Comic book artist: everyday life can make great stories

Harvey Pekar, creator of the comic book “American Splendor,” had a book signing Friday at Coffman Union.

by Anna Weggel

Anyone can be the subject of a fascinating novel or movie, said Harvey Pekar, author of the comic book series “American Splendor.”

Pekar’s day-to-day life, including 35 years as a file clerk at a Veterans Affairs’ hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, was the basis for his comics. In 2003, his life was made into a successful movie.

Pekar signed books, spoke and answered questions about his life and work Friday at Coffman Union. Students opened a lively discussion on several topics including the status of U.S. cities, political views and the clothing he was wearing.

Although he makes more money now than as a file clerk, Pekar said he still keeps his house messy and buys his shirts from thrift stores.

“Most of the money I get I stick in the bank for my kid,” he said.

Students who attended Pekar’s book signing said they appreciate that he is an average Joe with an everyday, commonplace life.

“He is an honest and an ordinary guy,” said liberal arts sophomore Bryce Kucko. “You can connect with him.”

Pekar, a longtime comic book collector, said he became tired of comics being regarded a kids’ medium and wanted to make a series about how interesting everyday life can be.

Growing up in Cleveland, Pekar saw his home as one of the leading industrial cities in the world. He then saw everything turn around as it was beat out industrially by countries like Japan and China.

“I’m used to seeing the city fail. I’m used to failure,” he said.

Pekar said he doesn’t mind the fame he has received from the recent movie release, even though the comic series has existed since 1976.

“Nah, it’s nice. Fame is money,” Pekar said. “And I’m really money hungry now in my old age.”

Pekar also enjoys hearing people respond to his work.

He still keeps his number in the phone book and said he loves when people call to tell him they like his movie.

“It makes me want to work harder and make more money,” he said.

He said he was surprised when someone wanted to make a movie based on a guy often thought of as a loser.

But it is Pekar’s ordinary characteristics that fans like about him.

“He’s not much of an artist,” said University English senior Scott Wertsch. “There’s not much special about him, except that he’s a great storyteller.”