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Harvey Pekar, Graphic Art and Israeli State Policy

 
A review of:
NOT THE ISRAEL MY PARENTS PROMISED ME
By Harvey Pekar and J.T. Waldman
With an epilogue by Joyce Brabner
Hill and Wang, 2012
$24.95. $14.67 on Amazon
 

Harvey Pekar, who died in 2010, was a major player in the elevation of comics into a respectable medium for telling human stories. His famous American Splendor comic featured Pekar as an existential everyman/curmudgeon finding stories in chance meetings in the grocery line, in his mundane, day-to-day life as a file clerk in a Cleveland VA office or in his celebrated appearances on the David Letterman show. His image has been drawn by dozens of cartoonists in a range of styles, most notably by the famous R. Crumb. A feature film was made about Pekar's life and work called American Splendor. The hybrid narrative/documentary film won an Oscar for its screenplay.

The Israel book, the real Harvey Pekar and R. Crumb's versionThe Israel book, the real Harvey Pekar and R. Crumb's version

Pekar has a strong following and is still publishing graphic narratives from beyond the grave. The new comic titled Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me is an example of his post-mortem work. (A second graphic tale written by Pekar -- Harvey Pekar's Cleveland -- has also been published this year. It was illustrated by Joseph Remnant.)

The 172-page graphic narrative on Israel was conceived and written by Pekar and later illustrated by Philadelphia artist J.T. Waldman, whose other work includes a highly regarded graphic narrative of the Biblical Esther story called Megillat Esther. Bruce Farrar on Amazon’s website writes of this book: “A daring and imaginative interpretation of scripture in a graphic novel is JT Waldman's version of the Scroll of Esther, the story behind the Purim festival. ...This is a cup that runs over its brim with delights, wonders, and mysteries.”

Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me is comprised of three interwoven narrative lines. First, there’s Pekar’s story raised in Cleveland by a father who owned and operated a small grocery store and a mother who was a devoted Marxist; both parents were strong Zionists. Second, there’s Pekar’s telling of Jewish history from Abraham to the Crusades to the British Mandate to the founding of Israel. The third narrative thread is based on the time Waldman met Pekar and drove him around Cleveland before Pekar died.

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