EIFF Friend Harvey Pekar Passes Away
We are all most saddened by the death of the comic book legend and memorable EIFF guest Harvey Pekar. A legend of the US comic scene, Pekar found fame and huge critical acclaim by chronicling his daily life in the long-running series American Splendor. His mordant tales of day-to-day frustrations and ironies were illustrated by a succession of influential artists, including Robert Crumb, Gilbert Hernandez and Alan Moore.
Pekar visited EIFF in 2003, when the celebrated film adaptation of American Splendor was our Closing Night Gala. Scripted and directed by Robert Pulcini and Shari Springer Berman (whose new film The Extra Man just premiered at EIFF 2010), the film starred Paul Giamatti as Harvey and Hope Davis as his wife Joyce Brabner. It won our New Directors Award, and went on to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. Paul Giamatti, Harvey, Joyce and the couple's daughter Danielle all came to Edinburgh; their visit even made it into a subsequent edition of Harvey's ongoing account of his own life.
American Splendor began life in 1976, when Pekar was working as a hospital clerk in his native Cleveland, Ohio, and writing on jazz and comic books for various underground publications. His move into creating his own comics was in part inspired by his friendship with Robert Crumb, whom he met in 1962 when Crumb was resident in Cleveland and employed as a greetings card illustrator. Initially brought together by their shared obsession with collecting rare jazz records, the two explored the possibilities of the comic book medium together, and Crumb encouraged Pekar to make art out of his wry observations on life. The low-octane, resolutely everyday drama of American Splendor was the source of its unique appeal; Crumb described Pekar's work as 'so staggeringly mundane it verges on the exotic.'
As Pekar's fame grew - partly through a succession of notoriously spiky appearances on Late Night with David Letterman - he gained mainstream recognition and won numerous awards (though he continued to grumble about the lack of financial reward he received for his work). Variety magazine once called him 'the blue-collar Mark Twain'; we will remember him as a true one-off, and a witty, generous and fascinating contributor to this Festival's history.