I spoke to Pekar’s editor on “The Pekar Project,” Jeff Newelt, to find out what the future holds for the popular online comic series after its namesake’s death, and what other Pekar projects we still might see published.
MTV NEWS: How did you first hear about Harvey’s death?
JEFF NEWELT: In this modern day and age, I heard about it the way you hear about a lot of things: You wake up and read about it on Twitter. … I saw all of these “R.I.P. Harvey” tweets, and I was like, “Oh, no.”
MTV: I know you had a close working relationship with Harvey, so when was the last time you spoke to him?
NEWELT: I’ve been talking to him pretty much every day for the last year and a half. I spoke to him on Thursday. He was real excited, because we got a 13-page feature in the new issue of “Juxtapose.” We were talking about that and how Roger Ebert tweeted about his “Muncie, Indiana” story, because they were pals.
MTV: Where do things stand with “The Pekar Project” now? How far ahead did Harvey work on the scripts?
NEWELT: There are still a bunch of comics yet to come out on “The Pekar Project” that we have in the can and done. I’m actually going to write a tribute comic of my own, too. Before Harvey passed away, we would jam and he liked my ideas. He kept bugging me to write a comic, so I’m going to pay tribute to him by writing my first comic about my experience as editor on “The Pekar Project” and working with him, drawn by the four “Pekar Project” artists.
With so many “Pekar Project” artists around, I’m sure we can expect more tributes on the site in addition to mine, too.
MTV: I know Harvey had been working on a few other books, too. Were you involved with any of those? Do you know what their status is?
NEWELT: The first branch-off of “The Pekar Project” is coming out this year. He was working on a graphic novel called “Cleveland,” which comes out during the summer of 2011 from this company called Zip Comics. The script was ready for that. It’s one-third history of Cleveland, one-third Harvey’s experiences there, and one-third biographical sketches of Cleveland characters. It’s drawn by Joseph Remnant, one of the definitive Pekar artists.
MTV: Looking back on your time working with Harvey, what are some of the memories you’re taking away from the experience?
NEWELT: One of the first things I knew about him was that he was commonly known as a curmudgeon — but I found out that he was closer in personality to a Jewish grandma than a curmudgeon. He was always really excited about things and curious. He would call me at 7 in the morning to read his scripts over the phone, and and then again at 9. I’m a night person, so I would wake up at noon and call him back. He didn’t have an answering machine, so we would usually end up talking at 3 PM most days. It became our regular routine.
The thing about Harvey is that he was a jazz guy first and foremost. Doing “The Pekar Project,” I felt more like his record producer than his editor. “The Pekar Project” felt like a band. As much of a master as he was, just like a great jazz musician who has young guys on stage he can learn from, Harvey always loved his artists’ contributions and would jam with them. If someone had a good idea, there was no ego whatsoever.
You can check out The Pekar Project at www.smithmag.net/pekarproject.
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