Harvey Pekar & JT Waldman’s NOT THE ISRAEL MY PARENTS PROMISED ME

The late great Harvey Pekar left behind an amazing legacy of work. He had so many books in the pipeline when he passed away in July 2010 that there are still new books coming out today (including the wonderful Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland, illustrated by Joseph Remnant). Another new book of Harvey’s, illustrated by JT Waldman, was sent to me in galley form by his publisher, who asked for a blurb. I was happy to oblige, and here it is:

Not The Israel My Parents Promised Me is a fascinating history of the so-called Promised Land—as seen through the eyes of an estranged Jew from Cleveland. Brimming with classic Pekar asides and details, the book sheds light on a subject usually obscured by heat. JT Waldman’s evocative artwork combines down-to-earth American Splendor-style illustrations with motifs inspired by everything from mythology to Islamic Art to illuminated manuscripts to Chagall. In cleverly reminding us of its collaborative nature, the book evokes the uneasy conversations Jews often have amongst themselves about Israel. Personally, I never got to say goodbye to Harvey, a man I had known and worked with for over fifteen years. Reading this book was like having a final, wide-ranging conversation with him.

Seth Kushner’s HARVEY PEKAR Tribute

Today is the one-year anniversary of Harvey Pekar‘s death. One of the more extraordinary homages appearing today is Seth Kushner’s photo comic, "Harvey Pekar: Tribute to ‘Our Man.’" (It’s #25 of Seth’s CulturePop series on ACT-I-VATE.) Weaving wonderful photos of Harvey with Pekar’s own words, it takes the reader through his remarkable life and career. People like Harvey’s wife Joyce Brabner, the filmmakers behind the American Splendor movie, and collaborators like Dean ( ) Haspiel, Jeff () Newelt, and Joseph Remnant make appearances as well. (Oh, and I’m in there too.) It’s memoir, it’s photography, it’s comics — it’s Seth’s unique form of creative expression. Please check it out: http://act-i-vate.com/104-25-1.comic.

P.S. Another nice tribute is KCRW’s re-broadcast of a 2003 conversation between Harvey and Elvis Mitchell: http://www.kcrw.com/etc/programs/tt/tt030813harvey_pekar

Harvey Pekar, 1939–2010

I was stunned today to hear that Harvey Pekar died. Though I hadn’t worked with Harvey in a couple of years, my history with him goes back to 1994. That was when I wrote him out of the blue, sending him samples of my work and "demanding" he give me a chance to illustrate one of his stories in American Splendor. I was shocked a couple of weeks later when he called me up — and agreed to give me a story to draw! That first one-pager started a 15+-year relationship that gave me much more than just some publication credits.

Besides the many stories of his I worked on, I got the opportunity to really know Harvey and his wife Joyce and foster daughter Danielle. I guess I can’t say he was a friend, per se, but he was much, much more than just a collaborator. That was the thing about Harvey: there was no distinction between his comics and his life. So just as I got to contribute to his incredible, unprecedented undertaking of documenting a life in comics, I got to be part of that actual life. Whether it was random phone calls to ask me what I thought of a new artist he was working with, or the many times I saw him when he came to New York, or the time he wrote me as a character into one of the stories we worked on, I felt honored to be folded into the world of Harvey Pekar and American Splendor.

Most of all, Harvey was a model for me as a comics creator. Through reading his work and working with him, I learned to appreciate the strangeness of real life and the little details of daily existence. As a writer, his unflinching honesty and refusal to engage in sentimentality are qualities which I continue to try to emulate. Obviously, my own attempts at autobiography (which pale next to his best work) were directly influenced by my association with Harvey. And just as Harvey branched out from autobiography to biography and to history, my path in nonfiction comics has led me to "comics journalism."

Above all, I will miss Harvey the man. His intensity and insight made every conversation with him an adventure. Beneath his curmudgeonly exterior was a loyal, supportive, and approachable human being — the same guy who started self-publishing his stories back in 1976 because he had something to say, and found a unique way to say it.

I can’t believe that this distinctive spirit no longer inhabits the planet.

PopCultureShock gives the new “American Splendor” an A+

Ernie Estrella of PopCultureShock crafts a poetic review of the new issue of American Splendor “Season Two” (Vertigo). This issue (#3)—and the previous one—feature stories illustrated by both me and

, as well as many other cool contributors, such as Darwyn Cooke, Rick Geary, Chris Samnee, Warren Pleece, and John Cebollero (with a beautiful cover by Cooke). I really think with this “Season Two” of AS, Pekar is back in top form. And so does Ernie:

Reading American Splendor is always a refreshing visit back home for me, a native-Clevelander and now a resident San Diegan. The blue collar ideals. The working man’s mentality. The dreary outlook. I think when you grow up in that town you make no apologies for being a realist, a pessimist, or a skeptic. It’s the lack of sunshine that Clevelanders see on a day-to-day basis that makes you all piss and vinegar. With all of the sun I get now, I’m just not used to it, I’m homesick at times, and American Splendor grays up my day up just fine. From the black and white (and inkwashed) art, to Pekar’s groucho demeanor, there’s enough in here to get you down and kicking the dirt. It’s warranted given our world and live in general and this issue how well-versed and well-read Pekar is. From politics, global warming [Josh], the history of Russian and Jewish immigrants in Cleveland to avant-garde jazz [Dean], there’s a lot on his mind. The hours spent in Zubal’s bookstore tailor a well-read man. Whether you’re from Cleveland or not, you personally care about these observations or not, you’re still drawn to what HE thinks about them. Why? He captures everything that’s beautiful and equally ugly about living today in a few panels with his honest and blunt words–and that’s as American as you can get.

Pekar bible sheet?

pekar compromiseThis week I’m working on a Harvey Pekar story for the next American Splendor mini-series from Vertigo. It’s a cute piece, and is the sequel to the one I did with him in last year’s Another Day TPB. And I actually appear in the story as a character, which is humorous (and fun to draw).

This story (like many of Harvey’s pieces nowadays) is mostly set in and around his house, and one challenge I’ve come across is drawing Harvey’s abode. Even though I’ve been working with Harvey for almost fifteen years (!), and I’ve met him plenty of times in person, and hung out with him at conventions, book releases, and movie premieres, I’ve never been to his house. So whenever I draw it, I basically just make it up.

Way back, when I did my very first Splendor story, I got Harvey to send me reference photos of one of the other characters in the piece. But as the years went by, I just began winging it, or swiping characters and interiors from previous issues of American Splendor. The only “reference” I use now are some shots of Harvey I cobbled together from the Internet, the work of other artists, or — horrors! — popping in the DVD of the film and using that. And even though I’ve drawn many stories set in his house, I tend to be dissatisfied with what I’ve done before and usually do something different each time. In essence, every time I draw a new A.S. story, Harvey’s pad undergoes an extreme makeover (sans Ty Pennington)! The only consistencies are the books, magazines, and newspapers piled everywhere, and the general air of post-bohemian shabbiness.

So this got me thinking what a great idea it would be for someone to create an American Splendor “bible sheet” — basically a packet of reference photos for artists to use. You know, like what DC might provide  if you were drawing a Batman story and needed to get the details of Wayne Mansion and the Batcave just right. All a Splendor bible would need are some up-to-date shots of Harvey, his wife Joyce Brabner, their foster daughter Danielle Batone, and some interior and exterior shots of his house. Their car, would be nice too, as it seems like the make and model change with each artist who tackles it. Now that Vertigo is publishing A.S., this seems like something I could bring up with the editors.

‘Course, what makes drawing American Splendor so much fun, and so liberating for me, is the freedom I’m given to add my own perspective, my interpretation of the “facts” of the story. But I think a little more foundation for my improv would only help in the end.

P.S. I recently updated my exhaustive list of Pekar contributors, which is part of the “And…” section of my website: http://joshcomix.home.mindspring.com/and/pekar_artists/

“A.D.” news and not-so-news

The flurry of the holidays (and the desertion of my intern) prevented me from getting much done on the A.D. front in December, but I did manage to complete Chapter 8, which now weighs in at a whopping 20 pp. So if you haven’t yet caught up with A.D. or the two-part “The Bowl Effect” storyline, please check it out now.

And here’s an added incentive: A.D. was nominated as a top comic of the year by both USA Today‘s “Pop Candy” and ComixTalk!

I’m taking a short sabbatical from A.D. to work on a new Harvey Pekar/American Splendor story, but will return to A.D. shortly with Chapter 9. And then there’s more exciting A.D.-related news to follow…

This Thursday @ Broadway branch of the Queens Public Library

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  and I will be representing American Splendor at the Broadway branch of the QPL this Thursday. Host Michael Sherer will quiz us about working with writer Harvey Pekar on the series, and we’ll discuss the process of illustrating comics from script to finished product. The discussion will be accompanied by slides of comic art in various stages of completion, and a Q & A session will follow. Should be fun!

Thursday, August 24th at 6pm
The Broadway Community Library Auditorium
40-20 Broadway, Long Island City, NY.
[R or V to Steinway. Ride as close to the front of the train as possible. When you exit, just walk up the stairs closest to the front of the train. You’ll be on Steinway about half a block from where it intersects with Broadway. Walk up to Broadway, take a right, and the library is the building next to Rite-Aid.]

The Artists of American Splendor

As Harvey Pekar’s unofficial, unauthorized archivist, and in honor of the publication of The Quitter, I’ve updated my list of Pekar’s artists! From R. Crumb to Joe Sacco, “Dino” man_size Haspiel to Gary Dumm, Joe Zabel to Frank Stack, Chester Brown to Jim Woodring — even Joyce Brabner to Alan Moore — this is where you can find which artist drew what story.

The list is organized by artist’s last name and features the title of the piece, where it appeared, and the date it was published. It’s fairly comphrehensive: I own pretty much everything Harvey’s ever published, with the exception of American Splendor #1 (but a lot of the material from that issue ended up in the first AS collection), but if you spot an error or have an addition, please let me know.

Enjoy the arcana: joshcomix.com/and/pekar_artists.

Pekar, Spain, Dino, Josh Hit the Big Apple

Look for me at the Big Apple Con on Sunday (Nov. 20). Along with artists Spain Rodriguez and Dean Haspiel, and of course the man himself, Harvey Pekar, I’ll be part of the 3pm panel: Meet the Creators of American Splendor. I swore off mainstream cons years ago, but the’re attempting to expand their base by inviting more indy/underground creators, so… Big Apple Con Comic Book, Art & Toy Show, Fri.–Sun., Penn Plaza Pavilion, 401 Seventh Ave (33rd St.), NYC, $15.

SPX program cover

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThrough a series of coincidences, I got invited to draw the cover for this year’s SPX program. Seeing that Harvey Pekar will be a special guest at this year’s show, SPX Executive Director Steve Conley thought a Pekar theme would be appropriate.

I talked it over with Harvey, and he suggested showing himself at the show, with me, man_size, and Ed Piskor, all artists of his who will also be in attendance. Harv is saying, “Wow, after all the great things Dean and Josh have been tellin’ me about this expo, and now I’m here finally — as a guest with his own booth no less.” Pekar also suggested having me, man_size, and Piskor coming up with our own lines of dialogue.

Given Harvey’s line, I felt my obligation as the artist was to:

a.) promote Harvey being at the show
b.) Promote SPX itself

Thus, my sketch showed a line of eager fans in front of Harvey at his booth as he signs copies of his books, DVDs, etc. Behind him we see other exhibitors, fans, cartoonists, etc, in the Versailles Room. Showing the American Splendor artists (me, man_size, & Piskor) didn’t seem as important, and took away from the other two important elements above.

So I decided to render us artists as bobble-head dolls! man_size is perched on a pile of The Quitter, the new book he’s got coming out this fall, Piskor is on a pile of Macedonias, the book he’s working on, and my bobblehead doll is situated in front of the Best of American Splendor book, which features a number of pieces with my art. I think it’s a funny conceit, and a sly allusion to the Harvey Pekar bobblehead dolls which were part of the promotion of the American Splendor movie. (I own one myself.)

I left space for each of us bobbleheads to have a line of thought- balloon dialogue, but personally I thought that took away from the concept. Having the dolls talking was just a little too symbolic and surreal. After talking it over with Steve and man_size we decided to keep the bobbleheads mum, so I was happy to scrap that. Neither man_size nor Ed had come up with lines of dialogue anyway!

So there you have it. I finished drawing the actual cover yesterday and am coloring it today. There are a lot of people in the background scenes — see if you recognize any familiar faces.
click here to see the final uncolored art