Harvey Pekar tribute features a galaxy of Denver comic art stars
A young Harvey Pekar prepares for his close-up.
Although the illustration above looks a lot like me showing off the big muscle of my cartooning arm, it is actually a detail of my comic contribution to the Harvey Pekar tribute on the Scholars and Rogues website...
The Pekar tribute is an ongoing feature of the Scholars and Rogues website that started on October 8, 2010. That date would have been the Harvey's 71st birthday had he not died in early July. How this salute to a Cleveland-based writer came to be illustrated by a number of Denver cartoonists is best understood by knowing that the Scholars and Rogues website was born out of a chance meeting of minds at a Space Team Electra concert.
Three of the five founding members of Scholars and Rogues live in Denver. The current staff roster includes eighteen writers that hale from all over the globe. According to Executive Editor Sam Smith, the website was founded in April 2007 as a political blog and very quickly gravitated to topics of cultural concern. It has now hit its stride with a story mix that digs beneath what everyone is saying to illustrate the dynamics that shape our communities.
S&R Managing Editor Mike Sheehan cites Harvey Pekar's 1980s appearances on NBC's Late Night with David Letterman as an early inspiration. In the 1987 clip featured below, Letterman actually looses his cool and scolds Pekar like a jilted prom queen...
The clip above is almost too painful to watch, but I encourage you to do so to fully appreciate the genius of Denver Post Editorial Cartoonist Mike Keefe's contribution to Scholar and Rogues' Harvey Pekar tribute. Much like the content mix on the S&R website, Keefe skillfully juxtaposes two incongruous cultural icons to reveal the eureka moment of silly truth. I wish I had drawn that comic.
Upon agreeing to participate in the Pekar tribute project, all of the cartoonists were presented with captions to illustrate. This is much the way Harvey worked in asking underground cartoonists to illustrate the American Splendor comic book stories that became his claim to fame.
When I first read all of the Pekar tribute captions, I couldn't help visualizing how I would illustrate them. Now, Tt see how other cartoonist's have brought their chosen captions to life is a real eye-opener. Another Denver-based cartoonist, Karl Christian, kicks off the series, while one-time Westword contributor derf offers one of his most beautiful drawings ever.
Below, I'm forced to publicly confess that I was not a Harvey Pekar fan when I started this project...
Yes, I dutifully bought American Splendor comic books and tried to like them years ago, but I always was left with the feeling that Harvey was a lazy cheat for not learning how to draw his own damn pictures. After Mike Sheehan invited me to participate, I got out my old American Splendor comic books and vowed to read them repeatedly until I liked them.
It didn't take long. Like all oddballs, Harvey was able to surround himself with people of similar curiosity and intellect. His collaborations with cartoonists are beautiful examples of the best of verbal and visual editing, and they get better with each rereading.
The caption I chose to illustrate was the Harvey Pekar quote, "Comics could do anything that film could do... And I wanted in on that." I was intrigued by the challenge to represent the similarities and differences in visual sequential storytelling between the two media. Like the caption of the image to the right, I drew a comic-strip film strip.
Hopefully, the Scholars and Rogues collaboration with cartoonists will inspire new (and lapsed) fans to take a fresh look at what Harvey Pekar was saying, and to get a better read on what cartoonists are drawing.
More from our Kenny Be/Comics archive: "Aurora vacation ideas from VisitAurora.com: Kenny Be's Worst-Case Scenario."
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