Grave Sightings: Harvey Pekar

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt / Stacy Conradt

Every time we so much as touch a toe out of state, I’ve put cemeteries on our travel itinerary. From garden-like expanses to overgrown boot hills, whether they’re the final resting places of the well-known but not that important or the important but not that well-known, I love them all. After realizing that there are a lot of taphophiles out there, I’m finally putting my archive of interesting tombstones to good use.

Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor series isn’t your stereotypical comic book. There are no caped crusaders, no super villains. There aren’t even any all-American teenagers hanging out at the malt shop after the Big Game.

There is something decidedly all-American about Pekar’s comics, but it’s not of the squeaky-clean Archie variety. Pekar wrote about his real life in Cleveland, from working at the VA hospital to money and health problems. As he became more famous, even Pekar’s infamous appearances on Late Night with David Letterman became fodder for his comic books, and you can see why:

In the 1990s, Pekar was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. Even that struggle was not off limits—the experience of dealing with chemotherapy and his changing relationship with his wife was chronicled in Our Cancer Year. Though he won that bout with cancer, it returned soon after. Pekar successfully fought the disease for a second time, then was diagnosed with prostate cancer shortly before his death in 2010. The coroner eventually ruled that Pekar’s death was due to an accidental overdose of two antidepressant medications. He was 70 years old.

Pekar's gravestone in Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland seems to sum up his life views pretty well ("Life is about women, gigs an' bein' creative"), but his widow, Joyce Brabner, helped raise funds for another fitting tribute. In 2012, the Cleveland Heights-University Library, one of the writer's favorite haunts, unveiled a statue of Pekar stepping out of the pages of a graphic novel. It's captioned, “Oy!! What do you want from my life, anyway?”

Peruse all the entries in our Grave Sightings series here.