A CITY THAT HAS historic statues galore can’t seem to leap the tall obstacles to properly honor its own Superman. So what does it take, then, to celebrate the town’s Everyman ?
Harvey Pekar — like the Man of Steel creator Jerry Siegel (with Canadian-born artist Joe Shuster) — is utterly Cleveland’s own, a comics figure rendered larger-than-life because his life was writ un-large, divining its power from the mundane of the day.
Or as Neil Gaiman told Comic Riffs in 2010, immediately after the ”American Splendor” writer died: “Harvey believed there was no limit to how good comics could be. To chronicle his life from these tiny wonderful moments of magic and of heartbreak — and the most important thing was that he did it.”
Now, to celebrate the legacy of Harvey, the most important thing is that comics fans do it.
Comics writer Joyce Brabner recently launched a fundraising campaign to honor her late husband. In a year of some splendid Kickstarter comics projects, I can’t think of one that is more worthy.
The Harvey Pekar Library Statue could be a rightly glorious thing. On one side, sitting in the Cleveland Heights public library that Harvey used to frequent, could be a desk filled with pencil and paper and other supplies — the sublimely simple tools for creating, in Harvey’s works, the “words and pictures” of comics.
Walking in full dimension onto that desk would be a statue of Harvey. And on the desk’s reverse side, in comic panels, would be space for fans to share their own cartoons.
But just what does it take for comics readers to decide to support the project? Even comics titan Alan Moore stepped up this week, offering a Q&A web conference in return for a pledge.
Yet still this Pekar project is falling just shy of its goal.
“I’m still scared that I can’t pull it off,” Brabner tells Comic Riffs recently. “I guess the numbers are kind of okay.”
With 16 days to go, it will be interesting to see whether fans come through.
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“The way this project has evolved has been about collaboration,” Brabner tells Comic Riffs. “That’s what Harvey’s about — is collaboration.”
Since Harvey’s death, Brabner says she has mourned and endured in the same way she’s gotten through all awful things; “It’s the classic survivor’s black humor.” And through that humor, she refuses to feel like a victim. “I can’t stand people feeling sorry for Harvey — that makes me anxious,” says Brabner, who co-authored with her husband the critically acclaimed comic “Our Cancer Year.”
So celebrating Harvey through a public statue is a form of proceeding with strength. Even though Brabner says she faced the celebrity widow’s dilemma.
“I didn’t want to exploit him — I want to exult him,” Brabner says in her trademark fast patter — her mind crackling with wit and force and forever a beguiling momentum.
Universities and libraries approached Brabner shortly after Harvey’s death. “ ‘Can we have his papers?’ they asked. I did not want to sell his things,” she says.
(Brabner notes that she still can’t bring herself to watch her husband on video. “I can listen to his voice on radio,” she says, “but I still want to wait before I watch him.” Besides Harvey’s filmed appearances over the years, he and Brabner made cameos in “American Splendor,” the Oscar-nominated film about their lives.)
When Harvey was laid to rest, “he had certainly never thought about burial insurance,” Brabner says. “He’d be damned if people wanted to turn him into a landmark. ...
“You can’t put him high on a horse in battle, in uniform,” she says. ”He died on the couch, not on his horse.”
But then she was approached by sculptor Justin Coulter, an artist who worked several jobs — like Harvey — after his longtime employer, a bronze-casting foundry, closed. Coulter wanted to honor Harvey with a sculpture, and he made small clay “maquettes” of his ideas.
“I wanted him shrugging, saying something in Yiddish,” Brabner tells Comic Riffs. “ She also didn’t want a depiction of Harvey’s dominating the Cleveland landscape. “It was sort of the other way around,” she says. ”The city dominated him.”
As Coulter created the statue, Brabner hit upon her inspiration. ”I came up with the idea of putting it on a desk — with pencils and paper for people,” as well as books that inspired Harvey. And for the background, she says, she envisioned comic panels. “I looked at this thing and saw a comic book page,” she says. ”Harvey stepping off the panels can draw people to it.”
From there, the choice of site was a natural.
JOYCE BRABNER’S PASSION:
Cleveland Heights “has an extraordinary library,” Brabner tells Comic Riffs. “They truly get comics — and they truly got Harvey.”
Because Harvey spent so much time working at this library — where he was helped often by its staffers — some wanted to establish it as a literary landmark. Brabner was supportive.
“Our libraries are becoming our community centers,” Brabner says. “Libraries saved my life as a kid. We didn’t have a lot of dough, but we had library cards.”
Now, if the Pekar Kickstarter gets fully funded, the sculpted Harvey will have a constant presence at his favorite library, within his beloved Cleveland.
“Every time somebody dies, they get this or that named after them,” Brabner says, her voice resonating with her signature certainty. “If they can do one for Superman in this town, they can do one for ‘Our Man.’ ”
A PEKAR TRIBUTE: Colleagues remember “sweet, curmudgeonly” Harvey
ALAN MOORE’S OFFER:
JUSTIN COULTER’S CREATIVITY: