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Pekar’s ‘Jewish Review’ Collaborator Made a Stir

Writer’s widow resented Seibel

Marc Tracy
September 02, 2010
The late, great Harvey Pekar.(Wikipedia)
The late, great Harvey Pekar.(Wikipedia)

We learn much about the final days of comics writer Harvey Pekar (whom Vanessa Davis graphically eulogized in Tablet Magazine) from a New York Times feature. When he died in July, I noted that among Pekar’s final works published while he was still alive was his column, written by him and drawn by Tara Seibel, in the most recent Jewish Review of Books. In fact, Seibel, a 37-year-old artist based in Pekar’s Cleveland, plays a prominent role in the article, as Pekar’s wife, Joyce Brabner, apparently clashed with her and, even more, resented her and her husband’s relationship (which by all accounts did not cross any red lines).

The Times reports:

Ms. Seibel made no secret of her admiration for the pioneering comic work of Mr. Pekar, whom she described as “a 70-year-old hipster who loved listening to the Beastie Boys in the car.” In turn he provided her with stories that she illustrated for publications like Chicago Newcity, The Austin Chronicle and The Jewish Review of Books.

Ms. Seibel was also one of four artists whom Mr. Pekar invited to work on the Pekar Project, which starting in 2009 was an effort to translate his work and persona to the Internet. …

As the Pekar Project continued, it became apparent that Ms. Brabner was displeased with one contributor in particular: Ms. Seibel, the only female artist involved, and the only one who worked face to face with Mr. Pekar.

Ms. Seibel, whose husband and three children also became acquainted with Mr. Pekar, said that Ms. Brabner would abruptly pull Mr. Pekar out of their telephone conversations, and that she tried to interfere with a Brooklyn book-signing event at which Ms. Seibel appeared with Mr. Pekar in November. Ms. Seibel said Mr. Pekar told her these conflicts were “for him to worry about,” not her. “He put it under his business,” she said. (Ms. Brabner declined to comment on these matters.)

No one in their artistic circle believes the relationship between Mr. Pekar and Ms. Seibel crossed professional boundaries, but some could see how it strained Mr. Pekar’s marriage.

“A part of him was enjoying the attention he was getting from this very good-looking young woman,” said Mr. Parker, one of the Pekar Project artists. “And, naturally, Joyce, how could she enjoy that? You don’t have to be a psychologist to see that one’s not going to be good.”

Not even Mr. Pekar’s death quelled the tensions between Ms. Seibel, who has said she spent part of his last day alive with him, and Ms. Brabner.

Among her husband’s work with Ms. Seibel that Ms. Brabner has objected to is an illustration created for the catalog of “Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women,” an exhibition opening Oct. 1 at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco. (Ms. Brabner said she was embarrassed that the show, ostensibly about Jewish women, is “being hyped by way of saying we’ve got an old dead Jewish guy.”)

Mr. Parker said he was contacted by Ms. Brabner, who wanted to “cut Tara out of the equation” of the Pekar Project’s work. Other people with direct knowledge of the project’s operations, but who did not want to speak for attribution for fear of offending Ms. Brabner, said she would not allow a book to be published if it included Ms. Seibel’s contributions.

The Unfinished Tale of an Unlikely Hero [NYT]
Related: Gut Shabbes [Jewish Review of Books]
Splendor [Tablet Magazine]
Earlier: Harvey Pekar Dies

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.