Who Is Harvey Pekar?

The passing of pioneer comics writer Harvey Pekar yesterday made me go back and reread some of his earliest collaborations with R. Crumb, published in his self-published American Splendor #1-4 in 1976-79. The beginnings of a remarkable body of work, they are emblematic of Pekar’s originality and importance as a writer, and as good a place as any to probe his artistic sensibility.

In “The Young Crumb Story” (1979), Pekar recounts his beginnings as a comics writer and states unequivocally his belief in the form’s potential:

“The guys who do that animal comic an’ super-hero stuff for straight comics are really limited because they gotta try t’appeal to kids. Th’guys who do underground comics have really opened things up, but there are still plenty more things that can be done with ’em. They got great potential. You c’n do as much with comics as the novel or movies or plays or anything. Comics are words and pictures; you c’n do anything with words and pictures!”

We almost take this for granted today, but in 1979 it was a crucial insight for the development of comics as an art form.

Picks of the Week

museo-ideale-leonardo-cp-53.jpgThe picks of the week from around the web.

  • The New Yorker: “The Mark of a Masterpiece”. David Grann talks to and examines the colourful career of Peter Paul Biro, the art forensics man who has participated in the authentication of the pretty, so-called Leonardo drawing that surfaced out of nowhere last year. Pretty amazing reading, which cannot help but shake confidence in the attribution.
  • The Comics Detective: DC vs. Victor Fox. Ken Quattro unearths the fascinating documentation of Will Eisner’s testimony at the 1939 trial, in which Fox was being sued over plagiary of Superman. Besides being an interesting historical document, the text runs counter to Eisner’s later accounts of his testimony, most notably in his 1986 comic The Dreamer. Thanks, Hank!
  • Jim Woodring. This essay on the cartoonist’s great creation, Frank, is a fine one. And Suat’s walk-through via Hindu symbolism over at HU is a good read too.
  • Rammellzee RIP

    rammellzee.jpgLast week, another of the pioneers of early hip hop culture, Rammellzee, passed away. A versatile multimedia artist and cultural theorist, he remained at the margins of hip hop culture as it evolved into a worldwide, commercially successful phenomenon, marching to the beat of his own drum.

    From hitting the A train in 1974 and bombing the metro as part of several of the seminal crews in the following years, emceeing at the Amphitheater at the close of Wild Style and recording the classic track “Beat Bop” with K-Rob for Jean-Michel Basquiat in 1983, to writing his treatise on the liberation of the letter from the alphabet Iconic Panzerisms, his work is emblematic of a greater movement in formation, of a time when these cultural manifestations were still being formulated and the possibilities seemed endless.

    Picks of the Week

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Rolling Stone: “The Runaway General”. Without question this week’s most exposed piece of journalism, Michael Hasting’s article on the now deposed Gen. Stanley McCrystal, is well-worth spending time with if you only read the summaries. It does much more than convey the disparaging one-liners that lost him the job, revealing fascinating detail about the US war effort in Afghanistan. On a “roll” these days, the magazine this week also offered up this chilling caution about where the next disastrous oil spill might well happen.
  • The Nation: Barry Schwabsky reviews several interesting great art shows — the eye-opening Matisse exhibition that just closed at Chicago and will be opening at MoMA next month, and the recently closed Købke and De Stijl shows in London. Great writing.
  • Jim Woodring reads Weathercraft. This walk-through of his masterful new book is well worth it for fans of Woodring.
  • Above: Henri Matisse, Portrait of Yvonne Landsberg, 1914, Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection

    In Memory of José Saramago

    Jesus is dying slowly, life ebbing from him, ebbing, when suddenly the heavens overhead open wide and God appears in the same attire he wore in the boat, and His words resound throughout the earth, This is My beloved son, in whom I am well pleased. Jesus realized then that he had been tricked, as the lamb led to sacrifice is tricked, and that his life had been planned for death from the very beginning. Remembering the river of blood and suffering that would flow from his side and flood the globe, he called out to the open sky, where God could be seen smiling, Men, forgive Him, for He knows not what He has done. Then he began expiring in the midst of a dream. He found himself back in Nazareth and saw his father shrugging his shoulders and smiling as he told him, Just as I cannot ask you all the questions, neither can you give me all the answers. There was still some life in him when he felt a sponge soaked in water and vinegar moisten his lips, and looking down, he saw a man walking away with a bucket, a staff over his shoulder. But what Jesus did not see, on the ground, was the black bowl into which his blood was pouring.

    The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (1991), trans. Giovanni Pontiero

    Colour in Line

    I haven’t talked much about my Ph. D. dissertation, “Colour in Line — Titian and Printmaking”, here at the Bunker, despite it having occupied my life more than any other intellectual project for the last five years or so. I guess because it is still very much a work in progress, but I figure it might be fun at least to post the official summary here:

    This is a study of the prints by, for, and after Titian, produced in his lifetime. It aims to compile and analyse comprehensively the surviving printed works, as well as the available documentation, so as to add significantly to current understanding not only of Titian’s work in prints, but his art as a whole.

    The prints are examined in close relation to relevant drawings and paintings, in order to situate them in Titian’s oeuvre and assess their creative and commercial importance to his art. Although a comparatively minor part of his activity, his continual if varying preoccupation with prints signals their relevance throughout his career. The traditional assumption that prints are a secondary product, mostly derivative of other art forms, is here displaced in favour of evidence that the medium at times constituted an end in itself for Titian, providing him with an important creative venue.

    The text is structured chronologically, as an evolutionary narrative in the monographic tradition, presenting an alternative account of Titian’s career from the unfamiliar perspective of his prints. The primary concern is to establish a reliable set of attributions and a chronology of the works, as well as to elucidate their not always obvious application or purpose, although a wider interpretive context is embraced in certain cases, situating the work in 16th-century print culture as well as within contemporary theoretical and aesthetic discourse. In addition to close comparative study of the original works in the tradition of connoisseurship, where relevant and possible, technical means of analysis have been applied in collaboration with a number of paper conservators.

    Ultimately, it is a study of Titian’s disegno as it manifests itself in prints, written with a conviction of its artistic singularity and importance, not only for Titian, but for Western art.

    It is still awaiting examination and it’s going to be interesting to hear what the two fine scholars who are reading it as its first external audience have to say about it. I’m really excited about the work and can’t wait to take it further!

    The image is a woodcut by Giovanni Britto after a lost self-portrait by Titian, published 1550.