Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Pekar Project: Gettin' The Band Together

Photos: Seth Kushner

Through his years working on his American Splendor series, Harvey Pekar was worked with many a top talent artist, including; R. Crumb, Greg Budgett, Gary Dumm, Ed Piskor, Dean Haspiel, Josh Neufeld, Eddie Campbell, Gilbert Hernandez, and many more. For The Pekar Project, Harvey is collaborating with four illustrators who are relatively new to the world of Pekar. These are their individual stories about hooking up and working with Harvey.

Tara Seibel

"I met Harvey when he was speaking at Lakeland College and showed him my work. He dug my fine art and design influences and month later we were collaborating on comics for Chicago New City Magazine. I labeled our collaborations Rock City Comix (Terminally Ill) with Cleveland’s Terminal Tower in the logo and started a blog to post the comics. Harvey liked the direction we were heading in so much, that he called Dean Haspiel and asked if we could get hooked up with a more prominent online venue like SMITH. Dean hooked us with SMITH's comics editor Jeff Newelt and we started talking about the Pekar Project concept. Jeff and Harvey got Joseph, Sean and Rick on board and we've been kickin' it freestyle since. It's nice because we all have different styles which keeps it indigenous to American Splendor, but with a modern edge. Illustrating for Harvey Pekar feels like sharing the stage with Neil Young."

Cleveland native Tara Seibel set off for Chicago with a BFA and a suitcase. She worked at coffee houses until she landed a position at a graphic design firm. Tara was designing edgy patterns for rolls of toilet paper when she got canned because her boss said her style had " too much rock & roll for the firm." She then landed a job illustrating patterns for gift wrap at American Greetings where she designed product lines that went into Target, Kmart and Walmart. She worked at American Greetings until she had her first child and then started freelancing. She created editorial cartoons for Chicago Fashion Magazine, US Catholic, and Cleveland Free Times. While drawing and taking care of a family, Tara started investigating different cartoonists and found herself camped out in the graphic novel section at Barnes & Noble on Saturday nights. After becoming a fan of Harvey Pekar's American Splendor, she went to see him speak about his book The Quitter. When she got there the only seat that wasn't taken was the one next to Harvey.

Joseph Remnant

"I was drawing comics for Arthur Magazine and Jay Lynch, a celebrated underground cartoonist from the seventies, saw that work and sent it to Harvey with a strong written recommendation. Shortly after that, Harvey called me and started giving me stories to illustrate. As a long time fan, I was thrilled and a bit terrified to hear from him. But working with Harvey has been nothing but pleasurable. It's exactly the type of stuff that I like drawing. I really have almost no interest in fantasy stories or super heroes. I prefer just drawing people shuffling through life and having odd little conversations and what not, so working with Harvey is perfect for me. As an added bonus, around the same time I started working with Harvey, Jeff Newelt was putting together this group of artists for the Pekar Project, so I got to become apart of this great crew of other talented artists."

Joseph Remnant is an artist/illustrator/cartoonist living in Los Angeles. He currently contributes comics to Arthur Magazineand does a weekly cartoon for Expect a collection of his short comics to be published sometime next year.

Rick Parker

"Brooklyn's Renowned Comics Collective, ACT-I-VATE's co-founder and artist extraordinaire, Dean Haspiel, saw my arwork in Tales From The Crypt and invited me to illustrate a "Next-Door Neighbor Story" for SMITH Magazine. The story was written by Michele Carlo and had been chosen as the winner of SMITH's contest as judged by "The King of Autobiographical Comics", the legendary Harvey Pekar. Dean then introduced me to NYC PR Guru and Pekar Project Comics editor and impressario, Jeff "JahFurry" Newelt who asked me to submit some samples to Harvey Pekar for consideration. Harvey liked what he saw and then called me with a story "Zen Comics" to illustrate. The Pekar Project (Jeff Newelt, Sean Pryor, Joseph Remnant, and Tara Seibel), all met in Cleveland in October for the grand opening exhibition of Pekar Project art at The Pennello Gallery. It's been lots of fun working with Harvey Pekar and the other members of the Pekar Project and through them, I've met many new and interesting artists and writers, photographers, and media people."

Rick Parker is best known as the artist of MTV’s Beavis and Butt-Head comics from Marvel. Rick was on staff at Marvel Comics in the ’70s and ’80s doing lettering and production work. He currently draws the intro pages featuring the Old Witch, The Vault Keeper and the Crypt Keeper for the new Tales From the Crypt comics. Parker is currently working on an upcoming graphic novel Tales From The Crypt: The Diary of A Stinky Dead Kid and his own ongoing webcomics, Parker’s Comics & Stories. Parker recently drew a Next-Door Neighbor story for SMITH, Night of the Black Chrysanthemum.

Sean Pryor

"I was vacuuming the floor of the vintage clothing store I work at when my phone rings and the editor of the Royal Flush Magazine, Josh Bernstein, is on the other line asking me if I want to do a comic with Harvey Pekar. Needless to say my jaw dropped, considering I had only just graduated from the School of Visual Arts barely six months before and while I had done some illustration work between the time I graduated and that fateful phone call, I hadn't had any comics of mine published. I immediately agreed to do it. The nice thing about it was that I was drawing stuff in that comic that I was familiar with, since I am a fan of music he reviews in the comic (Bad Brains, Ministry, Judas Priest, etc). I had also heard from Josh and Jeff Newelt that Harvey might be looking for a new artist for more work, so I made sure that I knocked the comic out of the park.

"So the comic was finished and everyone seemed pretty happy with the results, especially Harvey. He asked me if I wanted to keep working with him since he really liked what I was doing, so I agreed and the result is my contributions to the Pekar Project.

"Working with Harvey is a lot more relaxed than I would have imagined. He'll usually calls when I'm sleeping. Of course if it were anybody else I'd probably not answer it, but there's a really great surreal feeling I get when I look at my phone and I see that Harvey Pekar is on the caller ID. I actually don't get the infamous stick figure layouts. He'll usually just dictate the script over the phone and give me a general idea of what he wants on the page. He seems to trust my instincts, which is a great incentive to do my absolute best considering that confidence is coming from a comic legend."

Sean Pryor is a cartoonist/illustrator and a recent School of Visual Arts grad residing in New Jersey. Pryor has contributed numerous illustrations to both Revolver and Royal Flush magazine.

If the artists in The Pekar Project are a band, with Harvey being the bandleader/composer, then that would make editor Jeff Newelt the producer/manager.

Jeff Newelt

"We at SMITH had a code-word forA.D. New Orleans After the Deluge, the serialized nonfiction Katrina graphic novel by Josh Neufeld, before it even started, which was ‘American Splendor 2.0,’ meaning our benchmark for quality of nonfiction comics on SMITH was the work of Harvey Pekar. The 2.0 meant the multimedia and blog extras our format can provide, and Josh happened to be an actual frequent Pekar collaborator."

"Our next SMITH comics series was Next-Door Neighbor, an anthology of true-life tales edited by ACT-I-VATE's own Dean Haspiel, another frequent Pekar collaborator. Harvey himself contributed a story to NDN, and it was my contribution to pair him with Rick Veitch, and Harvey was real happy with how that story came out and the reception it received. Around that time Harvey was working with a gifted illustrator/designer, Tara Seibel who was starting to do comics with Harvey, and he was energized, knowing the two of them if they kept going would get into some deep avante garde shit."

"So he called Dean and said, ‘What about that SMITH online thing…think me and Tara could do something?’ I was looking for the next big SMITH project, and Dean knew I was also itching to hone my hands-on editor's chops, so Dean connected us. I immediately had Harvey and Tara do a strip for HEEB's politics issue and the seeds were sown. At the same time Harvey started working with artist Joseph Remnant, whose style was opposite of Tara's, very Crumb-like, but who Harvey was also enjoying working with. Harvey also did a strip illustrated by young Sean Pryor for Royal Flush, which Harvey also dug, and then Rick Parker, the veteran who always wanted to draw for Pekar threw his hat into the ring and a band was formed."

"Working with Harvey is a treat. He is way more sweet, humble and appreciative than he is a ‘curmudgeon.’ We quickly got into a groove and just started to literally jam. Harvey calls me up and reads me stories over the phone and I even would up in one of them, 'Legendary Vienna.'"

"This is also the first time that Harvey isn't working just one-to-one-to-one with all the artists. This is a team. Tara's been instrumental in getting the whole thing rolling, coming up with the badass logo that just sealed the deal, and all four artists are bringing their A-game. We even all went to Cleveland for his 70th birthday to do a Pekar Project gallery show and it felt like a family reunion even though most of us just met for the first time.”

Jeff Newelt AKA JahFurry is comics editor of SMITH, HEEB and Royal Flush Magazines. He is editor / producer of The Pekar Project on SMITH as well as Minister of Hype for the webcomix collective ACT-I-VATE. He is a social media/PR consultant for Paul Pope, Doug Rushkoff, DJ Spooky, Molly Crabapple, CBLDF, Rick Veitch, Larry Marder, NBM Publishing and other comics / culture / media superheroes. JahFurry also regularly performs freestyle dancehall reggae dittinanigans with various NYC dub, jazz, klezmer, and blues ensembles.

See Jeff's Graphic NYC profile, Jeff Newelt ACT-I-VATEs the Hype

Finally, we have a few words from the man himself, Harvey Pekar.

"Working on this Pekar Project has brought new life to me. I'm thrilled to work with Tara Seibel, because I haven't worked with a whole lot of experimental artists before and because of her varied background in the arts, I figured that if I worked with her, she'd turn out something real creative based on the fact that she has a broader pool of information to draw upon. She's really somebody to watch. It's turning out to be a ball working with the other three artists too. They are all real solid cartoonists and very nice guys as well."

Read The Pekar Project at Smith Magazine.