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Harvey Pekar: A Timeline of a Comic Book Icon

Yesterday, Harvey Pekar was found dead in his home at the age of 70. For decades, while working as a freelance jazz critic and as a file clerk at a Veterans Administration hospital, Pekar published the irregular comic book series “American Splendor,” an autobiographical series that featured his everyday experiences and often featured his commentary on politics and music. Though he wrote the series alone, many artists drew the stories within, resulting in acclaim for the anthology for its showcase of the many different artistic styles of the comic book medium.

Pekar rose in notoriety during the mid 1980s, due to theatrical adaptations of his comics and several personal appearances on “The Late Show with David Letterman.” His graphic novels continued to get acclaim and he and his wife Joyce Brabner’s book “Our Cancer Year” won a Harvey Award. In 2003, the general public became more aware of Pekar’s life and cultural contributions when a film adaptation of American Splendor was released, receiving critical praise that resulted in multiple awards. Despite all of this, Pekar never left his job as a file clerk.

Harvey Pekar began his career in comics through his friendship with famous indie comic artist/creator Robert Crumb, the man behind various underground comics such as “Zap Comix,” “Keep on Truckin’ and “Fritz the Cat.” it was his respect for the medium of sequential art and his belief that most comic book creators were interested in “formulaic” stories as opposed to “adult stories” that prompted Pekar to begin “American Splendor. He couldn’t understand why more people didn’t take comic books seriously, saying on more than one occasion: “Comics are just words and pictures. You can do anything in the world with words and pictures.” Continue reading for a look at what Pekar accomplished over the decades doing just that.1959 – Harvey Pekar begins working as a freelance jazz critic. One of his fans is a young R. Crumb and the two become friends.

1972 – Harvey Pekar shows his story ideas and crude comic book drawings to Robert Crumb, who agrees to help draw a fully realized comic and to recruit other artists.

1975 – Harvey Pekar begins production on his own comic book.

1976 – The first issue of “American Splendor” is published.

1985 – Conrad Bishop writes and directs the first theatrical adaptation of “American Splendor,” which debuts in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

1986 – “American Splendor” is collected into a large anthology for the first time, making it more easily available for new fans. This trade is entitled “American Splendor: The Life and Times of Harvey Pekar.”

1987 – The first “American Splendor” anthology wins the American Book Award. That same year, a second theatrical adaptation of “American Splendor” debuts at the Arena Stage in Washington D.C., directed by James C. Nicola and adapted for the stage by Llyod Rose.

1988 – During an appearance in August on “Late Night with David Letterman,” Harvey Pekar once again accuses NBC’s parent company General Electric of dishonest and amoral practices. This time, he adds that remarks by the host made Letterman “look like a shill” for GE. Having warned Pekar about accusing GE of such things during a previous interview, Letterman bans Pekar from the show for several years.

1990 – A third stage adaptation of “American Splendor” debuts at Hollywood’s Theater in L.A. and runs for a year. It stars Dan Castellaneta as Harvey Pekar. Castellaneta later gains fame as the voice of Homer Simpson, along with several other roles on “The Simpsons.”

1994 - With wife Joyce Brabner as co-writer, Pekar releases the autobiographical graphic novel “Our Cancer Year,” discussing his experience with lymphoma cancer. The same year, “American Splendor” begins publishing under Dark Horse Comics. Dark Horse will continue publishing the title until 2002.

1995 – “Our Cancer Year” wins the Harvey Award for “Best Graphic Album of Original Work.”

1996 – With R. Crumb, Harvey Pekar publishes “American Splendor Presents: Bob & Harv’s Comics.”

2003 – The “American Splendormovie is released, starring Paul Giamatti as Harvey Pekar. It wins the “Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Film” at the Sundance Film Festival and receives the “Best Adapted Screenplay” award from the Writers Guild of America. It is nominated for “Best Adapted Screenplay” at the Academy Awards. The same year, Pekar publishes “American Splendor: Unsung Hero,” a biography on Robert McNeill, a Vietnam veteran and colleague of Pekar’s.

2004 – Pekar publishes “American Splendor: Our Movie Year,” an anthology of comics about the film adaptation of American Splendor and comics that were written around the time of the film.

2005 – With Dean Haspiel, Pekar publishes “The Quitter through DC’s Vertigo imprint. The graphic novel deals with recollections of Pekar’s youth.

2006 – Pekar releases “Ego & Hubris: The Malcolm Malice Story,” a biography on the man behind OverheardInNewYork.com. In the same year, a new American Splendor mini-series is published by Vertigo. That year, Pekar also becomes the first guest editor of the Best American Comics of 2006 collection.

2007 – Pekar publishes the book Macedonia, collaborating with writer Heather Roberson and illustrator Ed Piskor. The book focuses on Roberson’s experiences while traveling through the Republic of Macedonia.

2008 – A “second season” mini-series of “American Splendor” is published by Vertigo. Pekar also publishes “Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History.”

2009 – The jazz opera “Leave Me Alone! marks Pekar’s debut as a theatrical writer. The same year, Pekar publishes “The Beats,” a historical look at the Beat Generation, such as Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. Pekar also publishes his final American Splendor anthology, entitled “American Splendor: Another Dollar.” Toward the end of 2009, he begins the webcomic The Pekar Project, published by SmithMag.net.

We’ll miss you, big guy.

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