JT Wald­man co-authored and illus­trat­ed the new graph­ic nov­el Not the Israel My Par­ents Promised Me with writer and fre­quent David Let­ter­man guest Har­vey Pekar. Read more about their rela­tion­ship here.

It is true enough to say that he was the poet lau­re­ate of Cleve­land” or to describe his Amer­i­can Splen­dor as Home­r­ic”, but those descrip­tives are still inad­e­quate. He was the per­fect man for his times, straddling…everything: the under­ground com­ic rev­o­lu­tion of the 60′s, the cre­ation and trans­for­ma­tion of the graph­ic nov­el, inde­pen­dent film, tele­vi­sion, music (the clas­sic jazz he cham­pi­oned relent­less­ly through­out his life).

He was famed as a cur­mud­geon”, a crank” and a mis­an­thrope” yet found beau­ty and hero­ism where few oth­ers even both­ered to look. In a post-iron­ic and post-Sein­fel­dian uni­verse he was the last roman­tic – his work sin­cere, heart­felt, alter­nate­ly dead seri­ous and wry­ly affec­tion­ate. The last man stand­ing to won­der out loud, what hap­pened here?”

- Antho­ny Bour­dain, July 132010

Before Har­vey Pekar self-pub­lished Amer­i­can Splen­dor in 1976, there were no pub­licly dis­trib­uted mem­oir com­ic books. Sure, peo­ple doo­dled in their jour­nals or sketch­books, and some super-hero artists/​writers includ­ed them­selves in their fan­tas­tic sto­ries, but before Amer­i­can Splen­dor, comix were syn­ony­mous with fic­tion and fantasy.

With Har­vey Pekar’s writ­ing, under­ground comix based on mun­dane per­son­al real­i­ties began to flour­ish. From trav­el jour­nals, to antholo­gies about true porn, the gonzo lit­er­ary com­ic” style of graph­ic mem­oirs has become its own cot­tage indus­try in publishing.

Here’s a sam­pling of the wide range of com­ic book cre­ators who make com­ic books about their pri­vate lives: Alli­son Bechdel, Joe Sac­co, Art Spiegel­man, Josh Neufeld, Miri­am Libic­ki, Miss Lasko Gross, Mar­jane Satrapi, Craig Thomp­son, Bri­an Fies, David B., Marisa Aco­cel­la Mar­che­t­to, Seth, Peter Kuper, David Small, and Guy Delisle, to name just a few.

This sum­mer in Toron­to, the Third Annu­al Graph­ic Med­i­cine Con­fer­ence will delve into the use of comix in health prac­tices. This year, the high­ly focused con­fab will explore depic­tions of the Out­sider or Oth­er in the con­text of issues such as bar­ri­ers to health­care, the stig­ma of men­tal ill­ness and dis­abil­i­ty, and the silent bur­den of caretaking.

Muse­ums and gal­leries have also opened their doors to graph­ic mem­oirs. Last year, an exhi­bi­tion enti­tled Graph­ic Details: Con­fes­sion­al Comics by Jew­ish Women” toured the Unit­ed States.

Graph­ic mem­oirs pre­date blogs, tweets, and Face­book sta­tus­es, but the essence and basic com­po­nents of both media are the same. Today, near­ly every­one shares snip­pets of him­self or her­self, telling sto­ries to the mass­es through blurbs and images in sequences. Entire mar­kets are now built around this data.

In the mid-sev­en­ties, Har­vey Pekar was doing all this before it was ubiq­ui­tous and com­mer­cial­ized. He shared his per­spec­tive regard­less of the num­ber of fol­low­ers or friends in his cir­cles. Har­vey was an archivist and a sto­ry­teller at the same time. He was the Paul Revere of graph­ic mem­oirs pre­sag­ing a lit­er­ary long tail before it was even in sight. He demon­strat­ed that every­one had a voice AND could find an audi­ence. All they had to do was find a pen and start pon­der­ing on paper.

JT Wald­man is the author of Not the Israel My Par­ents Promised Me and Megillat Esther. Vis­it his offi­cial web­site here.