Pekar: The Comeback

Since I wrote a blog post last year lamenting the fact that Harvey Pekar''s comics-writing was getting increasingly sloppy just when public interest in his work is at its peak, it's only fair that I tell comics fans who aren't reading already to pick up the three issues of American Splendor that DC's Vertigo imprint has published so far. This is vintage Pekar. Stories about petty annoyances and pleasant surprises, told straight, and illustrated by some of the best cartoonists in the business (like Eddie Campbell, Richard Corben and Rick Geary). There's a piece in the latest issue about how much Pekar wishes he had time to take an afternoon nap that particularly struck a chord with me, since that urge tends to strike me around 1 o'clock every day, when my belly's full of lunch and I'm sitting on my comfortable couch, trying to write. It's that sympathetic contemplation of universal human desires that's always been Pekar's appeal. Or at least part of it.

The other day I was watching the Ric Burns documentary Andy Warhol (review coming soon), and thinking about how one of the great, largely unrecognized virtues to Warhol's art is how it recorded fragments of vanishing American culture. For example, I don't know the last time I saw the "Chili Beef" or "Vegetable Bean" varieties of Campbell's Soup at my local supermarket, but there they are now and forever, hanging in a museum. As someone who prizes art for its historical and sociological value as much as for its aesthetic value, I can't tell you how happy Warhol's paintings and silkscreens make me.

I feel the same way about a lot of Pekar's work. There's a story in one of the Vertigo American Splendors about him running errands and stopping by his HMO to get a prescription, and I was thinking about how valuable it'll be to look back 30 or 50 or 100 years from now and read about how one man dealt with the health care system in the mid '00s. In many ways, those kinds of stories are more interesting and maybe even more important than stories about war and political intrigue. Giving an everyman balance to the annals of literature was Pekar's mission when he started American Splendor 30 years ago, and it's good to see him back on track.

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