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Tag Archive: Harvey Pekar


Review by C.J. Bunce

It helps to know upfront that Scottish comedian and personality Frankie Boyle always wanted to write comics.  His inspiration wasn’t from the decades of superhero comics, but Alan Moore, whose attitude, as Boyle sees it, was “that comics had sort of run their course.”  A fan of the writing of Ed Brubaker, David Lapham, and Jason Aaron, Boyle embarked on an ambitious project, asking “what sort of comics do you write after comics have been done already?”  The result was first published in serial format in Mark Millar’s short-lived CLiNT magazine, and with two new chapters to wrap up his story a complete, graphic novel-length story arrives next week from Titan Comics, called Frankie Boyle’s Rex Royd.

Ambitious is the key word to describe Rex Royd.  At its worst, Boyle has touched on Alan Moore’s outrageous depravity as seen in his Lost Girls.  At its best, Boyle has created a character that will appeal to fans of the disconnected and dispassionate Dr. Manhattan and the idiosyncratic and self-absorbed Ozymandias in Moore’s acclaimed Watchmen series.  With his protagonist, the Lex Luthor-esque supervillain scientist and CEO Rex Royd, Boyle has created a brash reflection of non-mainstream comics in the pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe era.  His “hero” is like Ian Fleming’s James Bond if you remove all the tropes that make us actually like Bond, all the fun things that keep us coming back for more and not just dismiss the character as a misogynistic, unexpurgated blunt instrument.  Boyle is fully in on this, as his lead female character Eve–as in the biblical partner of Adam–resembles Bond’s confidante Eve Moneypenny in the last two Bond movies.

And yet, Rex Roydthe book–is like a writing experiment.  What do we get if we take out all these good elements and swap in the dark outcomes?  So it sometimes reads like Neil Gaiman writing a 24-Hour Comic (I’ve read that, this is probably better), but then, as in the ninth and final chapter of the book, we’re surprised with a clever sort of play on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, with some Harvey Pekar-inspired attempts at making some meaning of it all.  So there’s a lot going on.  If you find linearity and deep meaning in the book, well, the joke may be on you, as the author has said when the artists needed some of his script to be explained, his response was, “It’s supposed to be a joke.”

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Allie Brosh Hyperbole and a Half Depression Part Two copyright 2013

If you haven’t seen Paul Giamatti’s incredible performance as comic book writer Harvey Pekar in the 2003 film American Splendor you should add it to your Netflix queue.  The movie follows the Cleveland born and raised Pekar and his rise to fame as underground comic book creator, writing about relationships, holding a job, wrestling health issues, writing about life.  Better yet, track down any of his books.  His book Our Cancer Year, which won both a Harvey Award and American Book Award, was written with his wife Joyce Brabner, recounting his tumultuous yet ultimately successful battle against lymphoma.  It’s an account that takes comic book writing to another place entirely.  His American Splendor series has been praised by many in the field, including other writers like Neil Gaiman. His stories were drawn by a myriad of artists including Cleveland neighbor Robert Crumb.

Harvey wrestled with anxiety during his life and suffered from depression.  He died from an accidental overdose in 2010 shortly after he learned he had a recurrence of cancer–his third fight against the disease.  If you ever are questioned about comic books as a serious medium, you can point to Harvey Pekar and that should stop anyone in their tracks.

Harvey Pekar Joyce Brabner Our Cancer Year

Last week a friend sent me a link to website written by a woman named Allie Brosh who uses comic art to talk about her life and experiences, blogging much like any number of people across the Web.  She’d been offline for a long while and returned with an incredible post last week.  Check out this story in comic art form, titled Depression Part Two.  There is something very compelling and striking about her creative way of storytelling.  If you have ever known someone who suffers from depression, or you yourself think you may suffer from depression, you may find your friend or yourself in Allie’s work.  The Bend, Oregon, based blogger has received thousands of comments already for her post about depression, and if the story itself doesn’t convince you that “you’re not in this alone” then all the commenters who have written about being touched by her story should.

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