Monday, April 26, 2010
Bechdel & Pekar in Vegas!
Saturday night here in fabulous Las Vegas, discriminating comic book readers / connoisseurs of autobiographical graphic novels, were treated to a rare appearance by Alison Bechdel and Harvey Pekar at the Clark County Library. The turnout seemed totally solid (which is encouraging to me), with the audience being very diverse in every respect. I'd seen Alison Bechdel and Harvey Pekar at conventions in the past and attended presentations they've given, so I already knew that this was an event not to be missed. For anyone that was there that wasn't already familiar with the comic book works of Bechdel and Pekar, I know that afterwards they'd be looking for books they'd written and drawn.
Amongst several people I know as friends and customers of my store (same difference) that were there, I was especially happy to see in attendance a woman I used to see from time to time at Page After Page (THE premier Las Vegas comic book store during the 1980's and first half of the 1990's), Gerri Blake, who is a HUGE fan of Alison Bechdel. Gerri had told me before how she wrote a fan letter to Alison Bechdel back in 1989 and she showed me a copy of Alison's reply (with an accompanying illustration) that she was going to remind Alison about. I'd like to have seen Alison Bechdel's reaction upon seeing that part of yesteryear, but I was getting a book signed by Harvey Pekar when Gerri was talking to Alison. Gerri, has for years (probably at least 20 years!) been a disc jockey (now she'd probably be referred to as a digital jockey) on KUNV, the UNLV radio station, where from 11am-1pm every Sunday she hosts an excellent program called Woman's Voices.
The illustration here is by Alison Bechdel that she produced for her and Harvey Pekar's tour.
Alison started off the first part of the evening by reading from Fun Home A Family Tragicomic, her best-selling, highly-acclaimed autobio graphic novel from 2006 about her father, who was a closeted homosexual, her own emerging sexuality, and growing up in a family that owned a funeral home. She also had pages from Fun Home projected on a screen while she read from a portion of the book and showed her creative process. Anyone looking at Alison Bechdel's comic book work would think she's a natural cartoonist, but as she demonstrates in her presentation, writing and drawing a graphic novel is a very time consuming process for her. Alison Bechdel told the audience that it took her seven years to do Fun Home, but she didn't mention that she was also doing her comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For, which appeared in alternative newspapers, at the same time. She's in the midst of her new graphic novel, about her mother, and hopefully since she's put Dykes To Watch Out For on hiatus, we'll see that book in the next couple of years (no pressure Alison, seriously I know I speak for other fans of your work in saying we'd rather have the high quality of work you produce in lieu of quantity, but we do need our fix - grin!). Speaking of Bechdel's Dykes To Watch Out For, she also talked about that strip (and showed several pages) and how she's somewhat relieved that while she's not doing that strip, she doesn't have to pay as much attention to current politics (which always were a big part of her strip) - and there's a nice big best of collection of Dykes To Watch Out For as well.
Harvey Pekar followed by talking about the genesis of his American Splendor, a comic he'd been doing about his life since the early 1970's, befriending Robert Crumb, and his role in the development of comic books having a realist presence that other art forms have, that wasn't really very well represented in this medium. While Harvey Pekar's American Splendor was always highly acclaimed, it was many years before he got a larger audience and any real monetary returns from his comic. As Harvey Pekar explained, even being a semi regular guest on the David Letterman show didn't translate into sales, and it wasn't until the critical acclaim and response to the American Splendor movie that publishers and readers started buying his American Splendor comic books and graphic novels in numbers beyond the vanity press type sales he was used to seeing. Anyone who's read any of Pekar's American Splendor stories or has seen the American Splendor movie, know what a character and down to earth person he is, but I don't think a lot of people really appreciate how intelligent and socially minded Harvey Pekar is. In addition to Harvey Pekar's stories in American Splendor which are "just" slice-of-life, everyman, day-to-day vignettes, Pekar's also written graphic novel stories about a Vietnam War veteran in Unsung Hero and Macedonia, a graphic novel with Heather Roberson, a peace advocate, about her experiences examining how Macedonia was able to avoid war when neighboring countries did almost everything possible to involve them in their conflicts.
One of Harvey Pekar's next graphic novels will deal with his view that Israel is, as a country, just acting in a manner / mindset that is contrary to most of the people that live in that region. Harvey Pekar realizes that this book isn't going to make him popular in some circles, but I'm looking forward to this book because I know that Pekar's positions will come from an intelligent, highly researched, heavily weighed basis.
Thank you Alison Bechdel and Harvey Pekar, for creating sequential art narratives that are amongst my very favorites because they show that stories "just" about real people living real lives that all of us can relate to, are often more inspiring and awe-inducing than fantastical escapist stories. Thanks also to the Clark County Library and everyone who made the Bechdel & Pekar Vegas stop possible, and everyone who showed up this past Saturday night!
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