There are reports that cartoonist Harvey Pekar was found dead today.
Now, I never knew Pekar, and never worked with him. But I did try on both counts. I had conversations with Pekar a year or so back, and they went exactly like you’d want a conversation with Harvey Pekar–from what I knew of him through his AMERICAN SPLENDOR comics and the movie based on his life–to go.
I called, and the phone rang maybe 12-15 times before he picked up (this was after calling a couple other times and the phone just ringing until it disconnected.
“Yeah, it’s Harvey,” he said.
I introduced myself and told him what I had in mind.
“What kind of money we talking about,” he said. “Gotta have money to live, and I plan to live a while longer. So how big a check are you going to write me?”
We talked more–and I should be clear, Harvey didn’t actually come off as a guy who over-valued his worth (if anything, he undervalued it), or a guy with a “pay me!” attitude. He just needed money to live, and he certainly didn’t live extravagantly. So the exchange above wasn’t anything but charming, and a little sad. You’d like to think a guy like Harvey, who’d done what he’d done and even been interesting enough in his uninteresting way to have a movie about his life, wouldn’t have to sweat where the next check was coming from. But life, and largely comics life, doesn’t work that way, unfortunately.
Anyway, we talked more, and he told me to mail him an offer. “Don’t try to fax it, ‘cuz I don’t have one of those. And I don’t own a computer or any of that, so just mail it to me, and then call me back and we can talk.” (note: Harvey also doesn’t have an answering machine.)
We talked a little more, and the project didn’t end up happening, but just the conversations alone were worth it. And now Harvey is evidently gone, and I’m going to go watch YouTube clips of his appearances on Letterman. The man was a real iconoclast, and never did it any way but the way he wanted, which is legacy enough in itself, even without all the great work left behind, too.