Friday, October 26, 2012

Cleveland Public Library Honors Harvey Pekar

I first heard of Harvey Pekar in 2003, thanks to the publicity surrounding American Splendor, a film based in part on Pekar's graphic novel series of the same name. Intrigued, I went to the local movie theater and, for a little more than an hour and a half, sat absorbed in the story of the Cleveland, Ohio, native. Despite his dark outlook on life, Harvey Pekar shone brightly as a star of the underground comic scene and as an accidental celebrity in the entertainment industry, first as a repeat guest on David Letterman's late-night talk show, then as the subject of a successful comedy-drama loosely based on his life.

A clip from the credit sequence of the 2003 film American Splendor.
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In 2010, Pekar passed away at the age of 70 from what was later determined to be an accidental overdose from a combination of antidepressants. A year later, in 2011, his widow Joyce Brabner spearheaded a Kickstarter campaign to fund the "Harvey Pekar Library Statue: Comics as Art & Literature Desk." The online campaign was a huge success, raising more than $38,000 for the memorial to the late graphic novelist. This month, the memorial was unveiled on the second floor of the Lee Road Branch of the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library, which Harvey Pekar often visited.

On October 14, nearly 200 fans, friends, and family of Pekar attended the unveiling, which was part of a program titled "Harvey Pekar: A Literary, Library Life." Among those present was Joyce Brabner, who gazed at the 2 1/2-foot bronze likeness of her late husband emerging, palms turned upward, from a fiberglass replica of a page from one of his graphic novels. Sculptor Justin Coultor created the statue, which he based on drawings by J.T. Waldman, an illustrator who collaborated with Pekar on the book Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me, which was published this year by Hill & Wang's Novel Graphics imprint.
The limited-editon library card featuring a likeness of Pekar.
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In addition to the dedication of the statue, Cleveland Public Library issued a limited-edition library card that depicts Pekar entering its main branch. The illustration on the card is based on a drawing from Harvey Pekar's Cleveland, a collaboration between Pekar and artist Joe Remnant that was released this year by Zip Comics/Top Shelf. It's the first in a series of library cards bearing the likenesses of famous people from Cleveland. Explaining why he chose Pekar to be the first Clevelander celebrated in this way, Felton Thomas, director of Cleveland Public Library, said, "He brought Cleveland to life through his work and was a loyal patron of CPL. It's our pleasure to offer this card to our patrons in his honor."

For library patrons in Cleveland, Ohio, who want to get their hands on the limited-edition card featuring Harvey Pekar, all that's necessary is to go to a local branch and ask for it - the usual $1 replacement fee will be waived.

Speaking earlier at the statue dedication ceremony, Brabner said, "Ours was a family that believed a library card was a lot more important than a charge card," a statement that drew the day's greatest applause.

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