2012 May 25 • Friday
Harvey Pekar's Cleveland is no doubt the last full book we will ever have by the late writer, completed by artist Joseph Remnant after Pekar's death. There may be anthologies and collections of material still to come but this appears to be Pekar's final whole work.
It's also the best of the books from Pekar's later years, and certainly one of the best from the second half of his comics career. The original magazine-sized American Splendor comics remain brilliant and untouchable, decades later, at least up to the point where Pekar starts documenting his appearances on the Letterman show.
While great work continued to appear in its pages after that, the shift in focus brought stories that were less interesting. I watched Letterman. I already knew about Letterman. What I wanted was the texture of Harvey's life in Cleveland, the people and places that existed only there, and the moments witnessed only by Harvey. Harvey claimed he didn't care about Letterman but I really didn't care about Letterman and felt that reading about Letterman over and over again in Harvey's books was a waste of my time.
Letterman is mentioned in Harvey Pekar's Cleveland, provoking something between a yawn and an exasperated sigh from me. It's like the story of the two monks and how one of them carries a woman across the river, which bugs the other one until he finally explodes hours later and asks how the first monk could have carried the woman across the river like that and the first monk says, "I put that woman down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?". I wish Harvey could have stopped carrying Letterman.
Harvey Pekar's Cleveland is conversational, occasionally repetitive, but still one of Harvey's best books. Especially valuable is the material about his second marriage. His first marriage remains something of a mystery but at least we have some details filled in about his second. This part of the book echoes one of the most affecting covers of the original American Splendor.
It's really startling to read that Harvey apparently miscalculated how much his pension and social security payments would bring him in after he retired from his VA job. All through the years we've heard about how important his "flunky" file clerk job was to him, for the mental freedom but also for the security and benefits. It's depressing to read that those benefits didn't add up to enough to live on.
Maybe he should have quit and gambled on being a full-time writer. That's something Letterman suggested the first time Harvey appeared on Late Night. But maybe it just isn't done in Cleveland. As Jimi Izrael writes in "A Pal's Goodbye", the coda to Harvey Pekar's Cleveland (which also has an uninteresting introduction by Alan Moore), "if you try hard enough to bring the eyes and accolades from afar, well—you'll never live it down".