Are Harvey Pekar’s Recent Volumes Too Peripheral?

David Ulin raises a provocative point about Harvey Pekar’s recent prolificity, contemplating whether Pekar is authoring too many books for his own good, while likewise pondering whether Pekar’s concentration upon other personalities comes at the expense of Pekar skillfully depicting his own personal experiences.

While there exists plenty of evidence to confirm Ulin’s point about Pekar writing “work for hire” (Pekar intimated this during a 2006 appearance on The Bat Segundo Show), I don’t think these circumstances translate into an automatic critical condemnation of Pekar’s material. Ulin not only ignored 2005’s The Quitter, an inarguably raw and mature portrait of a younger Pekar developing some of his anger while being tormented on the Cleveland streets, but he failed to cite specifics about why he feels Ego & Hubris and Macedonia are lesser works. Ulin may very well prefer Pekar to his peripheral subjects. But if this is the case, why not simply state this?

I haven’t read Macedonia yet. But in Ego & Hubris, Michael Malice’s story (as conveyed through Pekar) struck me as a narrative uncannily similar to a Pekar-centric American Splendor issue: the case of a misunderstood and sometimes unpleasant misfit struggling against idiotic thinking and the everyday shackles of conformist instincts. Malice may not be as charismatic a figure as Pekar, but Ego & Hubris‘s deliberately boxy framings (as convincingly inked by Gary Dumm) and Malice’s obdurate Ayn Rand-influenced dialogue collectively serve up a new spin on the Pekar maxim: “Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.” Malice — indeed “a piece of work” — may be a less ordinary figure than Pekar, but his struggles are just as complex as Pekar’s, if only because Malice’s “ordinary life” collides against the demands of paranoid security protocol, working at VH1, and his own self-serving instincts. It’s all pretty complex stuff, if you closely examine the many points at which contrarian philosophies run against each other.


  1. Pekar’s trying to make as much money as he can, without compromising the quality of his work and I don’t blame him for that. I thought Ego & Hubris was a very strong piece of work although Malice isn’t as appealing a personality as Pekar, at least as written anyway.

  2. David Ulin sounds like one of those guys that booed Bob Dylan when he went electric. Let Pekar explore whatever he wants, for Christ’s sake, and you can read it or not. Don’t require an artist to play into your expectations or tastes, because what you’re really asking for is redundancy.

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