Among the many tributes to Harvey Pekar that have begun to appear online and in print, this one by chef and author Anthony Bourdain stands out. That’s in large part because Bourdain’s remembrance centers on a 2007 episode of his Travel Channel series No Reservations that brought him to a wintry Cleveland, where the irascible Pekar served as a guide and narrator.
Watching that episode, it was obvious a handful of ingredients — Bourdain, comic book-style illustrations and, most importantly, Pekar in his element — had combined to create something special. So it’s nice to see that, three years and almost 60 episodes later, “Cleveland” remains Bourdain’s favorite.
“That show was unique among over a hundred others in that everything — absolutely everything — went perfectly and exactly as planned,” he wrote today on his blog. “Unlike every other episode, pretty much everything had been ‘written’ (or at least planned out) in advance: the look, the American Splendor graphics, destinations, subjects and content. In the middle of a blizzard in the dead of winter, we got exactly what we were looking for. We wanted American Splendor and that’s what we got.”
It’s a lovely tribute that moves beyond an episode of a food and travel show, with Bourdain trying to capture what drew so many to Pekar and his work: “A few great artists come to ‘own’ their territory. As Joseph Mitchell once owned New York and Zola owned Paris, Harvey Pekar owned not just Cleveland but all those places in the American Heartland where people wake up every day, go to work, do the best they can — and in spite of the vast and overwhelming forces that conspire to disappoint them — go on, try as best as possible to do right by the people around them, to attain that most difficult of ideals: to be ‘good’ people.”
You can watch a teaser for the Pekar episode after the break.