Regulars will know that every now and then I bang on about comics. I know that they aren't every ones cup of tea, but if I could convey one message to the 'non-believer' it would be that there is such variety out there. Approach the subject with the wrong person and you'll no doubt be told that comics "are all about superheroes" and\or "are made for kids". This would be like me saying books are rubbish because they "are all Mills and Boon romance stories" &\or "all written by Enid Blyton"! Both the book and the comic book are legitimate ways of telling a story (it's jut the medium of books has better PR!) You can buy a book on pretty much any subject, and these days the same can be said of comics, both fiction and non-fiction.. and that includes autobiographical work too, my favourite of which is Harvey Pekar's American Splendor comic, which he has been making since the 70's.
In 1962, Pekar 's love of jazz led to a meet with a fellow fan who'd just moved into town - Robert Crumb. They became good friends and Harvey was very interested in the sketches and stories that Crumb was always working on (in between his day job of drawing greetings cards). A few years later and Crumb's career as an underground cartoonist had really taken off, and it gave Pekar some real food for thought. He saw the potential in a different type of comic, one about every day life... HIS every day life! But there was one small problem, he couldn't draw! Undeterred, Harvey drafted some stories using simple stick figures, and showed them to Robert Crumb. Crumb loved them, and offered to illustrate them for him, and American Splendor was born! Harvey still works in the same way to this day, the only difference is that these days, there are many more top quality cartoonists who are only too happy to illustrate his work.
Although his work fits in well with today's 'all new' comic scene, in the 70's his stuff must have been nothing short of revolutionary. At that time the comic industry really was all "superheroes and kids". There were a handful of people around making adult oriented comics (the aforementioned Robert Crumb, Gilbert Shelton with his Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers), but these were mainly "adult" because of their explicit content.
In some ways, Harvey Pekar is the godfather of blog. He's been blogging for over 30 years, but in comic format. Subject wise, nothing is too ordinary or mundane for Harvey, and his tag line has always been "ordinary life is pretty complex stuff" (CONFESSION: I may well have been influenced by this when I first set up my blog... check out MY tag line above! Sorry Harvey!). This phrase encapsulates the world of blog too.. although blogging is diversifying these days, originally it was all about capturing the everyday lives of everyday folk.
Harvey's not to every ones taste, and he seems to evoke a 'Marmite' style divide - love him or hate him. Mrs P is interested in a number of comics, but has never warmed to his work (although she did really enjoy the film adaptation of American Splendor a few years back). She finds him just too grouchy and his stories just too mundane... which ironically are the two things I love the most about his stuff! But I guess I see more of myself in Harvey than Mrs P does! On the face of it, his work may not look like anything special... a story about the growing awkwardness of someone giving him a lift to work, a conversation he's overheard in a shop, how a vague acquaintance became a better 'friend in need' than any of his true 'friends' when help was needed.... it's everyday stuff. But scratch beneath the surface and see yourself staring right back. I don't find gold in every story, occasionally one will leave me a bit 'non-plussed' thinking "and??" at the end of it. But that's the nature of this particular beast, and no doubt someone somewhere read the same thing and it really spoke to them. I remember reading one of his comics where he was reminiscing about old relationships, how the break-ups had affected him, his thoughts on love and loneliness etc. It was really profound and I kept re-reading it over and over again.
Comics have been a constant companion to me, right from an early age, yet until I discovered Harvey I never considered it was something I could do. I can't write a superhero story, a horror yarn or a futuristic novel... but i can write about the stuff that I see and the things that happen in my life (in fact, I'm pretty certain I'm the best qualified to do it!!). However, like Harvey, I can't draw either, and I don't know Robert Crumb (or any budding Robert Crumb's!), so all my ideas for comic strips have remained just that... until now! Recently I discovered some software to create comics. It certainly has its limitations (not least the fact that you can only do a maximum of three panels, and the small amount of characters you can fit into those panels), but I've been squeezing a few of my ideas into this package to see what happens.
I'm not claiming to be in Harvey's league, but like his, my strips are very personal, using my own experiences, thoughts and fears to create them. Neither do they finish with a pun, like the traditional three panel 'newspaper' strips... although hopefully one or two of them may raise a smile. I've not really been sure what to do with them, but I've decided to start uploading some of them here on the blog. There are a couple below, and I'll add a few more over the coming weeks, I'd really appreciate any feedback... Try as I might, I can't get the strips to display any bigger than they are shown, so do please doubleclick on them to view them at full size.
Oh and if by any chance an artist is reading this, and would like to collaborate and do these strips properly... do contact me!
John Cooper (1942-2015)
1 hour ago