Monday, July 1, 2013

Harvey Pekar's Cleveland

Written by Harvey Pekar
Art by Joseph Remnant

I didn't start reading Harvey Pekar's comics until just before he died a few years ago, and has slowly been dipping my toes into his brand of crotchety autobiography.  Harvey Pekar's Cleveland is kind of an odd book - it's as much a history of the city that he's so closely associated with as it is his own memoir of the city and how it shaped him.

The book meanders quite a bit - it opens with a history of the fortunes of the Cleveland Indians baseball team, before giving us a condensed story of how the city grew (and then began to shrink).  In between, Pekar shares some of his own memories of growing up, and living in the city through its roughest moments.

Like many an industrial city in the US, Cleveland has seen better days.  It has lost its manufacturing base, and has seen its population shrink (Pekar is especially interested in charting the exodus of white people; I often forget how obsessed Americans are with their racial divide).  Still, Pekar has remained, working as a career civil servant, and writing for comics and music magazines.

This book doesn't really make the reader want to visit Cleveland (although I'd love to hang out at John Zubal's bookstore, which Pekar devotes a fair amount of space to), but it does humanize the place.  Much of the material in this book is familiar - it seems that Pekar spent a lot of time revisiting the same themes and events in his life - but it kept my interest.

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