As you've no doubt heard by now, Harvey Pekar died early this morning. You've probably also seen plenty of tributes and various forms of obituaries, to which I don't have anything meaningful to add. I'm familiar with his work, but I've never really studied it or him very extensively other than to say I generally appreciated it.
But something that strikes me about Pekar is that, despite an inordinate amount of critical success, he just wasn't all that popular and didn't make all that much money. Despite doing what he loved and doing it very well, that didn't translate into real financial rewards. Not that I think he was necessarily looking for that per se, but certainly towards the end of his life, it was the extra income from that covered living expenses that ran beyond his pension and retirement.
And that's something to consider carefully. I love comics. I would love to get paid to research and write about about whatever comic book related stuff strikes me. But I know that's not commercially viable. Heck, there are plenty of things I write here that I think are really great, but they don't even get linked to. Maybe it's utter crap but I suspect it has more to do with my just covering topics that don't interest anyone. So I keep a day job that I'm reasonably good at, and brings in enough money to pay all my bills.
When I had first graduated college, I could look out and see older people who were a lot more successful than I was with regard to job prospects and income and whatnot. And that was okay because, well, they were more experienced and had been out there longer. I'm old enough now that see people my age or younger climbing the corporate ziggurat lickety-split, and I can see that I'm not going to get to that level of "success." Which is still okay, because that's not really what I want to do with my life.
See, the thing is that every person has to have their own priorities and goals. While mine do include living more comfortably (financially speaking) than someone like Pekar, I also want to live for myself before my career or my bank account. So I go into the office and do good work -- derived more from personal pride than corporate ambitions -- but I also make sure than I'm working to live, not living to work. I want to come home in the evening and kill some time reading a biography of Jackie Ormes or researching old Thundarr cartoons or banging out another (ultimately) fruitless blog post.
I heard years ago that one of the keys to a life well lived is to take your two deepest passions, make your second-favorite your job and make the other your hobby. If you make your deepest passion your job, you'll get caught up in the bullshit that inevitably crops up and you won't be able to see it in the same untainted light. If you reserve that for your second-favorite passion, you can always keep whatever it is that really excites you alive and fresh and energizing.
That's why I've never aggressively pursued a career in comics. That's why I haven't worked very hard in trying to monetize my writing about comics. (If someone just hands me a lot of money to write about them, I'm not going to turn it down, of course! But I'm not sending out scripts or trying to sell ad space here or anything.)
I think Pekar did something similar. I don't think anyone would claim he was that deeply passionate about being a file clerk; that was just how he paid the bills. Even comics were a secondary passion for him, following behind jazz. Robert Crumb is the same way. Both of them have expressed annoyance and frustration and dismay when talking about comics, but they never seemed to be that way about jazz. They could put on an old jazz album, and be completely absorbed by the music.
They key is recognizing which is a hobby and which is going to make you a living. I don't claim to have all the answers, and whatever answers I might have are just what works for me. But I like to think I've got my act relatively together. I'm happy with who I am and what I'm doing. And I can sit down and read a good comic book, and just enjoy the fact that I'm enjoying a good comic. I don't have "how do I turn this in money for groceries" floating in the back of my head the whole time. I don't have "DEADLINE!!!" screaming at me from within the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. I could drop off the comicdom's radar entirely, and just sit at home quietly reading Tozo, The Public Servant by myself with no outside interaction at all, and I'd still be able to cover all my bills just fine, thankyouverymuch. F.I.J.A.G.H.