – Batman, Iron Man, and later the adult-oriented pieces from Heavy Metal Magazine- I had never read anything like American Splendor before and I found the stories about “Our Man Herschel” to be amusing. Here were stories of this funny looking guy – rendered by R. Crumb, an artist whose work I had been exposed to before by my uncle who was a bit of a hippie. My friend soon returned the books he had borrowed and I handed back his issues of American Splendor. Admittedly, I soon forgot about the comics that I had read, my mind instead filled with classes, dating and work.

I did flash back a few times to what I had seen in American Splendor, the first occasion when I was working a random part time job at a local department store as a dressing room attendant. It was my job to take, refold and rehang clothing from the dressing rooms and needless to say it was a mind-numbingly repetitive and extremely boring gig. One day, in the middle of what seemed to be an endless shift, I found myself imagining what the customers would look like if they were drawn by R. Crumb and were characters in a comic strip of my life just like Harvey’s in American Splendor. I recall that I thought at the time that however mundane Harvey’s job was in his comics, my job was way too boring and useless to make a good setting for a comic strip.

Not too long after that incident, I was up late one night not really paying much attention to my studies while I had the TV turned to the David Letterman Show with the sound off. One of Letterman’s guests was a amusing but somewhat familiar looking guy who appeared to be taking some heat from Letterman. I turned up the sound and caught a mention of the comic “American Splendor” and suddenly realized that the funny looking guy was Harvey Pekar.

I would not think of Harvey Pekar or his comics until many years later when in 2003 I caught wind of the American Splendor movie which had just been released. I was married by then, and I recall mentioning to my wife, Anna Liza that we should see that film on our “date night” but for one reason or other we never got around to it and soon the movie was out of the theaters. It was not until 2005 when I spotted the American Splendor DVD at my video store that my wife and I would finally get a chance to see this movie. Needless to say, we both immediately fell in love with Harvey Pekar and soon purchased our own DVD of the film for our collection. Soon, we picked up copies of a few American Splendor paperback compilations at the store and added those to our home library.

There was a lot that we liked about Harvey Pekar’s tales of his daily life and as a young and underpaid couple struggling to make ends meet there was a lot in Harvey’s comics with which we could directly relate. We were jazz fans and we enjoyed reading his pieces about jazz. He was a simple guy and we thought of ourselves as simple people too. He was nothing short of a brilliant thinker and his sense of humor and genius in his obversations of daily life was uniquely appealing. Having lost my grandfather to cancer in 2004, I found Harvey’s story about his struggle with cancer to be touching and inspiring.

One night, we saw that Anthony Bordain’s “No Reservations” show was featuring the town of Cleveland, Ohio where Harvey was from. We watched it for the hell of it when suddenly there he was on the screen- Harvey talking with Bordain, meeting up with Toby Radloff in a trippy jacket, showing off his town. We recorded the piece and watched it over and over again.

Flash forward to July 2010: I was at work - now as a funeral director – when I saw a piece on Yahoo news announcing that Harvey Pekar had been found dead in his home in Cleveland. My heart immediately sank and I went outside to call my wife to tell her the bad news. Throughout the rest of the day I felt as if I had lost a relative or a close friend even if I had never actually met Harvey. I realized that his death touched me on a deep and personal level that I had thought my position as a funeral director had made me immune from ever feeling to this degree.

That evening at home, Anna Liza and I were lost in a deep funk of sadness and began searching the internet for further news about Harvey. Having recently opened an account on Facebook, we searched for a memorial page about Harvey and were surprised that we could not locate one. With all the crap that people post on Facebook, we found it bordering on disrespectful that there wasn't a mention of Harvey’s passing. I remember Anna Liza saying “It’s like the idea of the American Dream died along with Harvey” and I could only agree. It was at that moment that Anna Liza decided to memorialize the death of Harvey Pekar with a tribute page where we could share our sadness with other Harvey Pekar fans.

The Harvey Pekar Tribute page on facebook is now in it’s second year and has managed to attract a small but loyal number of fans, some of whom have shared that they discovered Our Man’s work via links to our page that were shared with them. We have met Harvey Pekar fans from all over the world who have posted their thoughts and links to other Pekar related pages. We have also had the distinct honor of corresponding with a number of people who personally knew Harvey Pekar, and among our fans are several talented artists who worked with Harvey when he was alive. Rick Parker, the guy behind “Spiderman” and “Bevis and Butthead” once wrote to me that he believed that “Harvey will not be forgotten in our lifetime…I think his fame will only grow” a statement which I believe wholeheartedly to be true. We will continue to keep the Harvey Pekar Tribute page active in the sincerest hope that we can do what we can to have a small role in keeping Our Man’s memory alive.

One way of keeping him alive is click over here : http://www.facebook.com/pages/Harvey-Pekar-Tribute/144279005587670

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Drew University Comics panel : and a note from a friend


"Dear Tara, OK, seriously, I already had it on the to-do list to read these interviews with you before you sent this message. And then I JUST saw what happened to Harvey today. I'm so sorry to hear the news. He sounds like he was an amazing guy and someone who influenced you greatly for the better...and people like that just don't come along that often in our lives."

The note above comes from a friend from high school. Someone I looked up to because this person was/is incredibly intelligent and had amazing people skills. He ended up becoming a journalist and I wonder if I wasn't influenced by him in some ways. The message he sent me the day Harvey died (along with tons of other heartfelt notes I received) this was very simple but incredibly true. It made me feel a little better when I
didn't think anything could. Every person we pick to be in our lives is significant. From High school friends to adulthood guru's. Pick the people in your life carefully, because it becomes meaningful.