Harvey Pekar's work was very important to me. The guy reached so many people with his comics. He had so many different artists draw his stories. I don't claim to know him, but it seemed to me that he never seemed to compromise his vision. He also seemed to keep his work blue collar, speaking in an everyman's voice. It's that kind of voice that has inspired me time and time again not to make art only for money, that there has to be a bigger reason. There has to be something personal connected to it.
Aside from my drawing work, I've always worked at least one day job to pay my bills. I figure if I can earn a living working nine to five, I can make the art I want to make and still keep that want to draw. There have been times in the past where I've taken big jobs that didn't quite fit in with what I wanted to say with my work. The end result was that even though I had a nice paycheck, my drive to draw was diminished. Then I thought that maybe I wasn't cut out to make art for a living. I started to feel bad, that I was too stubborn. I thought that maybe this would always hold me back and haunt me my whole life. But I liked where I came from, and I liked drawing about places like that. I liked drawing about working class people, city streets, corner bars, stickball games, abused kids, and dock workers even if there will never be a huge market for it.
After reading Harvey Pekar's work, I started not to feel so bad. Here is a man who said, "Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff." He was right. Pekar reached millions of people writing about himself being an ordinary person. They made a movie about his life to celebrate his work, and he kept his dayjob until retirement. Harvey Pekar gave me faith in comics. His work convinced me that it's worth putting my work out there. It may only find a small audience, but it's still worth it if people gravitate towards it and connect with it. All art is about communication. That's the base reason anyone makes any art. Pekar's work was a huge catalyst behind the "Sketches of Fishtown" project, to show the inner working of one small neighborhood.
I met Harvey a few times at comic conventions. I even saw him lecture once at the Free Library of Philadelphia about the impact of comics. I did a sketch of him while he was speaking. He was nice enough to autograph it for me after the speech, even though I don't think he liked the way I drew him. I gave the drawing to Christian Patchell as a gift. Harvey is a hero to Patch. Patch said that Pekar's "Our Cancer Year" was a really huge inspiration to the book he is working on now about making art and living with cancer. Harvey Pekar had a great impact on a great many people.
I'm glad there are people like Harvey Pekar in the world. Even though he didn't know me, his voice kicked me in the ass keep chugging away at my own work. I'm grateful for that, and I'm really sorry he's gone.