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Harvey Pekar isn’t dead

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Harvey Pekar is dead, though popular wisdom and the media in general tell us that he will live on through his work.

But this isn’t very satisfying – the implication that his memory will continue to linger as long as copies of his comics keep getting printed.

No, I prefer to think that Harvey isn’t dead. Perhaps to those who knew him best, there is a hole where he used to be. But for the rest of us tempted to mourn his passing, he’s as vivacious a beating heart as he ever was.

Like most people, my initial and indeed primary point of contact with the artist was through American Splendor, the film starring Paul Giamatti based on the comic series of the same name. This shaped my mental image of him almost entirely, and I can’t say it’s really progressed from there. I haven’t met him, I’ve never even shared an email or a tweet with him. And now he is part of the pantheon of artists about whom we ask, “wait, is he even alive anymore?”

Because someone like Pekar, who has actually helped shaped our culture as a whole, is only as big and as real as the space we make for him. And even though his seminal work consisted of 40 issues printed over the course of 35 years or so, our society so needed his voice that his presence in our lives felt much larger.

And that is the nature of great art: it continues to converse with us as long as we have ears to listen. Sir Alec Guinness feels absolutely present in my life thanks to one role out of dozens – as Obi Wan in Star Wars, of course – which blasted such a huge chunk out of the popular consciousness that we still feel it decades and decades later. To me, there is no difference between Alec Guinness alive and Alec Guinness dead, because to me there is no difference between the man himself and his cultural footprint.

So Harvey Pekar is not dead, that’s just a rumor you heard on the internet. If you don’t believe me, go and rent American Splendor and watch it again – isn’t it the same Harvey Pekar you’ve always known?

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