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Harvey Pekar’s ‘Cleveland’ is a splendiferous American masterpiece


 
The recently published graphic novel, Cleveland, by the late Harvey Pekar and illustrator Joseph Remnant, is a flat-out masterpiece of the form. One (hefty) part “biography” of a city, Pekar being Pekar, Cleveland is also another piece (and a key piece at that) of the grand tapestry recording the life of one of the city’s most notable residents, and certainly the man who will forever be known as Cleveland’s unofficial poet laureate.

In Cleveland, Pekar, who famously said “Life is a war of attrition,” tells his own story (as is his wont, of course) alongside that of the city he loved so much. It’s a broadly sweeping narrative for a writer usually so invested with the minutiae of life, but the Pekaresque observations are no less potent as the author takes an aerial view of over 200 years of the rise and fall of what was once one of America’s greatest cities and placing the events of his own 70 years living there in the larger context of Cleveland’s role in the American experiment itself. This is not the “day to day” life, little—yet potently illuminating—observations we’ve come to expect from Pekar, but in the beautifully-rendered pages of Cleveland, Harvey’s take on a slice of American history that he witnessed first hand (well, about a third of it, let’s say) is no less rewarding.

Cleveland is so beautiful and so heartfelt that it brought tears to my eyes several times (reading it, as I did, mostly in a dental office). I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you hail from Cleveland (or anywhere near it) the book is a must-read, but I’d say the same to anyone who simply wants to be dazzled by a great American writer at the very tip top of his game and working with one of the best visual interpreters of his long career. Cleveland is a masterpiece, a modern American masterpiece.

I sent Dangerous Minds pal Jeff Newelt, who edited Cleveland (Newelt is also behind Smith magazine’s delightful online “Pekar Project”) a few questions about the process of bringing a work like Cleveland to fruition and keeping the flame alive of one of America’s most distinctive literary voices.

In what kind of shape was the project in when Harvey Pekar died?

When Harvey died, the script was totally done, and Joseph had already drawn 18 pages. Harvey had seen those pages and was pleased to say the least. He was thrilled and it wasn’t easy to thrill Harvey!

Joseph Remnant’s artwork in Cleveland is just stunning, he’s clearly one of Pekar’s most inspired collaborators. What kind of research went into the panels?

Joseph was the clear and only choice to illustrate Cleveland. He was already working with Harvey and myself on The Pekar Project webcomics, and after he did such an incredible job on the story “Muncie, Indiana,”  that clinched it. Because half of the book is literally a history of Cleveland, Joseph did TONS of online research searching for images, and also took out piles of books from the library. Regarding Harvey himself, luckily we were blessed in that we spent a nice chunk of time with “our man in person. The whole Pekar Project crew flew to Cleveland for Harvey’s 70th Birthday Party in 2009, and we had a wonderful weekend, him giving us a guided tour of his favorite spots. Priceless experience. 

As an editor, how did you approach the material?

Cleveland was originally developed with Vertigo editor Jonathan Vankin, who did the initial heavy conceptual lifting of what the book should be. Then the powers that be at DC couldn’t be bothered to look at this incredible script, so on behalf of Harvey, I brought in Josh Frankel/ZIP Comics to publish the book, and brought in Top Shelf Comix to co-publish. So with Cleveland, the toughest editing was done, and I just copy-edited/ cleaned up some inconsistencies here and there. With short webcomics he wrote for The Pekar Project, Harvey would call me up and read me each story over the phone, then we’d jam on it for a few minutes and choose which artist to give it to.

I love the fact that the book is a parallel biography/autobiography of the city and one of its most notable and emblematic lifelong residents. It just works so brilliantly.

Cleveland was always so prominent in Harvey’s work as to almost be a character, so it was inevitable that he’d one day do a book with the city as the focus. I think Harvey identified with the perma-under-doggedness of the city.

Cleveland is such an unabashed love letter to what most people would consider a drab, horrible city, but Pekar’s magical voice and pithy, erudite historical observations and Joseph Remnant’s wonderful illustrations really evoke the city’s heyday, its rise and fall and fall in such a vivid, vivid way. It’s an extremely moving historical/dramatic arc that is unique in American literature.

It’s all about the love. The appreciation. The key to understanding Harvey’s work, IMHO is realizing how much of an “appreciator” Harvey was. Too many words are wasted on the Harvey-as-curmudgeon labeling, reinforced by the excellent-yet-ultimately one-dimensional performance by Paul Giamatti in the American Splendor film. All the little mundane moments in his many classic autobiographical stories come down to Harvey noticing, appreciating and wanting to share a special something he overheard, or a magic-yet-mundane moment he witnessed. Also so many of Harvey’s stories are appreciations of underheralded jazz musicians, klezmer artists, Russian novelists, etc. So it’s the same with his city. He was frustrated with Cleveland but he LOVED it nonetheless, so that love charges a jazzy poetry in his narration.

How did Alan Moore come to be involved with Cleveland? He not only wrote the introduction, he also generously helped you raise money to defray the cost of publishing, too, right?

I passed a galley to Alan through comics scholar Paul Gravett a longtime pal of Alan’s who I hung out with for 10 days at the Rio Comicon along with Melinda Gebbie (Alan’s wife and artist of Lost Girls) and Kevin O’Neill (artist for The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen). Alan Moore was always a huge Pekar fan. He even drew a one-page American Splendor story.  Plus, Alan was a character in Pekar story because Joyce, Harvey and Danielle visited Alan and Melinda in England on the movie tour. Harvey Pekar was to Cleveland what Alan Moore is to Northampton. When we were thinking whom we should get to do the intro, he was my only choice. Then Alan helped raise money for the Harvey Pekar Memorial Statue on Kickstarter by offering a 2hr live webcam chat as a reward!

What else is still to come from Harvey Pekar?

Over at the Pekar Project the next installment of the epic Harvey Pekar / Douglas Rushkoff teamup, illustrated by Sean Pryor, is coming soon. Also, released next week is Not The Israel My Parents Promised, illustrated by JT Waldman. This is my blurb on the back of that book: “Pekar peppers accounts of perpetual persecution with poignant autobiographical anecdotes in this concise compelling and sure-to-be-controversial graphic history of the Jewish people and state of Israel. Waldman’s art, juxtaposing realism with ancient styles, rocking exquisite mosaics and elaborate medieval and middle eastern design flourishes, is nothing less than a majestic tour de Schwartz.”

There is a nine page preview of Cleveland at the Top Shelf Comix website.

Buy Cleveland at Amazon

Below, an extended interview with Harvey Pekar on PBS in 2009:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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‘Reading Rainbow’ meets William S. Burroughs’ ‘Naked Lunch’


 
Andre Perkowski says, “Loveable Levar Burton takes a look at Burroughs’ ode to addicting fluids, control, and giant aquatic black centipedes in this episode of “Reading Rainbow” suitable for children of all ages.”
 

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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Steve Martin reading a book on Bob Dylan circa 1970
06.27.2012
11:38 am

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Bob Dylan
Steve Martin


 
Just thought I’d share this great photo of Steve Martin—long before his hair turned gray—circa 1970. Martin had been a staff writer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour which had been canceled by CBS the year before.

Source: Mr. Garcia at Flickr.

Previously on Dangerous Minds:

Steve Martin promo video for ‘A Wild And Crazy Guy,’ 1978

Steve Martin’s funny response to fan mail

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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Wild Thing: Maurice Sendak thought about assassinating George Bush and Dick Cheney
06.26.2012
01:04 pm

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Maurice Sendak


 
Just before he died, Maurice Sendak told The New York Times that he hated people, but the late children’s author may have hated two people a little more than others…

Via ABC News:

In one of the children’s book author’s last interviews before he died of a stroke in May, Sendak said he thought about trying to assassinate former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney.

“Bush was president, I thought, ‘Be brave. Tie a bomb to your shirt. Insist on going to the White House. And I want to have a big hug with the vice president, definitely. And his wife, and the president, and his wife, and anybody else that can fit into the love hug,’” Sendak told The Comics Journal’s founder Gary Groth in an interview that will be published in the magazine’s next edition.

“And then we’ll blow ourselves up, and I’d be a hero,” Sendak continued.

“It would have been a very brave and wonderful thing,” said Sendak, who wrote the whimsical “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Sendak has had his share of unorthodox comments, although none perhaps as violent as pondering a presidential assassination.

In that same Comics Journal interview, Sendak also calls Newt Gingrich, “an idiot of great renown.”

“Wild Thing, I think I love you…”

Via The Comics Journal on Twitter

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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So you’ve been accused of witchcraft… What do you do next?
06.26.2012
09:32 am

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Well, you could run for office as a Republican in Delaware, but to “avoid the ultimate punishment,” here’s a handy chart based on the 1487 witch-hunting book, Malleus Maleficarum.

Click here for larger version.

Thanks, Barb!

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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H. P. Lovecraft action figure
06.14.2012
10:18 am

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Art
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Action Figures
H. P. Lovecraft


 
A hand-molded H.P. Lovecraft action figure by Alex CF.

According to the website, it’s not available yet, but will be soon. You can contact merrylinhouse AT gmail.com for all inquires.

Via Super Punch

 

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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Moment of Clarity: The rantings and ravings of comedian Lee Camp
06.11.2012
02:51 pm

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Lee Camp


 
Stand-up comedian, social satirist and political activist Lee Camp—the “Che Guevara of comedy” as Paul Provenza calls him—is best known for his popular “Moment of Clarity” web series and Camp has performed live for protesters at various Occupy sites around the country.

Now he’s an author, with a new collection of his work in print form, Moment Of Clarity: The Ravings of a Stark Raving Sane Man. I caught up with Lee Camp via email to ask him to clairify a few things for Dangerous Minds readers:

Lee, so it’s been a week… have you had a moment of clarity yet about what happened in Wisconsin?

Lee Camp: I’ll be writing that one tomorrow. It might just be a string of profanities. Wisconsin is just the first explosion in the corporate-backed Citizens-United-fueled demolition of our democracy.  If I can get over my moment of dispair-ity, then I’ll work on the Moment of Clarity. [See below!]

Do the WI election results auger as poorly for the future of labor and the Democrats as it seems? I was shocked at the delusion I saw on MSNBC on election night. It was ridiculous, I thought, especially what Lawrence O’Donnell said about Obama being the “biggest winner.” Absurd. 

Lee Camp: Yes, they are a horrible sign for the left, for labor, and for this country. I think that as this shit-storm continues people will have no choice but to wake up. At least, that’s my hope. And yeah, you see a lot of delusion from the talking heads because they know that if they’re too depressing, we’ll jump off a bridge. And if we jump off a bridge, they lose viewers. MSNBC is fighting for ratings, so they don’t want anybody dropping their “Lawrence O’Donnell” flag and stuffing handfuls of pills in their mouths.

Scott Walker, the next Nixon?

Lee Camp: Ha. Nixon would seem like a squishy lefty compared to Walker.

As a longtime observer of subcultures, one thing that is surprising to me—-and I should say upfront that I consider this a positive development—is how folks on the Left are starting to tentatively voice an opinion long heard on the Right, of favor of secession.  Would it be better to agree to disagree and let Red States do whatever they want—fuck over the unions, poison their water supply with fracking, teaching “Noah’s Ark was real” nonsense in schools, outlawing abortion, curtailing LGBT rights, making church attendance mandatory, whatever—while more, how shall I put this, better-educated regions of the country split off to do what we want? “We” keep “them” from living as they wish to live and vice versa, why not give up and face the facts? 

Lee Camp: Sounds kinda nice to me. The problem is that the blue states are on the two coasts. How we will stick together? Maybe a sky bridge over the country? The other problem is that even blue states will allow the corporate raping and pillaging of their land if enough money is poured into the political process. Wisconsin is not necessarily a red state, and it has a noble history of fighting for workers’ rights. However, this last election showed us that if people are handed a pile of shit and shown enough commercials saying it’s chocolate, they’ll eat it with a smile on their faces. 

Do you feel that given what we’ve seen shake out in the past decade, the unbridgeable philosophical chasm that exists between Left and Right, where no compromise, no civility and really not even a productive discussion can take place anymore, just yelling on cable news shows, can ever go back into the box?

Lee Camp: Hmmm, maybe. But the truly sad thing is that in many categories the politicians on the two “sides” are not offering different paths. They seem to agree on everything Wall Street and everything military industrial complex. So I think you will see continued energy breaking out of the two part system - like we’ve seen with Occupy.

Speaking of, do you think it’s time to retire the term “Occupy” and what are your observations about how it has seemed to fizzle out in 2012? All winter long, OWS seemed dormant, I was thinking, just because of how cold it was, but it didn’t really come back all that strong this year. What caused all of that amazing energy and commitment to disperse? Or has it? Is it just gestating?

Lee Camp: I think it’s still there, and I think it will come back strong. I don’t think you’ve seen the last of it by any means. Let’s remember what we’re watching here - a handful of protesters going up against riot cops with pepper spray and batons. Is it any surprise that there are going to be lulls? I don’t think this battle is over.

Do you think Romney can beat Obama?

Lee Camp:: Sure he can. The right wing is working furiously to purge all the black and Latino people off the voting roles. If that doesn’t work, we have some of the most hackable computer voting systems this world has ever seen. I’ve seen a monkey hack the voting machines. (Not kidding. Google it.) If a monkey can hack our machines, then a robotic tool like Romney can win an election. On top of that, Romney will have a money advantage. The only way for the left to win is to vote in such great numbers that it swamps the percentage points that will be stolen.

Below, Camp’s calm, cool and collected take on the Wisconsin recall election results and Citizen’s United:
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Ray Bradbury has died

raybradbury_hasdied
 
Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, Something Wicked This Way Comes, Dandelion Wine, The Illustrated Man and The Martian Chronicles, died yesterday, June 5th, at the age of 91. Bradbury was a colossus of modern fiction, writing everything form fantasy, science-, and speculative-fiction to comedy, crime and mystery. He wrote twenty-seven novels, several screenplays, most notably for John Huston’s film version of Moby Dick, as well as plays, and hundreds of classic short stories.

Bradbury was an immense talent, yet in the early part of his career, his success as a mass market “pulp” author often led critics to overlook the quality of his writing, and its seismic influence on others - his fiction formed the template for future speculative science-fiction and fantasy writers to follow. Bradbury had a beautiful, poetic and lyrical style of writing, most notable in Dandelion Wine, which made his authorial voice unmistakable.

Indeed the quality of Bradbury’s writing helped science-fiction out of the pulp ghetto into the hallowed groves of literature. Though most associated with that genre, Bradbury denied he was a science-fiction writer, instead claimed he was a fantasy writer whose work owed much to the traditions of classical literature:

“First of all, I don’t write science fiction. I’ve only done one science fiction book and that’s Fahrenheit 451, based on reality. It was named so to represent the temperature at which paper ignites. Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it’s fantasy. It couldn’t happen, you see? That’s the reason it’s going to be around a long time—because it’s a Greek myth, and myths have staying power.”

Born in Waukegan, Illinois on August 22, 1920, Bradbury grew up in small town America - a world of dusty roads, with few cars, and tarmac avenues with old trolley buses ploughing the metal rails along main street. He also once claimed, in a BBC documentary, that his memory and experience was the source for much of his writing, and said his memory stretched back to his earliest experiences as a baby, being breast-fed in his mother’s arms.

He grew up reading books and watching Flash Gordon serials at the local cinema, and monster movies with Boris Karloff, while following the adventures of heroes in the early garish comics that later went on to deliver Batman, Superman and Tales from the Crypt.

“Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

Reading inspired his writing and Bradbury started his own fictions, eventually submitting short stories to pulp magazines in his teens - his first published story was “Hollerbochen’s Dilemma”, which appeared in the fanzine Imagination! in January, 1938. He received his first check of $15 for his story “Pendulum” (co-written with Henry Hasse) in 1941, when it was published in Super Science Stories. By 1942, he was able to have a career as a writer, writing stories for the various pulp magazines that were then available.

He progressed from stories to novels, with first big success being The Martian Chronicles, which was aided by a chance meeting with author Christopher Isherwood, who admired Bradbury’s work, and passed the book onto a critic who gave it a glowing review. From there, Bradbury had a career befitting the talents of such a great and marvelous man.

Bradbury’s influence has infused much of our cultural world - from films to comics, science to the imagined landscape of small town America, which is still very much as he described it in his fictions. Indeed, Bradbury’s vision of small town America was a precursor to Stephen King’s Castle Rock.

I greatly admire Bradbury’s work, and like everyone else grew-up reading his books, and regularly returned to them in my adult years. It seems as we grow older that all we reap is death, and this year has been a harsh harvest. Still, we should perhaps recall Bradbury’s line from Fahrenheit 451:

“Stuff your eyes with wonder. Live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made up or paid for in factories.”

R.I.P. Ray Bradbury 1920-2012.
 

 

Posted by Paul Gallagher | Discussion
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We Can Build You: Watch the Philip K. Dick android in action!


 
Here’s the second incarnation of the Philip K. Dick (aka “Phil”) robot, built by Hanson Robotics.

The first iteration the PKD android doppelgänger pooped-out back in 2005. Apparently this newer “Phil” is “smarter and more sophisticated than ever, and is growing smarter all the time.”

That’s when all the problems start…

 
More videos after the jump…

Posted by Tara McGinley | Discussion
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Nietzsche and Masturbation: Über-clench of the Übermensch


“Can I do it ‘til I need glasses?”

It was odd seeing Nietzche’s face on that pancake yesterday, as I’ve just been reading Gregor Dellin’s Richard Wagner, His Life, His Work, His Century, where I came upon a bizarre perspective on the renowned Wagner-Nietzsche feud – one far less elevated than the philosophical dispute detailed by Nietzsche in his essay “Nietzsche contra Wagner” and elsewhere.

Nietzsche, of course, spent much of his life, prior to his complete physical and mental collapse, struggling with appalling ill-health; attacks of near-blindness, madness and incapacity that ruined his academic career and are nowadays almost unanimously thought to have been the symptoms of advanced syphilis. In 1877, when Wagner and Nietzsche’s friendship was apparently in its pomp, but Nietzsche’s health was moving through an especially rocky patch, Wagner (a bullish individual, to put it mildly) instigated a correspondence with Nietzsche’s then-doctor, evincing a great deal of concern for his younger friend, but an arresting want of tact:

“In assessing Nietzsche’s condition I have long been reminded of identical or very similar experiences with young men of great intellectual ability. Seeing them laid low by similar symptoms, I discovered all too certainly that these were the effects of masturbation [by hiding under their bed, perhaps]. Ever since I observed Nietzsche closely, guided by such experiences, all his traits of temperament and characteristic habits have transformed my fear into a conviction.”

Yes, what Herr Dr. Wagner wants to focus on is the possibility that Nietzsche was, in Wagner’s words, “a confirmed masturbator.” Back then, the world’s foremost pastime was widely considered to be an extremely risky business, as Dr. Balthazar Bekker’s study of 1716 (still influential in Nietzsche and Wagner’s day) details – the following, believe it or not, are just a few of the physical consequences supposed to derive from so-called “self-abuse:”

“Disturbances of the stomach and digestion, loss of appetite or ravenous hunger, vomiting, nausea, weakening of the organs of breathing, coughing, hoarseness, paralysis, weakening of the organ of generation to the point of impotence, lack of libido, back pain, disorders of the eye and ear, total diminution of bodily powers, paleness, thinness, pimples on the face, decline of intellectual powers, loss of memory, attacks of rage, madness, idiocy, epilepsy, fever and finally suicide.”

Which must have spiced up the average wank no end. But spare a thought for young Nietzsche, who already suffered from a decent number of these symptoms and must have regularly entertained the possibility that they were, so to speak, self-inflicted, just as Wagner (indiscreetly) would later allege. Dellin makes a good case that, for Nietzsche—a sexually sensitive man in sexually sensitive times—Wagner’s betrayal of his privacy was, once he learned of the correspondence, impossible to forgive or forget, the unflattering designation made in painful proximity not only to Cossima Wagner (the chick Nietzsche most dug) but also – and worse still – history itself!

But beyond Delin’s suggestion that Nietzsche’s subsequent philosophical feud with Wagner is only a smokescreen to distract history from these rumors and resentments, I couldn’t help entertaining the idea that Nietzsche’s entire later philosophy was an elaborate refutation of the possibility that he was a “confirmed masturbator” –  which Nietzsche could well have imagined his own medical history would suggest to future generations even louder than Wagner’s lay-prognosis.

After all, whichever “moral” worldview Nietzsche attacked – be it Christianity, Buddhism or Socialism – he always did so primarily on the grounds that they were only the symptoms of decadence and that the cultures in which they originated and spread had long since stopped being able to control themselves. As Nietzsche noted in Twilight of the Idols:

“There is a time with all passions when they are merely fatalities, when they drag their victim down with the weight of their folly (...) all the old moral monsters are unanimous that ‘the passions must be killed’.”

Which is to say that you would only preach against the passions if they were fucking you up in the first place! The more moral the philosophy, insisted Nietzsche, the more debauched its adherents; Christianity, then, for whom “the only ‘cure’ is castration” (“if thy eye offend thee, pluck it out”), would therefore find its natural adherents among the most hopelessly degenerate:

“Survey the entire history of priests and philosophers, and that of artists as well: the most virulent utterances against the senses have not come from the impotent, nor from ascetics, but from those who found it impossible to be ascetics, from those who stood in need of being ascetics.”

What might the private life of such a moralist and would-be ascetic look like, then, at its worst? You might envisage (were you alive in the nineteenth century, that is), none other than a chronic masturbator, one (say) whose habit had become such a “fatality” that they risked permanently blinding and paralyzing their mind and body with the “weight of their folly.” 

Quite the opposite, then, of an anti-moralist like Nietzsche, who definitely didn’t have, as Bob Dylan sang, “One hand tied to the tightrope walker/ The other in his pants…”

Posted by Thomas McGrath | Discussion
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