The Cleveland of Harvey Pekar
I didn't know anything about Cleveland when I first went there in the late 1970s. I got off the plane, not expecting much, and went to the office of Dennis Kucinich, then the mayor. Kucinich, in what I now recognize as the Cleveland political style, immediately launched into an attack on the new people-movers that were being installed at the airport. From there he went on to the power company and from there to the banks, and behind the banks, the mob (which later put a hit out on him). That was my introduction to the city of Cleveland—a city steeped in corruption that had nonetheless managed to elect this crusading "boy mayor"—and it won from me a kind of grudging respect that I've never lost.
I asked one of his aides if there were any independent journalists there, and he sent me to Roldo Bartimole, who was then—and still is now—the city's leading muckraker. Meeting Bartimole was a crash course in Cleveland politics. But if I wanted to really know about Cleveland, someone told me, I should read Harvey Pekar. Pekar was a comic book writer, and at that time he was still an underground figure in an underground world, operating in the shadow of R. Crumb, another Cleveland native who had helped him get his start. Pekar worked as a file clerk in a VA hospital, and he lived in and wrote about the old Cleveland neighborhoods that looked like they hadn't changed in decades—low-key but no-nonsense, a little shabby but comfortable. And he matched his city. As the obituary in the Cleveland Plain-Dealer put it:
Pekar chronicled his life and times in the acclaimed autobiographical comic-book series, "American Splendor," portraying himself as a rumpled, depressed, obsessive-compulsive "flunky file clerk" engaged in a constant battle with loneliness and anxiety.