The Quitter

Harvey Pekar, art by Dean Haspiel

This is the prequel to American Splendor, about Harvey Pekar’s youth in ’40s Cleveland. I was intrigued by the similarities to my formative “Wonder Years.” We both got in fights in blue-collar urban neighborhoods (where victim became cruel predator), we had to attend Jewish “Saturday School,” we collect and review records, we have photographic memories that allowed us to excel in history and geography while failing math, we were influenced by Henry Miller, and we both held a string of thankless jobs (most notably file clerk), which we quit with outbursts of defiance. Pekar, however, also quit anything he couldn’t excel in (sports, school). The story is not that unusual, but the consistency of the mundane and bleak motifs, juxtaposed against the layout of the graphics (Pekar’s own storyboarding), is hilarious. The present-day Pekar (looking bilious, defeated and disgusted) often intervenes in the narrative with absurd asides—a neurotic stream of consciousness, regretting and extolling any risk that compromised a secure yet mediocre lifestyle. Like Bukowski, he is an Everyman who slowly comes to terms with a socially suppressed genius.