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Harvey Pekar and the Perks of Being a Librapekarimage

A few days ago my daughter and I were discussing our favorite comic book movies. We went through the obvious nominees— Marvel’s The Avengers, both Iron Man movies, Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy—without making a firm decision. It was only later that I realized that my favorite movie made from a comic book was not any of these. My favorite was a movie that didn’t have a single costumed hero, or fight scene, or evidence of super powers; nor did it have any eye-popping special effects or clever CGI magic.


The movie I’m thinking of is American Splendor, based on the long running comic written by Harvey Pekar and illustrated by a variety of people, mostly famously by underground comic super star, Robert Crumb.

 

 Pekar wrote about his life as a simple file clerk living and working in Cleveland. At first glance this might not seem to be the kind of material that would make a good comic book, but the unique and soul-searching way that Pekar wrote about his mundane and gritty existence turned American Splendor into an American classic.


Astrologically, Pekar was Libra by Sun sign. People familiar with his work might find this surprising. There’s not a lot of social grace or decorative beauty in American Splendor. In fact, Pekar’s writing often made it seem as if he was just a few panels ahead of a depressive breakdown. Pekar’s Libra Sun and his Mercury are both opposed to Saturn in his natal horoscope (Click here to see a horoscope for Pekar charted for noon.) This is what made him seem so gloomy and down trodden.


But Pekar’s Libra Sun did play a major role in his life. Pekar wrote about the people around him. There was nothing special about these people. Certainly they had their quirks but, in general, they were the kind of oddballs and misfits you might find in any large organization. Pekar’s work celebrates those oddities. He shows us the degree to which our lives are enriched by those fumbling souls who invariably fall to one side or the other of that bland bulls-eye we call “normal”.


Libra influenced Pekar’s life is another way as well. Pekar could not draw. He laid out his first comic strip with stick figures. Therefore, he always worked in collaboration with an illustrator. His first partner was Robert Crumb, who Pekar had met when Crumb was just a wage slave like himself working for American Greeting Cards. Other artists followed, each blending his art with Pekar’s utterly original world view. This ability to work with other people toward a goal is what Libra does best.


In a larger context, however, all of the real people about whom Pekar wrote were also his collaborators. This was something that was emphasized in the movie. In a way, everyone in Pekar’s life, the city Cleveland, even the whole world became a partner in Pekar’s creative endeavor, and when a Libra is able to partner with an entire planet, he or she becomes a superhero for sure.

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