This posthumous publication reflects the seminal graphic memoirist at his edgy best.
From the grave, the pugnacious Pekar (Huntington, West Virginia “On the Fly,” 2011) is still issuing challenges and picking fights. But the handsome hardback publication and the masterful illustration by Waldman (Megillat Esther, 2006) confer a respectful legitimacy that shows how far the genre Pekar helped spawn has advanced since his early comic-book narratives. The tone is quintessential Pekar, pulling no punches, while the focus extends beyond the purely personal to the history of the Jewish people and the formation and essence of Israel. Both of his parents were ardent Zionists, but the author was not. The story begins with a visit by the narrator and the artist to a huge used bookstore in his native Cleveland and ends with them doing more library research. In between, it encompasses centuries and continents against a backdrop of Jewish history (with appropriate flourishes and framing from the artist as the tale moves through Roman and Muslim periods), interspersed with the tale of Pekar’s experiences in Hebrew school, his initiation into the leftist politics of the 1960s, his disillusionment with Israel as an oppressor, and his empathy with Arabs who were seen as the enemy. “Israelis mark this as a war of independence,” he says of the triumph he initially celebrated. “Palestinians call it the great catastrophe.” Pekar deepens the discussion through conversations with the illustrator, who lived for a couple of years in Israel (where Pekar had once attempted to move, but he received no encouragement from the Israeli consulate). Proudly Jewish but increasingly skeptical of Israel’s moral authority, Pekar makes no claim to expertise on Middle Eastern relations: “What do I know? I make comic books and write about jazz,” he admits. “I do know the difference between right and wrong, though.”
Even if other posthumous work follows, it likely won’t be any richer than this.