Brooklyn Public Library


'Life Is a War of Attrition'

Jul 30, 2010 1:24 PM | 1 comment

July has witnessed the passing of two irrepressible creators: Harvey Pekar and John Callahan. Their contrasting styles—one was writer and the other cartoonist, one pitiable and one incendiary—form a complimentary body of work that encapsulates the plight of the oppressed and diseased with dolorous humor and savage wit.


Harvey Pekar was the cantankerous, gloomy and essentially lovable creator of the comic book American Splendor. He introduced his gritty, autobiographical tales in 1976 after nearly 40 years spent as an anonymous filing clerk in a Veteran's Administration hospital. What started as one man's peripheral project, reflective of his insular world, has become an iconic and wry glimpse into everyday American life.

Unlike Pekar, John Callahan detested pity and proclaimed his life saved after he was left paralyzed from the chest down: already deeply sunk into alcoholism, the 21-year old Callahan would have most likely drunk himself into a far earlier grave. Instead, he learned how to grasp a pen and put it to good use on paper. The whimsically absurd and darkly humored cartoons poke fun at helplessness, debility and the disabled, and combat that special brand of sentimental condescension Callahan so loathed.

Visit BPL’s catalog to browse our extensive collection of Pekar-Callahan material. Titles include the acclaimed 2003 feature film American Splendor, which has Paul Giamatti playing Harvey Pekar and Hope Davis as his equally idiosyncratic wife Joyce. Callahan’s “quasi-memoir” Will the Real John Callahan Please Stand Up? has an introduction by fellow comic genius Robin Williams. 

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8/13/2010 4:16:32 PM #

A cartoon can say just as much as a real picture or a live video.  I would again say that a picture is worth a hundred thousand words or more.

Oliver the cartoon draw guru