Midwestern splendor

Dayton native Joseph Remnant illustrates Harvey Pekar’s best-selling posthumous novel

By Leo DeLuca

Cartoonist and illustrator Joseph Remnant grew up in Dayton and graduated from Oakwood High School in 2000. Remnant recently illustrated “Cleveland” – the 2012 New York Times best-selling graphic novel by famed comic book author Harvey Pekar.

Pekar is best known for his autobiographical “American Splendor” comic series and the award winning 2003 film adaptation of the same name. In addition to “American Splendor,” Pekar’s jazz writings and appearances on “Late Night with David Letterman” moved him into the public eye.

“American Splendor” began as a unique collaboration between Harvey Pekar and renowned cartoonist Robert Crumb. Along with earning numerous awards, Crumb illustrated album covers for the Grateful Dead, Big Brother & The Holding Company (Janis Joplin’s first group), collaborated with Charles Bukowski and more. It was clear that working with Pekar would be a coup for Remnant. When contacted in 2009, he gladly accepted the offer.

Harvey Pekar discovered Joseph Remnant by way of a two-page illustration in Arthur – a Los Angeles-based underground arts publication. Remnant’s work piqued Pekar’s interest and he was commissioned to illustrate “Cleveland” – an autobiographic tale set in Pekar’s hometown.

Detailed in his 1994 graphic novel “My Cancer Year,” Pekar struggled with the aforementioned illness on-and-off for years. He suffered a relapse and died on July 12, 2010. His death occurred while Remnant was still working on “Cleveland.”

Fortunately, “Cleveland’s” narrative was complete and the graphic novel was published in the Spring of 2012. This meant that Joseph Remnant had the honor of illustrating Harvey Pekar’s posthumous novel.

With “Cleveland” published, two new works – “Blindspot” and The Expositor – currently occupy Remnant’s focus. The former is a comic series he started in 2008. The latter is a webcomic and collaboration with Denver-based illustrator Noah Van Sciver.

I had the opportunity to speak with Remnant and ask him a few questions:

How did the Pekar camp first get in touch with you? Was it Pekar himself?

Yeah, I was doing comics for Arthur Magazine, and this comic I did about the underground comics scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s got some attention from those cartoonists that I was writing about. This guy Jay Lynch, who was part of the original wave of underground comics in the ‘60s, called me one day to tell me that he liked what I was doing and somehow we ended up talking about Harvey. He knew him and asked if I’d like for him to send my stuff to him. I said “yes,” of course. I didn’t expect anything to come of it, but a couple weeks later, Harvey called me on the phone.  –Joseph Remnant

Harvey Pekar grew up in Cleveland – another Ohio city that saw a decline in industry and population. Do you feel this played into Pekar’s decision to have you illustrate “Cleveland”?

I don’t know. He initially gave me a bunch of short little strips to try out and he really liked those, so that was the main thing. I think he saw in my drawings that I really understood a certain tone he was going for, and I’m sure that having grown up in a very similar city helped with that. I remember first seeing the “American Splendor” movie and feeling an instant connection to his experience and that whole Cleveland landscape and the people that he was writing about felt so familiar.  -JR

DCP: You fronted the musical group Sallow and later joined Dayton band Captain of Industry. Was there a time when you found yourself choosing between music and comics?

JR: Yeah, there was. Music was my first love really, and I spent more of art school in my basement making homemade recording than paintings. I guess the part that I loved the most though was creating songs and overdubbing parts and just making something from nothing. When it came time to book shows and promote stuff and get on stage, I realized that the whole thing might not be for me. When I was playing with Captain of Industry, I started wanting to just go back into my basement and drawing in my sketchbook and that part of me just took over ultimately.

DCP: Can you elaborate on The Expositor? How did you get hooked up with Noah Van Sciver?

JR: The Expositor is a website that I started with my friend and fellow cartoonist, Noah Van Sciver, where we are both posting chapters of our new graphic novels as we finish them. Noah is somebody who I initially contacted because I was such a big fan of his “Blammo” comic. We’re inspired by all the same people and are two of the last people putting out these comic books that I feel are an extension of what people like Daniel Clowes and Adrian Tomine were doing in the ‘80s and ‘90s. It just made sense for us to combine our efforts and do something together.

DCP: What are your plans for the future? Will there be a “Dayton” graphic novel?

Well, I’m working pretty hard on “Cartoon Clouds,” which is my comic on The Expositor, and that will probably take another year to finish. Then hopefully somebody will publish it. The French edition of “Cleveland” just came out as well, and I’m getting to go to France in January to help promote that, which should be pretty amazing.

Reach DCP freelance writer Leo DeLuca at LeoDeLuca@daytoncitypaper.com

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