America has lost a literary master of graphic despair. Harvey Pekar— whose American Splendor comic-book series turned the stark, often depressing realities of his life into art—was found dead yesterday, at age 70, in his Cleveland home.
Police were called to Harvey’s residence by his wife about 1 a.m. “His body was found on the floor between a bed and dresser,” the Associated Press reports. Though the cause of death is unclear, and an autopsy is under way, authorities say.
Harvey, who had prostate cancer, high blood pressure, asthma and depression—and whose life was immortalized by Paul Giamatti in the 2003 feature film American Splendor— had gone to bed around 4:30 p.m. Sunday in good spirits, his wife told police.
Just 26 days earlier, in a live interview with BlogTalkRadio’s Justin Paine and Kenneth Rodriquez, hosts of Milk of Minutia, Harvey spoke for one hour and 13 minutes, touching on his financial fears, his health, his state of mind, his art form, his favorite illustrators, his love of jazz, his family, his religion and his notoriety.
“It’s been a while since [American Splendor] came out. In the years since the movie, can you give the listeners an update on your well-being, how you’re feeling lately and what’s been happening?” Ken asked.
“The movie really saved my life, because I did a very risky thing—that I didn’t realize at the time was risky. I worked as a civil servant for a real long time and all the other people I knew who worked for the federal government, they retired on a pension, and they seemed to do alright,” said Harvey.
“But what I didn’t realize was that they got promoted. And I never even asked to get promoted. And what your pension’s based on is how much money you make. And I didn’t really wanna go any place. I liked it where I was.
“Anyway, I retired and I found out I didn’t have enough money to live on—even if they threw in Social Security. So then this movie hits, and few people started asking me to do graphic novels. That’s for the most part what I’ve been doing since then. They don’t sell real well, but there are [publishers] here and there who love my work and give me a break, even though they don’t think they’re gonna do anything but break even. So with the combination of pensions and social security and the income from comics—I spend a lot of time on them—that’s where I’m at now,” Harvey continued, before adding:
“Currently, I’m disturbed by the state of the economy. These are the last stages of my life, man! I don’t wanna go out in a huge depression or something like that.”
Harvey also discussed his cancer, telling us:
“I had lymphoma in 1990 and 2002. I did have [it twice], but they were separated by about 12 years. They caught’m early. I was the one who found them. The second one wasn’t too bad at all. They had changed their treatment methods by then, so they weren’t too bad on me.
“What can I say? I’m still here.”
Later still, he discussed the reaction to him among his public.
“There are some people who maybe don’t get where I’m comin’ from, but for the most part I get along OK. I don’t try and put on airs or anything like that. I try and make people feel relaxed around me. It sometimes seems like they’re gettin’ too worked up or somethin,’ you know?”
Harvey also delivered a witty signoff.
When Ken told him, “I’m so ecstatic that you were able to give us this much time. I can’t begin to tell you how appreciative we are that you carved out a piece of your evening for us,” the writer quipped:
“That’s alright. I like talkin’ about myself. You got the right guy.”
And in a final irony, Harvey promised to return to chat further with his fans.
“If it’s OK, I’d like to talk about doing this again in a few months, because it’s just fascinating. You’ve got a lot of unique insights,” said Ken, to which Harvey replied:
“OK, sure. Then take it easy, fellas.”
To hear Harvey’s full June 17 interview, click here.