Though he might not always think so, Harvey Pekar is one genuinely lucky guy. How many other civil-servant Clevelanders get discovered by legendary underground artist Robert Crumb? And how many self-published comic-book series, like American Splendor, get picked up by Portland's Dark Horse Comics? Or made into an amazing Oscar-nominated movie? That's right: Not many. After releasing The Quitter late last year through DC's imprint Vertigo, Pekar is already back with Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story, which was recently released through Ballantine, an imprint of superpublisher Random House. Pekar spoke with WW from his home in Cleveland before he hits town tomorrow as part of a Portland Arts and Lectures event. KARLA STARR.
WW: How would you describe your work to people who might not be familiar with it?
Harvey Pekar: Well, my work...looks like a comic book, you know, in form, but it's not a typical comic book in content. I write autobiographical stuff, mostly about things that I know a lot about and I experience—stuff about quotidian life and work. I just think that there is very interesting stuff in the mundane.
What would you suggest as a starting point for people who aren't familiar with alternative comics?
There's a Smithsonian collection of underground comics that came out a while back [A Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics], that seems to be pretty representative. I would say go to the library and look in the comics section and you will probably find some of these big coffee-table books... check them out and see what attracts you, and then just go from there.
The Quitter was illustrated by Dean Haspiel, and Gary Dumm did the art for Ego & Hubris—what's the collaboration process like?
Well, I write these scripts, and I'll write them in storyboard fashion using stick figures, and thought balloons and word balloons and captions. Then I'll write descriptions of what scenes should look like and I'll turn it over to the artist. I'll go over it with him—sometimes panel by panel—just to make him see what I'm after and that we don't get our wires crossed and go in different directions.
What else are you working on?
[I'm] doing research for a large comic book...on the Beat Generation guys—Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac and those guys. I'm working on a comic on a woman I know who went to Macedonia.... The book is about her journey, where she meets these people that are trying to get peace going and how people are trying to cooperate because there are these two nationalities that live in Macedonia that have a history of not getting along very well.
A lot of your work is autobiographical—but what is too personal to write about?
I don't write about certain arguments I have with my wife. I write about our relationship, but I'd get my head torn off if wrote about certain things.
Harvey Pekar speaks as part of the Portland Arts & Lectures series at First Congregational Church, 1126 SW Park Ave., 227-2583. Thursday, April 20. 7:30 pm. $5-$12.