Monday, August 30, 2010

The Quitter

If this were a superhero story, The Quitter might have been called the Secret Origin of Harvey Pekar. A life-long resident of Cleveland, Pekar was a ground-breaking creator who brought memoir, ordinary life, and autobiography to the comic book world. His stories typically followed his job as a file clerk for a VA hospital, the people he interacted with there, his relationship with his wife, his daily routines, or the jazz music he so loved and appreciated.

Pekar self-published his stories in American Splendor, a series of comics that have been coming out since 1976. The series featured art by underground comix legend Robert Crumb, who was an early supporter. It also attracted a great number of other artists who told Pekar's stories. He also wrote a few graphic novels, including Our Cancer Year, a chronicle of his battle with cancer that won the 1995 Harvey Award. His comic works were adapted into a movie that won the Sundance Grand Jury Prize and the FIPRESCI Prize at the Cannes Fim Festival. Pekar died in July of this year, and his life is properly celebrated in this obituary.

The Quitter tells the story of Harvey's early years, from his days growing up in a Jewish/Italian neighborhood and learning to take up and fight for himself. He also detailed his coming up under very traditional, old-country Jewish parents, trying to fit in various neighborhoods, and his many undertakings. The reader follows Pekar from job to job and pursuit to pursuit with access to his private thoughts and feelings. This is a very honest and uncompromising look into the life of a young person struggling to find his place in the world, a person who messes up and who tends to quit when things get difficult. Although it portrays relatively mundane events the book is still compelling and evocative.

Pekar's contributor here is Dean Haspiel, a writer/artist who has numerous credits in comics, graphic novels, and movies, tending toward biographical works. Of late, he won an Emmy Award for his title designs for the HBO series Bored to Death.

Like Pekar's other works, this one has been typically well received. The reviewer at Grovel liked Haspiel's attempts to capture the young Harvey but felt that this work was more for established Pekar fans than new ones. Blogger charlieblizz differed on opinion here and found the book's conversational tone very inviting. Rick K wrote that even though it is a thin volume "The Quitter has the heft of a full novel, only it is admittedly a lot faster, more fun and easier to read."

A preview is available here from the book's publisher, Vertigo.

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