Robert: Harvey, my pal… my buddy Harvey. I first met him in 1962. My friend Marty Pahls knew him. I first moved to Cleveland and was rooming with Marty in late 1962. Pekar lived a couple of blocks away. He was a record collector, so Marty took me over to meet him. Marty liked to hang out there. Pekar was heavily into modern jazz: bebop and progressive jazz. He used to sit around his apartment and listen to these crazy bebop and modern jazz records and talk about the music. He was the first guy I ever met who used hipster language at that time. I had read Jack Keroak and other beatnik stuff and I thought he was the closest person I had met up until then — I was 19 at that time — that actually embodied that beatnik persona. The way he dressed, talked, and he had these wacky, modernistic paintings on the walls all around his apartment. [laughs] He was a very soulful guy. Then he got married to this horrible woman. She was a very unpleasant person. Harvey was not a very clean guy, his house was always a slob-pit, but his wife was even worse. So his house turned into this God-awful filth-pit.
But you know, Pekar, he's the guy who always stayed in Cleveland. He never left. Since he never moved from Cleveland, he basically became the guy who told the story of Cleveland. And he's the kind of person who you admire for sticking with his class allegiance to the working class. Even though he was an autodidact intellectual, his sympathies were working class. He never developed an intellectual style of talking. He always talked in very plain language and I always admired that about him. He was a difficult person though, he had a difficult personality. He was so intense; just coming out of his skin with burning intensity all the time, which could be exhausting.
But he was a great comic book writer. I liked drawing his comics, it was enjoyable drawing them.
Alex: Why did you stop?
Robert: Because I wanted to draw my own stuff. He would have been totally happy if I just completely dedicated myself to drawing his comics and nothing else. He had a big ego, and he didn't care if I continued to draw my own stuff or not. And in order to persuade me to draw his comics he would tell me, "Aw Crumb, you're all washed-up; you're finished. It's over for you. You should get on the bandwagon with my stuff — my stuff is really what's happening. My stuff is the hottest thing." [laughs] Yeah, I liked drawing his stuff, 'cuz it was good, you know, story and dialog, but I didn't want to spend all of my time just drawing his stuff. So, he very quickly realized that and got other artists to draw his stuff too. He chased down all kinds of artists to draw his comics. There must have been at least 30 or 40 different artists all together that illustrated his stories, because he didn't draw at all. He never even tried to learn. But he understood comics very well, and the rhythm of comics. He was always an avid comic book reader. Even Marvel comics and all that stuff. He was deeply into comics so he had a feel for how to tell a story in comic book form. But he never made any money at it, he was always broke.Then he got married to his third wife. She wasn't really a very pleasant person either.
Alex: Third wife? What happened to his first wife?
Robert: She left him. [laughs] She took all the money out of their bank account and ran off with some black guy. Never heard from her again. This was way back in the late '60s. They had been together for about five years. But she was nasty, unfriendly, had this shrill, penetrating, whiney voice, "Ha-a-arveee!"
Then he married a woman named Lark. I never met her but she was supposedly very nice. But she was trying to have a career in academia and Harvey would embarrass her. They'd go to these academic cocktail parties and Harvey would deliberately antagonize these professors. He thought the whole academia thing was bullshit. So he used to embarrass her and she'd become angry at him until finally she gave up on him. He was too difficult. Then he married his third wife who is a rather difficult woman herself.
Alex: Are you familiar with his appearances on the Letterman show? And that he was kicked-off?
Robert: [laughs] Yeah, that was great. I remember once when the whole audience was booing and he said, "Ahhh shut up. You're all just a bunch a' sheep," or something like that. Finally, they just cut him off. He used to try to antagonize Letterman, try and get him to get real and shed his talk show persona. He needled him about how GE owned the network and how the CEO would dictate programming to NBC.
But as he got older, he mellowed a little. The cancer really took a lot of the wind out of his sails. Up until he got cancer, he was really a hyper character.
Alex: When I met him, he seemed to be very appreciative of you and all the help you had given him.
Robert: Yeah, I always appreciated that about him. He'd always praised my work. And it's probably true that my work helped him get his stuff published and out there, my illustrating his stories. That helped, and he appreciated that. When I kept telling him I didn't have time to do any more work for him, he would bribe me by finding rare 78s for me. And he was very resourceful about it. He found really great old 1920s records just around Cleveland.