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Sunday, March 29, 2009


To "An Afternoon with Harvey Pekar" at the Central Library. It was an imperfect format, somewhat by necessity, I suppose. Pekar was interviewed by two librarians-- the Humanities Librarian and the Young Adult Librarian from the Erie County Library. Both were familiar with his work, but the questioning lacked spontaneity. On the other hand, Pekar is a rambling, discursive conversationalist, so the whole thing worked-- he'd go off on a question, sometimes losing the thread entirely, and sometimes circling back and answering it. He has a chosen method of expression-- he prefers "comics" to "graphic novel"-- and over a long career has managed to make that form work in ways that it really hadn't until he decided to experiment with realism in that form. I can recall when I found out about him: an article in the Village Voice led me to the purchase of American Splendor #2, the battered remains of which I still have. It was unlike anything I'd ever read: funny, and bitter, and wistful, and I followed his career the way you do when you feel like you've caught onto something before anyone else. I liked the movie, "American Splendor", but it wasn't the same as the comic by any stretch, and it wasn't really his project. Like a lot of artists Pekar expresses himself best in his chosen form, and that means that he is not a lecturer, and that a live reading wouldn't quite work either.

I'd have liked to have asked him what he's listening to these days, but instead I asked whether he feels as though his intended audience has changed over the years, and if that has changed his writing. (I thought "Our Cancer Year" was very different from most of "American Splendor" and felt more like a family letter than his other work.) His answer came down to "I'm writing for people who I think will get it," and fair enough. Interestingly, it seems as though he is becoming more political-- he described a thing he is doing about the state of the Palestine/Israel conflict, and something about Tom Payne. He's got a biography of Lenny Bruce on the spike at his publisher-- economic circumstances mean that he doesn't know when, or even if that will appear. Too bad: I have never found Bruce all that funny, or even all that provocative. No doubt that has more to do with the fact that Bruce was distinctly a product of his time, and had a short shelf life. I'd be interested in reading Pekar's take.

He looked pretty good for a cat his age, and a cancer survivor, and in person he was prickly but sweet. He says that the persona he adopted on Letterman was mostly an act, but I'm not so sure I buy that; he also says that his appearances on Letterman didn't really affect the sales of his work, which could be. The crowd was mostly older-- Ed Cardoni was the only person I recognized. (Hallwalls had brought Pekar to Buffalo twenty years ago-- during the talk that was mentioned, and Pekar had talked about the hospitality Ed and his wife had extended, I think without realizing that Ed was in the audience.)

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