Friday, 1 August 2008

Man Bites Blog: Harvey Pekar Inspires Piley to Strip!

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!



Anonymous said...

Hey Piley

Nice strips, keep em coming.

I guess you could create some comic strips by taking a series of photos and making them look cartoonified using photoshop or something.

The cartoonify icon can be found on the Formatting toobar :)

I didn't like American Splendour too much, his voice annoyed me.

Mallrats with Stan Lee was quite amusing though.

I love old school Spidey and Fantastic Four but not much else :(

Anonymous said...

Piley, loved your first attempts at publishing your own autobiographical strips. I know you love Harvey Pekar, Eddie Campbell etc., so it was only a matter of time before you decided to do some of your own. Long may it continue. A perfect addition to an already unmissable blog.
P.S. MORE Reflectoporn articles!!!

Anonymous said...

Great first impression on the Strips matey, to be honest i like the style that you have gone with, its your style so stick with it.

Keep up the good work

Anonymous said...

I'm with you Piley i enjoy Pekar because i can see so much of my self and life in his strips. I thank you for turning me onto him and the movie (which i still owe you £5 for , shit sorry mate). Keep it up on the blog and with your cartoons , it's all good man. Carl.

Piley said...

thanks for the positive response everyone (and despite 75% of you being 'anons' I THINK I know who you all are!

PH - I don't have photoshop, but that could be an idea, cheers. Tip: why not watch AS with the sound down and subtitles on??!

anon1 - I know 100% who you are!! You are a longtime lurker, so i'm really chuffed you've finally left a comment. thanks mate!

anon2 - wouldn't put my life on it, but you seem awful keen, so I think I got ya... I'll certainly stick with this format for now (I already have a few more all done, so there will be plenty more in this format).. thanks for the feedback.

anon3 - Cheers Carl. the Pekar DVD is a gift mate, no worries! I know you pretty well, and was sure you'd 'get' Harvey. Glad you like it. That film is a gem too, again another rare example of a comic that became a great flick.


Mondo said...

I feel exactly the same about comics being a constant companion - from a pre-school age and pretty much at the same time I got into music - I've never got bored of either, and still get the same buzz from both

You've hit the ground running with those strips P - when can we see some more?

Anonymous said...

Love the idea of the comic strip. Can see this becoming an extremely popular part of your blog.

Piley said...

cheers Mondo and anon4!

Bloody hell - do i win a prize for the most 'anonymous' comments??!

I reckon you'll be seeing another strip pretty soon Mondo... gonna try to get 1 or 2 on a week.

Anon4 - thanks for the comments(and I don't have a clue who you are!), keep checkin back as I'm hoping they will be a weekly-ish thing.


Harold said...

Couldn't afford to buy many comic books (or graphic novels) when I was a kid, but I had a handful of Spiderman books which I read over and over again. It wasn't until my 20s that I really began to appreciate this literary form, and I've been playing "catch-up" since.

Some of my favorites: Chris Ware's "Jimmy Corrigan the Smartest Boy on Earth" rocked my perception of the "comic" book. I can relate to Eddie Campbell's obsession with living the life of an artist in his autobiographical works. Marjane Satrapi's "Persepolis" and David B.'s "Epilectic" are wonderful personal works. What else, lessee...I have so much more to read!