As you’ve likely heard by now, the great comics writer Harvey Pekar died on Monday. I didn’t know him personally, and am probably less qualified to share stories about him than those cartoonists who did, but I did get to hang out with him once. It was the summer of 2005, and I was in Cleveland for the Funny Times anniversary party. I’d arrived a little early, and found myself sitting in a small yard behind the Funny Times offices, waiting for other people to show up. I was chatting with the staffers, and maybe one or two other cartoonists, when all of a sudden Pekar appeared and sat down just a few feet away. It’s not every day Harvey Pekar pulls up a seat next to you; I hadn’t known he was coming, and was momentarily overwhelmed with surprise.
We got to talking about the American Splendor movie and his various projects, and I nerdily told him about my senior thesis that referenced a comic his wife Joyce Brabner had written. What I remember most clearly from our conversation was how disarmingly frank and down-to-earth he was about having to make a living again now that the flurry of attention from the movie had subsided. He put on no celebrity airs; he seemed preoccupied with the practical matters of life. Just like in his comics.
I had some audio equipment with me at the time, lent to me by a friend who asked me to interview cartoonists for a podcast. I remember being tempted to get Pekar on tape, but decided against it. It would have ruined the moment. I’m glad I didn’t.