This is a sad day for comics lovers: Harvey Pekar was found dead by his wife shortly before 1am today. He was 70 years old. The cause of death is unknown.
Nowadays, we take it for granted that people can write comic books about anything they want — not just superheroes — and that there’s a market for them. But that wasn’t always the case: Pekar was one of the giants of the medium who, through works like American Splendor and My Cancer Year, established that sequential art is a medium complex enough to take on real-world issues, and subtle enough to present every day life.
Pekar, 70, was found dead shortly before 1 a.m. today by his wife, Joyce Brabner, in their Cleveland Heights home, said Powell Caesar, spokesman for Cuyahoga County Coroner Frank Miller. An autopsy will be conducted to determine the cause of death. Pekar and his wife, Joyce Brabner, wrote “Our Cancer Year,” a book-length comic, after Pekar was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 1990 and underwent a grueling treatment.
Harvy Pekar (as you can read, in his comics) came to comic writing at a time when mainstream American comics were under pretty heavy industry-wide self censure. The underground Comix movement was getting along well, responding to the bombastic but mind-numbingly tame antics of contemporary superhero comics with equal parts violence, sex, drugs, and humor. Pekar’s comics, which he wrote and scripted but never drew himself, were entirely autobiographical, concerned primarily with being a blue collar bachelor in a not-too-well-off neighborhood in Cleveland, and the thoughts that any reasonably intelligent and critical thinking person might have in that situation.
The three panels above are the last in one of Pekar’s more famous short vignettes from American Splendor, Who Is Harvey Pekar?. It was drawn by R. Crumb, and is moving enough on its own. In light of today’s events, well, find yourself a copy. So long and thank you for all the comics, Mr. Pekar.