PERSONAL: Married Harvey Pekar (a comic-book writer); children: Danielle (foster daughter).
ADDRESSES: Home and office—Cleveland, OH. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Dark Horse Comics, 10956 SE Main St., Milwaukie, OR 97222.
CAREER: "Comic-book journalist," writer, and peace activist.
(Editor) Real War Stories (graphic journalism), Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (Philadelphia, PA), 1987.
(Editor and contributor) Brought to Light (graphic journalism; includes "Flashpoint: The La Penca Bombing") drawings by Tom Yeates and Bill Sienkiewicz), Eclipse Books (Forestville, CA), 1989.
(With husband, Harvey Pekar) Our Cancer Year, illustrated by Frank Stack, Four Walls Eight Windows (New York, NY), 1994.
Author of comic-book journalism series Real War Stories; author of "Joyce's Blog," on Harvey Pekar's Home Page.
SIDELIGHTS: Joyce Brabner and her husband, the comic book writer and retired Veterans Administration hospital file clerk Harvey Pekar, became famous with the 2003 release of the film American Splendor, based on Pekar's autobiographical comic book series by the same name. The series—which won an American Book Award in 1987—detail Pekar's humdrum life in Cleveland, Ohio, his comic meeting of and hasty marriage to third wife Brabner, and their life with their foster daughter, budding cartoonist Danielle. The universal appeal of American Splendor is owed to Pekar's candid and insightful portrayal of the everyday, middle-class, working life in America. Actress Hope Davis, who plays Brabner in the film, is quoted in the production notes on the American Splendor Movie Web site as saying, "Joyce is probably the most colorful character I've ever played. She's extremely intellectual, a very opinionated and forthright person."
Brabner collaborated with Pekar on a 1994 graphic novel, Our Cancer Year, the story of Pekar's diagnosis of and treatment for lymphoma, just as the couple was buying a house for the first time, and as Joyce was involved with collecting the stories of international war survivors during the escalation of the Gulf War, in the winter of 1991. The novel chronicles their struggle with these and smaller everyday events as they deal with the physical and emotional rigors of Pekar's chemotherapy and its excruciating side effects. Chris Faatz, in a review of the book for the Nation, wrote: "This book is an in-your-face picture of that time, full of fear and pain and desperation, and love and heroism as well." Joseph Witek, writing in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, commented: "The same honesty that American Splendor routinely brings to the mundane happenings of daily life permeates Our Cancer Year." Witek also wrote that the authors and illustrator "have demonstrated that comics created with intelligence and unflinching candor can be deeply moving literature." Ray Olson, in Booklist, found that "few prose-only cancer survivors' accounts are as good," while a Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the book "is distinguished by Brabner's great tenderness and determination in the middle of Pekar's medical nightmare." Stuart Sherman, in a review for the Chicago Tribune, wrote: "The book beautifully conveys a sense of battles raging and worlds collapsing everywhere, on every scale: in one man's mind and body, in Cleveland homes, streets, and hospital beds, on the war-shredded map of the Middle East."
In the late 1980s, Brabner began collecting and publishing, in comic-book format, stories of soldiers and citizens from around the world who had survived war and were willing to tell the real stories of devastation and suffering—so different from U.S. military propaganda designed to interest American youth in joining the armed forces. The result was the ongoing series Real War Stories, for which she once faced federal court charges after a conflict with the Defense Department. Leslie J. Gastwirt, in Library Journal, observed that the stories counteract "the Rambo-like fantasies misleading today's youth." Sherman, in his Chicago Tribune review of Our Cancer Year, pointed out that Brabner, in Real War Stories, writes "to make her readers both wary and committed. In her stories there are innocents and villains, huge conspiracies to expose, a world to change."
Under the sponsorship of the Christic Institute, Brabner also wrote "Flashpoint: The La Penca Bombing," published together with a story by the English comic book writer Alan Moore in the 1989 graphic journalism work Brought to Light. Both stories deal with the controversial Iran-contra scandal, narcotics smuggling, and U.S. arming of right-wing groups in the Third World. "Flashpoint' reveals the discovery by journalists Martha Honey and Tony Avrigan of an attempt to assassinate Nicaraguan contra leader Eden Pastora in a 1984 bombing at La Penca, while Moore's "Shadowplay" follows a bloody, long-term covert CIA operation in Nicaragua. Ray Olson, of Booklist, called the stories "lucid précis of events" that were obscured by mainstream journalism. Richard Gehr, in a review for the Village Voice, commented that "Flashpoint" "offers a crammed portrait of an international crew of mercenaries, thieves, adventurers, and misdirected patriots." A Publishers Weekly contributor called Brabner's story "a straightforward and competently illustrated journalistic account" of the assassination attempt. Roger Sabin, in a review for New Statesman & Society, however, perceived it as "not a serious piece of investigative journalism … but a colourful and entertaining rendering by writers and artists" who use their techniques as a film director uses cameras and lighting. But, said Sabin, "This is not to belittle its achievement in any way."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 1989, Ray Olson, review of Brought to Light, p. 1072; September 15, 1994, Ray Olson, review of Our Cancer Year, p. 89.
Financial Times of Canada, December 4, 1994, Liam Lacey, "Harvey and Joyce's Comic Confidences," p. C1.
Library Journal, October 15, 1987, Leslie J. Gastwirt, "A Conscientious Comic Book" (review of Real War Stories), p. 52.
Nation, December 26, 1994, Chris Faatz, review of Our Cancer Year, p. 810.
New Statesman & Society, February 17, 1989, Roger Sabin, "Serious Comic" (review of Brought to Light) p. 37.
Publishers Weekly, February 17, 1989, review of Brought to Light, p. 73; August 8, 1994, review of Our Cancer Year, p. 420.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 1996, Joseph Witek, review of Our Cancer Year, p. 196.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), November 20, 1994, Stuart Sherman, review of Our Cancer Year, p. 7.
Village Voice, April 4, 1989, Richard Gehr, "Tales from the Dark Side" (review of Brought to Light) pp. 48-49.
American Splendor Movie Web site, http://www.americansplendormovie.com/ (November 1, 2003), "About the Production."
Beek's Books, http://www.rzero.com/ (August 6, 2003), review of Our Cancer Year.
Harvey Pekar's Home Page, http://www.harveypekar.com/ (October 20, 2003), "Joyce's Blog."
American Splendor (film), HBO, 2003.