|LOIS GILBERT TALKS ABOUT HER FRIENDSHIP WITH HARVEY PEKAR
I was introduced to Harvey Pekar's writing by my jazz musician boyfriend Tony LaVorgna. Tony's and Harvey Pekar's friendship goes way back to when they were jazz buddies in Cleveland. I immediately became a fan of Harvey's writing.
Tony got it into his mind that he wanted to write his own comic book about his life as a jazz musician after Tony and I saw Harvey Pekar's movie American Splendor. Tony had had some crazy ideas in his time but he seemed determined about this one. Tony called Harvey and Harvey recommended artist Gary Dumm. Soon Tony and Gary had completed enough stories for a small comic.
This wasn't good enough for Tony though. He wanted it to be an 80 page graphic novel. I said "that's a lot of pages! How are you going to do that?" Tony said "easy, you'll help me write it!" I had been a stand up comedian and had written comedy routines. Tony thought that some of these would be funny in illustrated form. I reluctantly agreed to do it and that's how I got ropped into being a comic book writer.
Soon I had completed several stories, so many infact that one day Tony said that I should put out my own comic book. I said "why would I have a comic book? I'm nobody." Tony said "Who cares? You're very funny. It will be a great book."
Once again I reluctantly agreed but when I saw my completed comic book I became very excited and mailed them to comic book stores in several states. No store would buy them though. I just wasn't famous enough. In the meantime Tony had to go to Youngstown, OH to do some recording and I decided to go with him so I could meet artist Gary Dumm and his wife Laura at their home in Cleveland which was a short distance away. I especially wanted to go since I found out that Harvey Pekar would be at Gary's as well.
I thought this is great. I can show Harvey Pekar my comic book. Before we left for Cleveland Harvey called looking for Tony. That's when I got to speak to Harvey Pekar for the first time. I said that I was looking forward to meeting him and he said "Aah if you're a friend of Tony's you're probably OK." When I met Harvey Pekar I felt like I already knew him. He was just like he portrays himself in his comic books. Harvey had already gotten a copy of my comic book from artist Gary Dumm and had read it. I asked Harvey how he liked the book. He said "Now that I've read your comic book I can die". I wondered if that was a compliment. It was good enough for me.
We hung out in Cleveland for a while and had a great time talking about jazz and comic books. I couldn't believe that I was having dinner with Harvey Pekar. The next year we went back to Cleveland to attend Gary Dumm's art show at which several of Gary's original artwork of our stories were being exibited. Harvey attended the art show as well. I was glad to be able to talk to Harvey Pekar again and I felt that we had a growing mutual respect for each other as creative artists.
Meanwhile my book still wasn't being picked up nationally. That's when Tony suggested to me that Harvey Pekar contribute a few of the stories to my book. I said "Do you think he would do that?" And Tony said "well he contributed some to mine and Harvey really thinks your good. I'll call him up and ask him." Harvey agreed to write for my book and soon he wrote a great story on how we met. We worked together by phone. He would call and I gave him all the information about the events. He would take notes, call me back, read to me what he had written and ask me if it was alright.
During the several times that he called me about the story we started having conversations about things that were going on in our lives. For a guy who was as famous as Harvey Pekar was, he was very approachable and easy to talk to. One of the stories that Harvey wrote still stands out in my mind. It was about a long episode that Tony and I had concerning the purchase of a bed. The bed that was delivered had nothing to do with the feel of the bed in the showroom and it took a long time to get the company to take the bed back.
Harvey agreed to write the story but called me the next day with some bad news. He had had an accident. He tripped down his front porch steps and broke his writing arm. Harvey didn't use a computer. He wrote by hand and I thought "well that's the end of that." To my surprise Harvey called me the next day and said that his writing arm was in a cast but he was ready to start the story. I said "How are you going to do that?' He said "I've been practicing writing the alphabet with my other hand. It's tough but I'm getting better at it." So we started working on the story. What a trooper!
He asked me a few questions and we talked alot about the bed adventure for the next couple of days. By the fourth day he had finished writing what turned out to be a twelve page story and he read it to me over the phone. I told him it was great. Then Harvey said something that surprised me. He thought I had contributed so much to the story that we should both take credit for writing it. I couldn't believe it. I was now co-writing with Harvey Pekar!
I told him how much I appreciated his contribution to my comic book, especially with his injured arm. He said "Aah, that's alright". One story that we also co-wrote was a conversation we had on one of our phone calls. Tony thought it was so funny that it ended up on the back page of my book.When I sent the new edition of my comic book with Harvey Pekar as the co-writer to the same stores that had rejected my first edition they each bought several copies immediately. Harvey continued to be a good friend and even wrote about Tony and me in a recent edition of American Splendor. He also wrote some stories for Tony's graphic novel and they talked on the phone about jazz often as time went on.
I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with a nationally known writer like Harvey Pekar so early in my career. It certainly helped the sales of my book not to mention my self confidence, and I learned that Harvey Pekar got things accomplished no matter what obstacles he had to overcome to do it. He was a great mentor. I learned from the best, I learned from Harvey Pekar.