The Quitter by Harvey Pekar – Review

Outside of his comic book success, it would probably be easy to call Harvey Pekar a failure. He slinked through high school, avoiding anything that might have been a challenge. He washed out of the Navy. He ditched college. He jumped from job to job, blowing opportunity after opportunity to begin setting himself up for a pretty decent life. He had a habit of getting into fights to boost his self-esteem, he was uncomfortable approaching women, and he spent massive amounts of time in his room listening to jazz records. But along the way he also found himself being successful at writing criticism for jazz magazines. He became a primary figure in underground comics. A critically acclaimed, box office hit movie was created based on his comic American Splendor. And, perhaps his greatest achievement in many ways, he found long lasting love with his third wife and adopted daughter. 

So what is the title all about? Well, it seems to go hand in  hand with a string that ran through the early part of Pekar’s life: his ability and willingness to quit anything the moment it showed the least bit difficulty. The Navy. College. Women. etc. etc. etc. Pekar blames this trait, at least partially, on a crippling lack of self-esteem fed by an overly critical and depressed mother and a father with whom he shared nothing concerning culture, social views or anything. 

Pekar’s success in life, in comics, seems to stem from his eventual overcoming of this fear. It was his success as a jazz critic that seemed to have stemmed the tide of self-doubt and provide the stepping stone for his later determination and success as a comic writer. 

One of the things that I find most interesting with “Quitter” is the conversational tone of the work. It reminds me very much of a script. Stage directions are provided but the real meat of the story is in the dialog. Even in panels where the exposition isn’t dialog, Pekar’s writing makes it feel as if he is in the room telling you the story. It is a trait of a story teller and is immediately engaging. Such a conversational tone engages the reader in a way that a more distanced tone is incapable of.

An interesting note about Pekar’s work is that he doesn’t do the illustrations. While I am sure he has a definite hand in the work created, he is still largely only half of  the team. While the story is autobiographical and the words are Pekar’s, the story is essentially told through the interpretation of another. The illustrator of Quitter, Dean Haspiel, is someone who has worked with Pekar in the past. He’s the creator of a couple of romance  comics, Billy Dogma and Opposable Thumbs, as well as having illustrated for DC, Marvel and Dark Horse comics. Considering the visual nature of comics, I wonder if this doesn’t take away from the credibility of one of the narrators, either the writer or the illustrator. The text matches up well with the illustration, but considering the effect small things from facial expressions to stances to shading can affect how a panel is viewed and interpreted, there is a clear possibility for one to provide an interpretation of the story that might be different from the intended interpretation the other half of the story telling might desire to communicate.

For anyone familiar with Pekar’s work, Quitter won’t disappoint. For anyone unfamiliar with it, the graphic novel won’t present any difficulties in allowing you to access his world and may even provide a good stepping stone for fleshing out Pekar’s ongoing life narrative through his American Splendor comics.

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One Response to “The Quitter by Harvey Pekar – Review”

  1. Dean Haspiel is Talking About Me « Loose Leaf Bound Says:

    […] first reading this, I went back and wanted to edit in some sort of clarification to my Quitter review.  Then part of me wanted to defend myself on his journal but I can’t because I don’t […]

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