Lefty memoirs are probably the most enjoyable subgenre of literature within the radical canon. Face it, Das Kapital is a slog, polemics are almost consistently unreadable, and 99% of “theoretical” writings are embarrassingly antiquated within a week of publication. By contrast, memoirs and oral histories are uniquely insightful because, intentionally or not, they offer important insights into how to live in the world, either by example or, in some instances, by example of what not to do.
Jessica Mitford wrote two memoirs, Hons and Rebels and A Fine Old Conflict, that are absolutely hilarious, in part because she was a loyal Communist while her sister Diana was quite literally up to her neck in Nazis, having married British fascist Oswald Mosley and chilling with Hitler. Isaac Deutscher’s oral history of the Polish Communist Party is a jaw-dropping account of Stalin’s paranoia and his calculus during the run up to World War II. Harry Haywood’s widow gracefully re-edited his massive tome, Black Bolshevik, to remove the painfully-sectarian “anti-revisionist” sections. Leon Trotsky’s autobiography, My Life, written as he began his long exile, is loaded with vitriolic shit talk that makes the reader wonder whether anyone ever actually liked the miserable bastard. (Answer: Probably not.)
Louis Proyect is our comrade and friend. I’ve never agreed with him totally. For instance, he wrote a glowing review of a film book I published several years ago that even I admit was pretty awful. He’s got a sharp mind, a good heart, and a generous pen. Unlike the case with Trotsky, how can you not love him?
Proyect’s online graphic novel memoir, co-authored with the late, great Harvey Pekar, is a rich gift unto the masses. Pekar was probably one of the greatest comic artists of the century and this final unreleased gem from the American Splendor scribe is a real treat. Enjoy.
Introduction: The World of Pekar and Proyect
By Paul Buhle
The passage of time may have taken some of the luster from Harvey Pekar’s reputation in the world of comic art. We could forget that Helen Mirren quipped, at the San Diego Comicon a year following his death, that Harvey had allowed readers all over the world to look at comic art in a new way. That he scripted a comic art biography of Lou Proyect, drawn by Summer McClinton, might be described, in a number of dimensions, as the perfect project. Some part of Harvey was Studs Terkel, the famously loquacious oral historian. Another part of Harvey was Lou Proyect, hard-bitten master of arguments and avowed revolutionary
A file clerk at a VA hospital and a life-long resident of blue collar Cleveland, Pekar made his own persona the expression of a philosophy, a way of life, of the American Jewish intellectual-radical-critic. He was already known to the followers of jazz reviews in magazines before he launched his own home-made comic series, sold at little comicons and local bookstores, slowing gaining national attention over the course of the 1980s. A young and troubled Robert Crumb, almost literally saved by the friendship of Pekar, devoted some of his most intimate and touching pages to Harvey’s self-described life.
By the later 1990s, Pekar had been on the Letterman Show repeatedly, complaining aloud about the control exerted from the heights of the military-industrial complex aka General Electric, a Letterman sponsor. Harvey was made to seem clownish, in effect the representative of a failed, post-industrial city. He refused the role, and achieved his vindication in American Splendor (2002), an awarded biopic, the first and perhaps the only film to include the real live protagonist, the actor playing him, and an animated version of the original.
Pekar happened upon Proyect by a curious incident, or perhaps one more story in the quiet comradeship of aging American leftists. As an occasional visitor to New York while giving history talks or attending events for the non-fictional comics that I was bringing out from 2005 onward, I hung out with Lou and spend the nights on a futon in his condo unit. Harvey Pekar came in front out of town for a shared event, an exhibit at CUNY Graduate Center for the release of a comic, and asked Lou if he could put up Harvey instead of me. Done Deal.
A friendship followed and the project that they worked on together. Harvey was a master of biography, and relished writing about a personality so much like his own, avowedly leftwing and irascible, unyielding. In the end, and working with one of the most talented comic artists on hand, a creation emerged. Every reader will have a unique response, based on generation, personal experiences and narrative tastes. There is something here for all. But what I wish to emphasize is the meeting of spirits or souls. The intimacy of the telling holds the charm to this book.