07/12/10

Harvey Pekar, Noted Graphic Novelist and Jazz Writer, Dies

Writer, 70, was subject of Oscar-nominated film American Splendor

Harvey Pekar, an eccentric civil servant and record collector who turned himself into one of America’s most famous underground comic book writers and graphic novelists, died earlier today at the age of 70. Pekar wrote autobiographical comics which were illustrated by a succession of noted artists, including Robert Crumb and Joe Sacco. His American Splendor series and book anthology became the basis for an Oscar-nominated film of the same name in 2003, starring Paul Giametti as Pekar and Hope Davis as his wife Joyce Brabner. Both Pekar and Brabner were featured in the film, which included clips of the two commenting on the actors playing them.

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Harvey Pekar
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Harvey Pekar's American Splendor
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Harvey Pekar's American Splendor

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Pekar was a lifelong jazz fan and frequently wrote with both detail and passion about jazz and record collecting in his comics. In addition, he wrote profiles and reviews for JazzTimes as well as other publications. Pekar particularly relished championing the underdog or overlooked jazz musician. Among the artists he profiled for JT were John Laporta, Joe Maneri, John McNeil, Herb Robertson, Joe Fonda and Billy Bauer. He also reviewed dozens of albums for the publication in the years before the American Splendor film was made.

Thanks in part to his nebbish workingman persona, Pekar also achieved great fame from his appearances on the David Letterman Show, where he would berate the host for his obvious attempts to have a laugh at the expense of his everyman guest. After one meltdown nearly worthy of Andy Kaufman, Pekar was not invited back to appear on the show, which only cemented further his reputation as an eccentric underdog.

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