July 12, 2010

RIP Harvey Pekar

After a busy morning spent getting my sister set up at her new place in Austin, I came home and checked my Facebook to discover that the great Harvey Pekar had died. I'm not normally one to grieve over people I never met, even ones whose work I admired very much, but I cannot help feeling heartbroken to know that Pekar is gone.

I didn't actually discover American Splendor until college, but even so, I took to it immediately. I was born and raised in the Cleveland area, and Pekar's stories immediately brought me back to my childhood. He wrote about a time in Cleveland's history when it was still a prosperous rust-belt city, rather than one that is slowly dying, largely due to the steel industry's departure. I love to look at those comics and see places that no longer exist, but that I remember very fondly. American Splendor brings back so much happiness and nostalgia.

For me, American Splendor is the embodiment Cleveland. It's difficult to articulate why. But being a native Clevelander, it's just something that I feel whenever I read Pekar's work. Whenever I read American Splendor, I just have this gut feeling that he gets it - that he gets this cloudy, grey, cold city, where the Cuyahoga River caught on fire decades ago. The characters aren't glamorous and the stories don't all have happy endings - hell, most of them end on a bleak note. But they also feel completely authentic. And even when life is mundane or depressing, there is still some sort of beauty in it.

Cleveland isn't especially glamorous, and in recent years it's seen more bad times than good - but it has a wonderful art museum, a world-class orchestra, and one of my all-time favorite bookstores. By February the snow is disgusting, but you never forget how beautiful that first fall is. There are great universities there. A Lebanese restaurant with the best hummus ever. Cleveland is downtrodden, falling apart, and is absolutely dismal in the winter, but there is so much to love and appreciate. You can always find something beautiful in it.

Sometimes, American Splendor makes me sorry I ever left.

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