The Schmooze

Harvey Pekar, Our Mensch in Cleveland

Jeff Newelt is editor of the Pekar Project and the forthcoming “Harvey Pekar’s CLEVELAND.”

If I had my druthers I’d do a universal search/replace on the Internet, find all instances of Harvey Pekar, who died one year ago at age 70, being lazily labeled a “curmudgeon,” and switch each misnomer to “mensch.” It’s not that he was always cheerful, as those who knew him, or read his autobiographical “American Splendor” comics, or saw the movie of the same name starring Paul Giamatti, knew. It’s just that like in the news, the negative gets more play.

Much of the misconception stems from the film, a half-biopic, half-documentary. Because it can only show so much in two hours, perhaps it overemphasized Harvey as a downer, and downplayed how much of an enthusiastic, gracious, child-like serial appreciator he was. About 50% of his work, in comics and prose, was not complaining about minutiae, but championing unheralded writers, musicians, artists or just people he knew and on whose lives he cast a non-sugarcoated yet affectionate eye. This was especially true of not famous or successful geniuses like saxophonist Joe Maneri, whom Harvey frequently raved about for Jazz Times.

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Harvey Pekar, Our Mensch in Cleveland

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