Underground comics icon and American Splendor creator Harvey Pekar was found dead early this morning, discovered by his wife Joyce in the Cleveland Heights home they shared. He was 70 years old. There’s no word yet on cause of death, although the police report notes that foul play and trauma did not play a part. Pekar, of course, documented his battle with lymphoma in 1994’s Our Cancer Year but has been disease-free since. Autopsy results are pending.
Pekar was the creator of the autobiographical comic book American Splendor, a funny, scabrous, often pointedly mundane series that documented Pekar’s everyday existence as an ordinary file clerk. Its stories “from off the streets of Cleveland” covered everything from Pekar’s constant money troubles to his hypochondria to his routine conversations with friends and coworkers, and eventually became a reflection of Pekar’s own uneasy relationship with the sudden cult fame garnered by his contentious recurring guest roles on Late Night With David Letterman. In 2003, that hall of mirrors got even more twisted with the release of the film American Splendor, which found Pekar narrating—and even occasionally appearing to directly comment on—an adaptation of his life story starring Paul Giamatti. Pekar remained a prolific artist until his death, working concurrently as a jazz critic and releasing graphic-novel histories of the Beat poets and Studs Terkel’s Working in recent years in addition to his main gig. Last year he launched his first foray into web comics with The Pekar Project.
Our longer reflection on Pekar’s life and career can be found here. In the meantime, here are a few of his most memorable moments.