We asked Jeff Newelt to explain why he's subjecting Harvey Pekar to Twitter, and what it's like to work with the famous grouch from Cleveland.
[caption id="attachment_5443" align="alignleft" width="250" caption="Adam Roth drew this"][/caption] Editor and Reggae musician Jeff Newelt's job is to take his conversations with one of the angriest technophobes--and greatest comics writers--on the planet, Harvey Pekar, and then translate them into Twitter. Harvey Pekar doesn't understand the point of computers, and I couldn't agree more, at least as far as Twitter is concerned. For the sake of argument, I can imagine, maybe, that it might be fun to have famous maxim writer Francois de La Rochefoucauld "tweeting" his aristocratic pals a new misogynistic zinger he just wrote, like "All women are flirts, but some are restrained by shyness, and others by sense." Good one, Francois! Or maybe famous haiku writer Yosa Buson is traipsing around Japan and is so struck by natural beauty at 4 AM that he has to tweet his friends that he's "Listening to the moon, gazing at the croaking of frogs, in a field of ripe rice." But even with the small minority of folks who actually have something pithy to say in very few words...can't you just read their blog on your own time when you're bored at work? But anyway, Newelt also publishes Pekar's comics for a new online project on SMITH. Pekar is one of the greatest comics writers to come out of the 70s autobiographical boom. He's most famous for his portrayal by Paul Giamatti in the film American Splendor based on the comic of the same name, and his zany, deteriorating relationship with David Letterman. Pekar's new comics are some of his greatest work yet, particularly in terms of how great they look. I love reading them online because they're huge and the colors are great. I asked Newelt to explain why he's subjecting Pekar to Twitter, and what it's like to work with the famous grouch from Cleveland. Vice: So you work as a technological intermediary between twitter and infamous luddite and cranky iconoclast Harvey Pekar? How's that work? Jeff Newelt: Well it's more than just Twitter, Harvey doesn't use computers too much in general. I think they give him the willies. And he's just not one for small talk or suffering fools. I like how, no matter what, he says "Tweeter" instead of Twitter. That kills me. I told him to think of it as if he were writing a Haiku instead of a comic, so we talk for a sec, and we chop a notion into a tweetable chunk. And when it's from Harvey, we mark it #realpekartweets. Harvey's always gotten off on recommending jazz musicians, and has written hundreds of articles for jazz magazines. So, when I told Harvey he could name me a musician, and which album he'd recommend and why, and I could push a button and that recommendation would go out to 2,000 people, and potentially turn those folks onto some heavy shit, Harvey liked that idea and saw not only the value but the fun in that. For example this one: "Armstrong on trumpet, Hines on piano; both were innovators, amazing combination" http://bit.ly/LouisEarl #realpekartweets Because we talk a few times a week, I'll have those "Yep that's a tweet" moments during our calls. We don't sweat it or force it, its just every once in a while a Tweet will pop out. I love Pekar's new work on SMITH magazine. I was a big fan of the Crumb/Pekar collaborations, and I think this is some of my favorite Pekar stuff in a long time. I particularly like the Rick Parker stuff, just because it's so colorful, detailed and huge -- to print panels with such gorgeous colors and size would have cost a mint, instead of being free on the internet. How did you select the artists? Thanks! Psyched that you like it, and yeah the color sure pops on Rick's pieces. The artists were selected serendipitously. It started with Harvey's collaborations with Tara Seibel, a fellow Clevelander. Harvey was immediately enjoying the experimentation of their strips, knowing they were headed towards some real avant-garde shit if they kept it going. The first work Rick sent to show Harvey was too heroic, too handsome. Harvey HATES that shit. Make him look worse then he looks, GREAT! Make him look spiffed-up, NOT SO GREAT! So Rick sent some stuff that had Harvey looking all raw and disheveled, and Harvey loved it! Is this being paid for a by a grant or something? Are you really able to pay Pekar and these great illustrators with the google ads at the bottom of the page, or is the idea to get publicity for some upcoming collection when you have enough comics to fill a book? SMITH was one of the first on board the web-to-print if-you-build-it-awesomely-they-will-come idea. There will probably be enough comics to fill a Pekar Project book by the end of the year. And we're also talking to sponsors, book publishers, film, and TV folks. But you are correct, the bulk of the money off this project will be made later, by all parties, with the creator's taking the lion's share and SMITH a piece. What can Harvey do with twitter that he can't do with just writing comics and not using twitter? What he can do here that he can't do in comics is have me press a button and his words go to a few thousand folks who may get turned on that moment to something he is excited about. Or he might just get off on knowing that he reaffirmed to 2,000 people at that moment, paradoxically, that he hates computers, and he'll get satisfaction out of that. Although I'm a lot younger than Harvey, I'm also a techno-luddite when it comes to twitter. I truly don't understand it. I mean, I love Harvey Pekar's comics, particularly the ones with Crumb. But, getting a bunch of texts from a guy about jazz while I'm at work or at home or whatever...what am I missing here? How can I discover a new world of joy by getting twittery stuff from Harvey Pekar? Regarding discovering a new world of joy, if you're into jazz or the kind of avant-garde novelists he's into, or whatever, then like me, you'll get joy out of getting a fresh recommendation. Pekar's the most respected non-illustrating, non-genre, non-fiction writer in comics, and right now he's the only one getting much attention. But there used to be a bunch of them: Dennis P. Eichhorn, the old fogies at Duplex Planet...where'd they all go? Any new talent on the horizon? I think you've got me here, But you've also got me curious because I don't actually know those guys you mentioned, and now I'm really curious if there are any like that. Hmm, I am gonna find 'em! Joyce Brabner, Harvey's wife, is actually one and she's still writing with Harvey and on her own. Harvey Pekar's been writing non-fiction comics for so long that he's been many things to many different eras. He started out as a pioneer and nearly created his own genre, then he and other auto-bio comics led a sort of gestalt against all the stupid superhero/adventure stuff. But nowadays, alternative comics are pretty established as their own genre, and many seem so darn twee, that Harvey seems like Bukowski or Hemingway in comparison. So many dudes and ladies drawing themselves as funny animals or groovy scenesters, all having healthy, introspective journeys of gentle self-discovery -- do you think it's gotten kind of samey? The autobio comics thing is very not-new at this point, but if it's done smartly, creatively, imaginatively, passionately, I'll read another. As long as it's great I probably have more tolerance than most for "samey." The thing about Harvey too is not just the content, the stories, but his voice telling the story, he's a jazz guy, and comics are his music. So hearing Harvey's tales is not just the what, but seeing through his lens, his opinions, his way of saying things, an attitude, a vibe. There's a poetic aspect to all of it. Any chance of SMITH finding a soldier who's an autobiographical comics writer in some distant army somewhere, kinda like Brabner's comic, True Soldier, but ongoing? Maybe a mexican policeman in a violent border town? A bipolar trapeze artist with a drinking problem? One of those gun-toting rabbis in the NY Post? How about a Somali pirate? What do you think? Only if they are teenage mutant ninja gun-toting rabbis. Then give them my email or have them DM me on Twitter.