Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Few Words and Pictures About Harvey

Words & Pictures: Seth Kushner

There are many people paying tribute to Harvey Pekar today; some whom knew him far better than I, and others who are much better with words.  But, as someone who has been affected by Harvey's work, I felt the need to pay tribute.

I didn't know Harvey very well at all, not personally at least.  I knew him as many did, through his work, and the great film, American Splendor.  I first met Harvey in February 2009 when he was speaking at YIVO here in New York.  When I first heard about the event, I immediately got on the phone with Jeff Newelt, Harvey's editor on SMITH Mag's Pekar Project to ask for access so I could take his portrait.  I'm always looking to make an iconic portrait of my heros and Harvey was certainly among them.  Meeting Harvey, I was almost expecting him to look like a R. Crumb drawing, or maybe like Paul Giamatti, and I was surprised by how much he looked like, well, Harvey Pekar.  I only spent five minutes with him, but I got what I needed and was happy to have made the photo above, among others.

The second time I met Harvey was at the King Con in Brooklyn last fall.  Christopher Irving and I were granted a session to profile him for GRAPHIC NYC.  I got to know him a little better that time.  My plan was to merge Christopher's interview based essay, with fumetti (photo comics) to make a sort of photographic American Splendor. Because I did the shoot previous to the interview, I didn't know what he was going to say, so I knew I had to get a variety of expressions out of him in order to make the piece work later.  I explained to Harvey and he immediately understood, and playfully displayed a range of emotions, as I called them out.  "OK, now angry," I said and he put on an exaggerated sour puss.  Most amusing was when I asked for his happy face, and a smile crossed his lips, his eyes lit up, and suddenly I realized I never saw Harvey Pekar smile before.  Perhaps, in his role as America's favorite curmudgeon, he was just expected to be that all the time.  But, his smile was genuine.  He was a happy guy.

Feel free to view the whole fumetti profile, but for now, below are the last three pages, where Harvey discusses the then-current stated of his career.

Harvey Pekar, a seemingly ordinary guy from Cleveland, a former file clerk, made an indelible mark on comics, influenced several generations of comics creators, and died too soon.  His volumes of published work (and more to soon be published) will live on to inspire future generations.  He will be greatly missed but he will not be forgotten.