Monday, May 7, 2012

"Harvey Pekar's Cleveland" + Derf Backderf's "Trashed"

I picked this up at the Toronto Comic Art Festival yesterday.

And just finished reading it now; it's kind of a Pekar love letter to Cleveland. It's vintage Harvey Pekar. I love him. I love how unassuming he is. He's sort of the perfect mix of nilhism and sentimentality. It's funny how someone who's persona is pure curmudgeon is actually really sensitive. I guess some people are sort of defensively pessimistic. He doesn't seem cynical though; just depressed. 

He also takes a charming pleasure in really simple things. I reminds me of other comic books artists like Chester Brown and Seth, I'm not sure if their work is influenced by Pekar (probably), or if the narrative style is some strange tic of the personality that writes comics. 

He's a autodidact and has extensive knowledge of history, literature, and jazz music. Despite all this he's totally unpretentious; if he has ambitions pertaining to his art they are separate from his working life. He works as a civil servant and says repeatedly how important it is to him to have a stable well paying gig with benefits; and how inspiring he's found the characters he works with. It's hard to say if this is a function of growing up in the aftermath of the great depression; or having Jewish socialist working class parents, or just living in Cleveland with all the economic hardships of that city. I love that about him though; that he's so totally guileless and unpretentious. Maybe because it's so rare today? 

Makes me want to rewatch the film version of American Splendor. 

He died in July 2010. 

The other cool thing I picked up was this Derf comic "Trashed" about his time working on a garbage truck after high school. It's entertaining. I've wondered about what kinds of BS garbagemen put up with; it's pretty much as you suspect. This book reminded me a little of Pekar in portraying working class life and also the Derf character is a little like Buddy Bradley. It's almost looks similiar to the Peter Bagge HATE books. 

Derf Backderf wrote another AMAZING book called "My Friend Dahmer" about a high school friendship with Jeffrey Dahmer. It's another autobiographical graphic novel, not just about his acquaintance and friendship with a guy who was to later become a notorious serial killer; but also a really effective analysis of a time and place. It basically starts in high school and ends with Derf and his peers realizing what had become of their former classmate Dahmer. He does a really good job of sketching out a portrait of a sociopathic, alcoholic teenage from a very dysfunctional family, and without pointing fingers creates some unease about how easy it is to overlook this kind of stuff in kids. I mean, I went to junior high with a kid who  shot and killed his whole family. He was weird, but really no weirder than a lot of junior/high school weirdoes, to the outsiders eye. 

Derf was at the festival, it was cool to meet him and tell him how much I (and my partner) liked the book. 

I do love the TCAF; I always get good stuff there and hear about things I wouldn't know about otherwise. It has to be said too that the people watching is unparalleled. It is the zenith of anti-fashion sartorial excellence; and the absolute rock bottom. It's a total pink haired high school girl/asymmetrical haircut/horn rimmed glasses/bettie page haired jamboree. 

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