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Comics College is a monthly feature where we provide an introductory guide to some of the comics medium’s most important auteurs and offer our best educated suggestions on how to become familiar with their body of work.
This month we’re paying homage to a writer who left us a little too recently and too soon, the late, great Harvey Pekar.
This Wednesday will see the release of the third issue of writer Roger Langridge and artist Chris Samnee‘s Thor: The Mighty Avenger. Anyone reading our weekly What Are You Reading column knows how much I’ve praised the first two issues. Samnee and I spoke briefly at this past June’s HeroesCon and from there an email interview came together. In addition to Thor, we discuss some of Samnee’s past work as well as his upcoming collaboration with writer Jim McCann on I Am An Avenger 1. Earlier today, CBR posted a five-page preview to Thor: The Mighty Avenger 3.
O’Shea: What’s the most enjoyable aspect of working from a Roger Langridge script?
Samnee: Roger’s scripts are really funny – I laugh out loud when I read them! I love the humor as well as his ability to tell quiet, emotional moments. Since Roger’s also an artist, he’s really good with pacing and page turns as well. And the scripts have a very silver-age feel, which is right up my alley.
O’Shea: I keep re-reading Thor: The Mighty Avenger 1 trying to figure out what my favorite scene was–and I can ‘t decide if it’s when we first see the Rainbow Bridge on page 2; or the first scene where Thor smiles. Was the smiling Thor a character suggestion from Langridge or was that your idea?
Samnee: The smile was in the script. Roger made clear right from the outline for the book that this Thor smiles and enjoys himself. For me, that was one of the most enjoyable aspects of the book, as an artist and a reader of comics. I’ve worked on a lot of heavy books – it’s a nice change of pace to be on something a bit lighter, a comic where the characters are having fun.
Retailing | Heidi MacDonald confirms rumors that well-regarded Brooklyn retailer Rocketship, the setting for numerous signings, release parties and art shows, has closed after five years. “We’ve come to the end of a five-year lease, and are deciding what to do now,” said co-owner Alex Cox. “Five years went by fast, and my partner and I are suddenly making some large life decisions about what comes next. We love the shop, and as fun as it is, we have to figure out what makes sense for us on a practical level.” [The Beat]
Pop culture | KRCW-Santa Monica (89.9 FM) will rebroadcast the 1991 radio production of American Splendor, starring Dan Castellaneta, from 7:30 to 8 p.m. PST today. This broadcast will appear on air and via KCRW.com live stream only, and will not be available on demand or via podcast. [KCRW.com]
Legal | The Wall Street Journal’s Tomomichi Amano looks at efforts by a newly formed coalition of Japanese and American manga publishers to crack down on U.S.-based scanlation websites. “People might say it’s like whack-a-mole,” says Vertical Inc.’s Ioannis Mentzas, “but we think even making one (legal) case will greatly change the situation.” [Japan Real Time]
Legal | The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund joined a coalition of booksellers and other organizations in a federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday to challenge an expansion of Massachusetts’ obscenity law to include distribution via the Internet of material “harmful to minors.”
The new law, which went into effect on Monday, is intended to close a loophole that led the state Supreme Court to overturn the conviction of a man accused of sending sexually explicit instant messages to someone he thought was a 13-year-old girl. Following the February ruling, the state Legislature swiftly to add IMs, text messages, email and other electronic communications to the existing obscenity law.
But the coalition, which includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts and the Association of American Publishers, argues that the law is too broad, and “bans constitutionally protected speech on the Internet for topics including contraception and pregnancy, sexual health, literature, and art.” Under the statute, violators can be fined $10,000 or sentenced up to five years in prison, or both, which the group asserts will cause “a chilling effect” or online booksellers. [The Associated Press, CBLDF press release]
Among the many tributes to Harvey Pekar that have begun to appear online and in print, this one by chef and author Anthony Bourdain stands out. That’s in large part because Bourdain’s remembrance centers on a 2007 episode of his Travel Channel series No Reservations that brought him to a wintry Cleveland, where the irascible Pekar served as a guide and narrator.
Watching that episode, it was obvious a handful of ingredients — Bourdain, comic book-style illustrations and, most importantly, Pekar in his element — had combined to create something special. So it’s nice to see that, three years and almost 60 episodes later, “Cleveland” remains Bourdain’s favorite.
“That show was unique among over a hundred others in that everything — absolutely everything — went perfectly and exactly as planned,” he wrote today on his blog. “Unlike every other episode, pretty much everything had been ‘written’ (or at least planned out) in advance: the look, the American Splendor graphics, destinations, subjects and content. In the middle of a blizzard in the dead of winter, we got exactly what we were looking for. We wanted American Splendor and that’s what we got.”
It’s a lovely tribute that moves beyond an episode of a food and travel show, with Bourdain trying to capture what drew so many to Pekar and his work: “A few great artists come to ‘own’ their territory. As Joseph Mitchell once owned New York and Zola owned Paris, Harvey Pekar owned not just Cleveland but all those places in the American Heartland where people wake up every day, go to work, do the best they can — and in spite of the vast and overwhelming forces that conspire to disappoint them — go on, try as best as possible to do right by the people around them, to attain that most difficult of ideals: to be ‘good’ people.”
You can watch a teaser for the Pekar episode after the break.
Publishing | The direct market saw a 21-percent jump in graphic novel sales in June, reversing the category’s dismal trend. ICv2.com notes that’s the best year-over-year comparison since June 2008. Periodical sales, meanwhile, remained virtually unchanged, inching up just 1 percent from June 2009.
DC’s Arkham Asylum: Madness, by Sam Kieth, led the graphic novel list with modest sales of about 7,400. The No. 2 title, the second volume of John Layman and Rob Guillory’s Chew, actually experienced an increase in sales in its second month on the chart. The periodicals list was topped by the first issue of Marvel’s relaunched New Avengers — one of four Avengers titles in the Top 10 — with about 129,000 copies. John Jackson Miller has additional analysis. [ICv2.com]
Legendary underground comics writer Harvey Pekar was found dead early this morning by his wife Joyce Brabner in their Cleveland Heights, Ohio, home, The Plain Dealer reports. He was 70.
Pekar, best known for his American Splendor series of autobiographical comics that inspired the acclaimed 2003 film of the same name, had been suffering from prostate cancer, asthma, high blood pressure and depression. He was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer in 1990, which inspired him to collaborate with Brabner and Frank Stack on Our Cancer Year.
A spokesman for the Cuyahoga County coroner said an autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death.
The curmudgeonly writer, who began publishing his American Splendor comics in 1976, most recently had been working on The Pekar Project webcomic series for Smith magazine.
Born on Oct. 8, 1939, in Cleveland to Saul and Dora Pekar, Polish immigrants who owned a small grocery store, Pekar dropped out of college and joined the Navy, only to return to his hometown. There he worked at a string of menial jobs until settling in as a file clerk for the Veteran’s Administration Hospital in Cleveland, where he remained until his retirement in 2001.
In recent years Pekar released two new American Splendor series through DC’s Vertigo imprint, as well the autobiographical hardcover The Quitter. In 2009, he released The Beats, a history of the Beat movement, and Studs Terkel’s Working: A Graphic Adaptation.
Pekar is survived by his third wife Joyce Brabner and their foster daughter Danielle.
Update: Vertigo Editor Jonathan Vankin, who worked with Pekar and Dean Haspiel on The Quitter, has released a statement: “I am terribly sad today. Working with Harvey Pekar was one of my first experiences at Vertigo and it’s still one of my best, not only in comics but in my life. Underneath the well-known gruff exterior, Harvey was a deeply compassionate person and of course, a brilliant mind. He created, almost singlehandedly, an entirely new kind of comics and his commitment to what he did was absolute and uncompromising. We’ve all suffered a huge loss today, in comics of course, but also in American culture.”
Fun Home‘s Alison Bechdel and American Splendor‘s Harvey Pekar can be ranked alongside Persepolis‘s Marjane Satrapi and Maus‘s Art Spiegelman (to the extent Maus is autobiographical) as the cartoonists whose autobiographical comics have made the biggest splash in the larger pop-cultural pond. So it must have been a real treat to hear the pair talk about their comics, their lives, and the intersection of the two at UCLA last Friday. Fortunately, CBR’s Tom Gastall was there to tell us all about it today. In addition to talking about process and success, Bechdel and Pekar tease their next projects — Bechdel’s working on a memoir about the making of Fun Home, while Pekar’s got a political work called “How I Lost My Faith in Israel” on the horizon. Should be plenty of grist for discussion. Go read!
Harvey Pekar, the irascible, inimitable observational writer whose slice-of-life series American Splendor has been a cornerstone of alternative comics for decades now, turned 70 yesterday. (That’s right, he’s only seemed like a lovably grumpy old man until now.) To celebrate Pekar’s big Seven-Oh, SMITH Magazine–already the home of Harvey’s current comics outlet, The Pekar Project–has commissioned over 90 artists and counting to draw Pekar portraits for its Harvey Heads gallery. Contributors so far include Jeff Smith, Jim Mahfood, Jeffrey Brown, Alison Bechdel, Renee French, Molly Crabapple, Bryan Talbot, Bob Sikoryak, Peter Kuper, Josh Neufeld, Joshua W. Cotter, The Quitter‘s Dean Haspiel, longtime American Splendor artist Gary Dumm and many, many, many more. Click the link and soak up the splendor.
Smith magazine has unveiled their latest Webcomics enterprise, the Pekar Project, which features a collection of stories written by the king of Autobio comics hisself, Harvey Pekar. Publisher’s Weekly has the details:
The Pekar Project features artwork by Tara Seibel, Sean Pryor, Joseph Remnant, and Rick Parker. Seibel first worked with Pekar in Cleveland for a year and a half on a strip called Rock City. Pekar began working with Remnant after Jay Lynch, an early underground cartoonist, recommended him. A recent School of Visual Arts graduate, Pryor worked with Pekar on a comic for the magazine Royal Flush, which is due out in October. And Parker illustrated a comic for SMITH’s Next Door Neighbor series, and was brought into the project by [editor Jeff] Newelt. “It was like assembling a band,” said Newelt of organizing the project. Parker continued the band analogy , “The songs are really about Harvey, and Jeff’s the band leader.”
The project will feature 20 complete stories that range from one-page strips to a 23-page story. The stories will run over the next three months. The Project will also feature a blog, interviews with the creators and behind-the-scenes clips.