Tag Archives: American Splendor

Harvey Pekar. Part 1.

Harvey was more than occasional collaborator, he was a genuine hero of mine, and I am royally pissed with the rules of the Universe, wherein he gets sick and dies.  So in between my regular duties this week (finishing a Simpsons script, editing two new indie projects and teaching at my school), I’m spending two posts going on about late great Harvey Pekar.    Today is part one:


I first came across him as a teenager with issue #5 of his  American Splendor (seen above) from 1980.  That’s a scan of my copy, complete with Scotch tape over the place where I tore it some years ago.

Torn comics are loved  comics.

I bought it because of my then-current drug of choice, Robert Crumb, with a cover and fifteen more pages inside by the underground master.  With Mr. Fritz the Cat on board, how could whatever this was, not be worth it?

And it was, from the moment I picked it up.

It starts by dryly advertising sickness, old age, unfunny jokes, and a decrepit Jewish guy under a banner promising the splendor of Cleveland.  That’s crack-flavored Kool-Aid to my sense of humor.

But check out this bitchin’ back cover.

That’s the first Harvey Pekar story I ever read:  Advice on how to avoid the sniffles while riding in an elevator – with a ending that strongly hints it WILL be continued next issue.    At this point I’m berserk with joy, because I’m rocking a belief that this whole magazine is going to be some sort of wry put-on about boy’s own adventure stories…giving us “TALES OF THE STUNNINGLY MUNDANE”.

But it wasn’t quite that, even if it seemed to many that it was.  There was far more tickingin the brain of Pekar than that one-off joke.  Inside were comics on the history of Cleveland neighborhoods, memories of a holocaust survivor, tales of  manners and lending money, and the existential terror of hypochondria, all sprinkled together with these tiny comic snapshots that stick to one’s memory as the days trip by.

The art by Crumb was all you could ask for, and the other two thirds of the book had it’s own treasures…from the slick, photo referenced (but baroque) Gerry Shamray:

To the very charming team of Budgett and Dumm.  These three very different styles of art added to the perfect little package that this particular issue seemed to be.

This stuff was like nothing I had every read in a comic book, or seen as entertainment anywhere, and I was junkie-hooked for life.

I mean, we did have “realism” in the comics at the time….

American Splendor #5 shared a newsstand with this Marvel Classic. It's getting real around here, man.

Not just with superheroes, but also with the gritty, true-life “undergrounds”.

This is too real man. Too f***ing real.

Nothing existed like American Splendor.  It was part comedy, part Haiku, part journalism, and part self loathing confessional, all from the unlikely  point of view of a V.A. Hospital file clerk in Ohio.

And over the years, we got Harvey’s view on the history of Jazz, obsessive compulsive disorder, race relations, more existentialist fear, cancer survival, marriage and parenthood, growing fame and fortune, brutal honesty, and the occasional knee slapping joke.

Harvey was a greater influence on my work that most people would guess, and if you read this webcomic (from just a few weeks ago), you’ll see what I’m talking about.

For my answer, and the full story, click here.

That particular webcomic got a very positive response, and I kept telling folks I hadn’t done much to deserve their praise…I simply transcribed a true story as honestly and as straightforwardly as possible, hoping to tug at your basic humanity a little.

In other words, I just stole Harvey’s act.


As I was writing this column, it occurred to me that the truly best way to tell the story of meeting and eventually working with Harvey Pekar, is in comic form…  So I’m drawing it as we speak, and it will be ready for Saturday Morning with Bun Toons.   Hope to see you there.

In the meantime, here’s some pages from a couple of the stories we did together for the last run of American Splendor at Vertigo.   There was vague talk of doing a graphic novel together recently, or maybe something else, but it never got worked out, I figured I’d have time when my schedule cleared up, and I’d talk to Harvey about it in another month or so…

I should not have waited to call him back.

Words cannot describe the fun it is to get to work with one of your lifelong heroes.  Literally a dream come true.


Back in the 80s, Harvey had a fan on the Letterman staff who booked our hero to appear a dozen times or so on Dave’s old NBC show. Harvey generally behaved in a very entertaining manner for a while, but as the bookings continued, he started to become quixotically obsessive about “outing” NBC as a front for the Pentagon war machine.  Promise me you’ll head over to youtube, and watch this delightful battle of egos from the early days of colour TV and sound transmission.   It’s a big part of why Harvey Pekar was the subject of a magnificent Hollywood movie about his life a half dozen years back.  The Letterman appearances introduced him to a larger audience, and it made for phenomenally entertaining comics and TV.

"You have crappy donuts in the green room, man"

See you Friday for a new and shocking HOVERBOY FRIDAY, and on Saturday for HARVEY PEKAR:  CRABBY MAN-CHILD OF DESTINY!  The Unauthorized Webcomic.

Ty the Guy OUT!

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Part 4 on Friday…

Part 4 of Michel Fiffe’s interview with Ty is up and going over at The Comics Journal.  Two pages of Ty’s thoughts on religion and his own style.

The last part of the interview will be up on Monday morning.


SOMETIMES, THE ROUGH…and another of the increasingly late Hoverboy Fridays!

Clearly, I’m mad, I tell you.  MAD.

batrobinadv sketch 11

I’m one of those guys who spend their lives liking the rough sketch better than the final art.  It’s a curse.   I have a fondness for the scribbled, eccentric, humanistic and unembarrassed linework of a rough sketch.  There’s a lovely connection to movement and thought in the first contact with the image to muscles and paper,  often softened unbearably by turning it into a final illustration.   As a professional drawer-boy, I’m always fighting between “cleaning it up” and “letting it live”.

The Batman sketch from an old, old Adventures cover, (which I just found in a box yesterday, and hence this post) is less than three inches high.  It’s drawn in pencil and a thick pentel marker which was clearly drying out, as the background becomes less dark to the right. But the sense of danger, the monster, and the expressions on everyone’s face works for me in a way the final doesn’t.

harvey pekar rough to finishMy Pekar’s AMERICAN SPLENDOR work last year did the same thing to to me.  I was going for a very sedate, “realistic” Curt Swan type of storytelling for Harvey, since that was the basic feel of this particular script…but the rough layouts had a Kirby-like energy to them, with a lively and playful sense of proportion that I wish had fit the story.

( for more Harvey online, click here)

Again, these layouts are about three inches tall, and the final art is fifteen inches high…so the movements spideytorch 2 1 roughof your hands vs. the movements of your shoulders are going to be different.

I just got through reading an issue of Marvel’s new “STRANGE TALES” comic, with folks like Peter Bagge, and James  Kochalka doing very indy looking work on Marvel super-heroes.  Astoundingly great fun, and some of the pages have the same feel as my rough pages do…before I clean myself up.

If only I hadn’t seen so much Harvey Kurtzman while growing up.  I could rid myself of this demon of liking the roughs.



hovermuppetHoverboy Fridays continue to wander the calendar, and we find one barging into Sunday.  I’m only making this rare exception to move Hoverboy Fridays from its regular spot on Tuesdays, to this weekend, because the most recent update is topical!  It has to do with Hoverboy’s very tenuous connection to Sesame Street, which celebrated it’s 40th, or 45th anniversary this week, I wasn’t paying enough attention when Wolf Blitzer mentioned it.

Go to the Hoverboy museum and read more about this astounding connection between Kermit the Frog and The Boy Who Hovers.

www.hoverboy.com (for those who don’t hyper link well).

Ty the Guy.  AWAAAY!

My inner Mad

021 jay leno

00 spockWhen I put up those Harvey Pekar sketches last week, I mentioned that neither of the drawings were in my “usual” style of doing a likeness.  At this point in my career, I’m not sure I have a style, but I do have some vague idea of what sort of final drawing will look right to my eyes, and these ideas are usually rooted in Mort Drucker and John Severin…two of the great Mad artists of my youth.

As you can see by the drawing of a young Jay Leno (done for a Canadian TV Guide some years ago) and the Movie Spock (done for my own amusement last year), my line work tends towards Drucker’s when I’m just trying to make a portrait.

00 woody

Oddly enough, when I fit a likeness into a story (as I did with these panels from various editions of the Factoid BIG BOOK series, or as I’m currently doing with my fun Dexter gig), I find my line work and sensibility tends towards John Severin.   Probably because Severin was slavishly realistic, and Drucker was more playful.

00 orsonEither way, when you add the Jack Davis influence in the Pekar drawing below (coupled with a blatant attempt to inject a little R. Crumb in there, another Harvey Kurtzman protege), I’ve obviously never gotten over my early crush on Mad Magazine.

And I ain’t never gonna.

Ty the Guy

00 frank and mia

Happy 70th Birthday, Harvey Pekar.

Here’s a couple of drawings I did this week to celebrate Harvey Pekar’s 70th Birthday.

Harvey 1

(Click to see the many lovely contributions from a host of other artists at the Harvey Pekar Project Online at smithmag.net)

The realistic portrait I did first– sort of in the the style of Gene Day.  My wife had recently coloured a portrait of Gene for her work, and it had caused a mild nostalgia in me, enough to pull out a bunch of Gene’s Batmans and Masters of Kung Fu… With all those comics in my brain Gene’s style crept into my hands as I was sketching this portrait of Harvey, which it’s never done before, but I’m clearly more of a Zelig than I wish to be.  AK!  GHOST OF GENE DAY!!

Harvey 2

In the long run, I didn’t like the Gene Day-ish drawing because it’s basically just a portrait of Harvey, sketched from a photo, and really, didn’t bring anything to his unique and iconic character– beyond my skills to capture a likeness, and an odd departure for the way I usually draw (which, when I do portraits,  is far more like Mort Drucker –I’ll show you guys later…).

So after an hour or so of carefully capturing Mr. Pekar’s likeness, and inking and washing it in a casual style (to disguise all the labour and erasing in doing the basic portrait), I tossed the whole thing out, and did a cartoon of Harvey out of my head in about three minutes that feels like HARVEY PEKAR to me, even if it doesn’t look as exactly like him.  The madness, the beauty and the Harvey-ness of the character is more “correct” IMHO, when rendered in an expressionist and unconscious way.  Somehow, making it look too much like Harvey the human being, is almost a disservice to Harvey, the beloved comic character.

And I know he’d disagree with me, which is why I LOVE the man.

Happy Birthday Harvey.  You are a treasure to our medium, and it’s always a joy to share a page or a conversation with you.

Harvey 1

Harvey 2

Now, is it just me, or does the second one look like “Middle-Aged Man Logan?”.

Ty the Guy.

Something New…

Just added into The Art Store the Mad Magazine piece, the Superman drawing, the Harvey portraits and a page from Secret Origins with Elongated Man and Flash. More to come as soon as Ty loads up the scanner…

Artwork Deux

Ty decided to try something new with his American Splendor pages. He’s always been a perfectionist with his inking, and is known for his clean, tight style.  For this, he aimed for a looser style, and was drawing on paper rather than board–his thinking was that, on board, an artist has the idea that they have to get every line right (there’s only so much erasing you can do without ruining the board and having to do a patch).  With paper, he could just crumple it and throw it out; this freed him just to put the lines down and not stress.  Ty was pretty pleased with how it came out.

pekar splendor panels