Monday, October 17, 2011

"Meeting Harvey Pekar" by Rick Brown

I was attending the Ohioanna Book Festival in the spring of 2008, mostly to talk to Pulitzer Prize winning Plain Dealer columnist and author Connie Schultz. I also had the hopes of meeting her husband, recently elected Senator Sherrod Brown. And I did just that. But to my surprise, I later had the good fortune to be introduced to another famous Clevelander, Harvey Pekar.

Naked Sunfish “Onion City” cartoonist Sue Olcott was lucky enough to interview Mr. Pekar that day. She introduced me and we spoke very briefly. The hectic pace of the book festival made it impossible to talk for long. Yet I came away satisfied knowing I would be able to publish an interview in the very near future.

Ms. Olcott later gave me Harvey’s phone number and encouraged me to call him. I’m not one who enjoys talking on the phone. And to be honest I was never a comic book aficionado, even as a boy. I learned of Harvey mostly through the success of American Splendor, a cinematic biographical account of his life. Consequently, I was a bit nervous about speaking with Harvey. But Sue insisted and I finally did contact him.

At first our conversation was somewhat clumsy, in a West Side guy talking to an East Side guy, Clevelander sort of way. Anyone from the area knows what I mean. I wasn’t quite sure what to say, making it difficult for Mr. Pekar to understand what it was I wanted from him. But after I told him I was the editor of an electronic magazine in search of another comic strip, we both loosened up. Harvey immediately began telling me about his current project with a talented young artist named Tara Seibel. He gave me her number and told me to call.

Harvey and Tara contributed the wonderful “Rock City-Terminally Ill" comic to Naked Sunfish for over a year following that. It was a great companion piece to “Onion City” and gave the website a real Northern Ohio flavor. And while Tara and I have never met in person, we have become friends and colleagues.

I suppose I cannot say that Harvey Pekar’s writing directly influenced me, at least not initially and not in a literary way. Harvey’s deflecting my attention from himself to Ms. Seibel struck me. Having grown up outside Cleveland I immediately recognized the loyalty he had for her and their collaboration. Clevelanders tend to be loyal, sometimes to a fault. (Look at their sports teams’ fans) I have since realized that Mr. Pekar’s influence on me, and many others, was his fixation with the mundane.

After becoming more familiar with Harvey’s work, I have come to see many similarities in our outlook on life. I write about everyday occurrences. I even have a series of one act plays called “The Non-Fiction Theater for the Truly Mundane”. And Harvey saw the essence of living in the day to day: a person’s job, a loyalty to community, frustrations, a person’s fight with cancer. And while I am mostly a humorist, I am proud I share Harvey Pekar’s eye for redundancy, the brave struggle of getting up every morning and living that day. His sarcasm and wit were amazing. It got him in trouble. I can relate.

The inspiration I can draw from Harvey is that he saw the wonder in everyday events. He knew the mystery of boring tasks, the commonality of it all, and the sameness as difference, like the beautiful bickering emanating from an old married couple still in love. I believe Mr. Pekar saw all this and yet was never trite in his art, only the genuine thing, and the real deal.

Thanks Harvey.

Rick Brown

Editor and Head Writer –

Author – Naked Sunfish – Best Bites

1 comment:

  1. Rick -- Loved your story. I could picture both of you stumbling over the
    phone and Harvey puzzled for a few seconds. So true about the east side west side thing.. And he really knew how to pick the magic out of the mundane! Your book is on my x-mas list! xo, —tara