"It makes you feel good to know that there's other people afflicted like you."
Harvey Pekar died this week. File clerk, music critic, comic book author and quite a grumpy guy, he passed away at home. He was 70 years old.
Like a lot of people, I first heard of him because of the 2003 film American Splendor, based on his long running comic series. It covered his life as a file clerk in a VA hospital in his hometown Cleveland, his relationships, money troubles, struggles with cancer, loneliness and depression, among other things.
In a way his comic was like a blog, long before such things existed. He recounted incidents from his daily life, his failures, frustrations and sufferings. For a very long time his comics didn’t sell very well, but he kept at it, year after year. He told stories about the books he read and the music he loved, about his days at work, his experiences with dating and relationships.
He said: “Essentially all I've wanted this to be is a journal of a life, because I think that sort of thing is worth recording.” I agree. Lives are worth recording. And what Harvey Pekar showed us was a new way to record a journal of an everyday person’s life.
I liked his comics, and have read or own most of them. But it was the film of his life that made the biggest impact on me.
A month or so ago, when I was going through my worst bout of depression ever, I watched it again. I can’t say that it cleared my depression away – no film, no book, no song, can do that. But watching Paul Giamatti as Harvey work his way through life as best he could really helped. Watching Harvey’s struggles definitely made a difference to me.
I think that good art is always good for the soul. As a film, American Splendor is very intelligent, with heart, artistry, and honesty. And from what I could tell, that summed up Harvey Pekar pretty well too.