[Marxism] Pekar and Kupferberg obits

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Jul 13 06:20:05 MDT 2010

NY Times July 12, 2010
Harvey Pekar, ‘American Splendor’ Creator, Dies at 70

Harvey Pekar, whose autobiographical comic book “American Splendor” 
attracted a cult following for its unvarnished stories of a depressed, 
aggrieved Everyman negotiating daily life in Cleveland and became the 
basis for a critically acclaimed 2003 film, died on Monday at his home 
in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He was 70.

A spokesman for the Cuyahoga County coroner’s office said that no cause 
of death had yet been determined. Capt. Michael Cannon of the Cleveland 
Heights Police Department, which was summoned to Mr. Pekar’s home by his 
wife, Joyce Brabner, told The Associated Press that Mr. Pekar had 
suffered from prostate cancer, asthma, high blood pressure and depression.

Mr. Pekar (pronounced PEE-kar), who toiled for nearly 40 years as a file 
clerk in a Veterans Administration hospital, applied the brutally frank 
autobiographical style of Henry Miller to the comic-book format, 
creating a distinctive series of dispatches from an all-too-ordinary 
life. His alter ego, introduced in 1976, trudged on from episode to 
episode, quarreling with co-workers, dealing with car problems, 
addressing family crises and fretting over money matters and health 

“Harvey was like the original blogger, before there was an Internet,” 
said Dean Haspiel, an artist who worked with Mr. Pekar on “American 
Splendor” and “The Quitter,” his memoir. “He was ‘Seinfeld’ before 
‘Seinfeld.’ Comics, which had been power fantasies for 12-year-old boys, 
could now be about anything.”

Since he could not draw, Mr. Pekar enlisted top comic-book artists to do 
the illustrations, notably R. Crumb, who had encouraged him to publish 
and contributed illustrations for the first issues of “American 
Splendor.” Later issues were illustrated by Gary Dumm, Greg Budgett and 
Mark Zingarelli.

“It dawned on me that comics were not an intrinsically limited medium,” 
Mr. Pekar told Interview magazine in 2009. “There was a tremendous 
amount of things you could do in comics that you couldn’t do in other 
art forms — but no one was doing it. I figured if I’d make a try at it, 
I’d at least be a footnote in history.”

Harvey Lawrence Pekar was born on Oct. 8, 1939, in Cleveland, where his 
parents, Jewish immigrants from Poland, ran a neighborhood grocery 
store. The neighborhood, once white, became mostly black in the 1940s, 
and Harvey was the target of local youths who called him “white cracker” 
and routinely beat him up. The experience, he later theorized, instilled 
a profound sense of inferiority.

After the family moved to a white neighborhood, Mr. Pekar found that the 
constant fighting paid off. In one-on-one combat, he usually emerged the 
victor, and he became a respected street scrapper. At the same time, he 
nourished deep-seated anxieties and compulsions that made him fearful of 
taking on any challenge, one of the major themes of “The Quitter” (2005).

A series of dead-end jobs led to enlistment in the Navy, which 
discharged him when his anxieties made it impossible for him to pass 
inspections. Mr. Pekar resumed working a string of low-paying jobs, 
usually clerical. In 1965 he found a permanent roost with the Veterans 
Administration, where he turned down all offers of promotion and 
remained a file clerk until he retired in 2001.

On the side, however, Mr. Pekar began writing articles for Jazz Review 
in the late 1950s, and later for British jazz magazines and Downbeat. He 
also struck up a friendship, in 1962, with R. Crumb, a fellow jazz 
enthusiast and record collector then living in Cleveland. In Mr. Crumb’s 
early work he saw new possibilities in the comic-book form.

He began sketching out stories with stick-figure illustrations. Mr. 
Crumb, impressed, encouraged him to publish and showed his work to other 
artists, who also saw what Mr. Crumb saw. Mr. Pekar’s humble tales “from 
off the streets of Cleveland,” as the subtitle to “American Splendor” 
has it, resonated with enough readers to keep the experiment alive.

“I always wanted praise and I always wanted attention; I won’t lie to 
you,” he told Interview magazine in 2009. “I was a jazz critic and that 
wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted people to write about me, not me 
about them.”

The cantankerous Mr. Pekar, who published the first 15 issues of 
“American Splendor” himself, became a regular on “Late Night With David 
Letterman” for two years in the late 1980s, until he went on a memorable 
tirade against General Electric, the parent company of NBC, and was 
dropped for several years from the show’s guest list.

Wider fame came with the film, a quirky blend of documentary footage, 
animation and fiction. Mr. Pekar and his wife were played by Paul 
Giamatti and Hope Davis, but Mr. Pekar provided the narration and 
slipped into several scenes in both live and animated form. He wrote 
about the film in “Our Movie Year” (2004).

In addition to “American Splendor,” Mr. Pekar wrote several biographies, 
including “American Splendor: Unsung Hero” (2003), about the Vietnam War 
experiences of Robert McNeill, a fellow worker at the VA hospital.

Mr. Pekar’s other books include “Students for a Democratic Society: A 
Graphic History” (2008), “The Beats” (2009) and “Studs Terkel’s Working: 
A Graphic Adaptation” (2009) as well as “Our Cancer Year” (1994), an 
account of his treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which he wrote with 
his wife.

Mr. Pekar’s first two marriages ended in divorce. In addition to his 
wife, he is survived by their daughter, Danielle.

Success did not seem to ease Mr. Pekar’s existential predicament. “Of 
course I don’t think I have it made by any means,” his alter ego said in 
a cartoon in Entertainment Weekly in 2003. “I’m too insecure, obsessive 
and paranoid for that.”


NY Times July 12, 2010
Tuli Kupferberg, Bohemian and Fug, Dies at 86

Tuli Kupferberg, a poet and singer who went from being a noted Beat to 
becoming, in his words, “the world’s oldest rock star” when he helped 
found the Fugs, the bawdy and politically pugnacious rock group, died on 
Monday in Manhattan. He was 86 and lived in Manhattan.

He had been in poor health since suffering two strokes last year, said 
Ed Sanders, his friend and fellow Fug.

The Fugs were, in the view of the longtime Village Voice critic Robert 
Christgau, “the Lower East Side’s first true underground band.” They 
were also perhaps the most puerile and yet the most literary rock group 
of the 1960s, with songs suitable for the locker room as well as the 
graduate seminar (“Ah, Sunflower, Weary of Time,” based on a poem by 
William Blake); all were played with a ramshackle glee that anticipated 
punk rock.

With songs like “Kill for Peace,” the Fugs also established themselves 
as aggressively antiwar, with a touch of absurdist theater. The band 
became “the U.S.O. of the left,” Mr. Kupferberg once said, and it played 
innumerable peace rallies, including the “exorcism” of the Pentagon in 
1967 that Norman Mailer chronicled in his book “The Armies of the 
Night.” (The band took its name from a usage in Mailer’s “Naked and the 

The Fugs was formed in 1964 in Mr. Sanders’s Peace Eye Bookstore, a 
former kosher meat store on East 10th Street in Manhattan. By then Mr. 
Kupferberg, already in his 40s, was something of a Beatnik celebrity. He 
was an anthologized poet and had published underground literary 
magazines with titles like Birth and Yeah.

He had also found notoriety as the inspiration for a character in Allen 
Ginsberg’s poem “Howl.” As Ginsberg and Mr. Kupferberg acknowledged, he 
was the one who “jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened 
and walked away unknown and forgotten,” a reference to a 1945 suicide 
attempt (off the Manhattan Bridge, not Brooklyn) that had been 
preciptated by what he called a nervous breakdown.

The fame that episode earned him caused Mr. Kupferberg a lifetime of 
chagrin and embarrassment. “Throughout the years,” he later said, “I 
have been annoyed many times by, ‘Oh, did you really jump off the 
Brooklyn Bridge?,’ as if it was a great accomplishment.”

The Fugs’ first album, “The Village Fugs Sing Ballads of Contemporary 
Protest, Points of View and General Dissatisfaction,” was released in 
1965. The band became a staple of underground galleries and theaters, as 
well as antiwar rallies. In concert Mr. Kupferberg was often the group’s 
mascot or harlequin, acting out satirical pantomimes — an American 
soldier who turns into a Nazi, for example — or sometimes not singing at 

On subsequent albums the band changed its lineup many times and acquired 
a more professional sound, though its scatological themes got it kicked 
off at least one major record label.

With his bushy beard and wild hair, Mr. Kupferberg embodied the hippie 
aesthetic. But the term he preferred was bohemian, which to him 
signified a commitment to art as well as a rejection of restrictive 
bourgeois values, and as a scholar of the counterculture he traced the 
term back to an early use by students at the University of Paris. Among 
his books were “1,001 Ways to Live Without Working” — and for decades he 
was a frequent sight in Lower Manhattan, selling his cartoons on the 
street and serving as a grandfather figure for generations of 

Beneath Mr. Kupferberg’s antics, however, was a keen poetic and musical 
intelligence that drew on his Jewish and Eastern European roots. He 
specialized in what he called “parasongs,” which adapted and sometimes 
satirized old songs with new words. And some of his Fugs songs, like the 
gentle “Morning, Morning,” had their origins in Jewish religious melodies.

Naphtali Kupferberg was born in New York on Sept. 28, 1923. He grew up 
on the Lower East Side and became a jazz fan and leftist activist while 
still a teenager. He graduated from Brooklyn College in 1944 and got a 
job as a medical librarian.

“I had intended to be a doctor at one point, like any good Jewish boy,” 
he recalled to Mr. Sanders in an audio interview in 2003. Instead he 
began to write topical poems and humor pieces, contributing to The 
Village Voice and other publications.

After the Fugs broke up, in 1969, Mr. Kupferberg performed with two 
groups, the Revolting Theater and the Fuxxons, and continued writing. 
The Fugs reunited periodically, first in 1984. Recently, Mr. Sanders 
said, Mr. Kupferberg had completed his parts for a new album, “Be Free: 
The Fugs Final CD (Part Two),” and had also been posting ribald 
“perverbs” — brief videos punning on well-known aphorisms — on YouTube.

Mr. Kupferberg is survived by his wife, Sylvia Topp; three children, 
Joseph Sacks, Noah Kupferberg and Samara Kupferberg; and three 

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