Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

June 30, 2021

The Unrepentant Marxist comic book, chapter one

Filed under: The Unrepentant Marxist comic book — louisproyect @ 4:40 pm

(Chapter guide: chap. 1, chap 2, chap 3, chap 4, chap 5, chap 6, chap 7)

In 2009, I worked with Harvey Pekar to write a comic book memoir titled “The Unrepentant Marxist”. I wrote the dialog based on his guidelines (keep ‘em laughing) and Summer McClinton (one of his best artist collaborators) did the drawings. He had a deal with Random House to have it published but it got dropped after his death from lymphoma in 2010.

I’ve decided to begin serializing it in seven installments this week on my blog. Additionally, you can download it yourself from http://www.panix.com/~lnp3//UnrepMarx.pdf. This was a draft copy that Harvey’s editor never got a chance to work on, so you will notice typos here and there.

My old friend Paul Buhle hooked us up in 2009. Paul had worked with Harvey on some great comic books based on the left, including one about SDS, but maybe did not consider the possibility that Harvey would propose working on my memoir. It just turned out that we had a natural affinity based on being the sons of Jewish shopkeepers, jazz fans, leftist politics and an identification with the beat generation.

Paul volunteered to write a preface to the memoir that captures the two of us quite well. Posted below, it will put the project into context. Following it will be the chapter that covers my birth and growing up in the Borscht Belt. Although I was no radical by any stretch of the imagination, my village was filled with 1930s radicals that gave Woodridge the nickname “Utopia in the Catskills” in a 1947 PM newspaper article. PM was a daily that reflected the POV of Communists but was broad enough not to be mistaken for The Daily Worker.

The World of Pekar and Proyect

By Paul Buhle

The passage of time may have taken some of the luster from Harvey Pekar’s reputation in the world of comic art. We could forget that Helen Mirren quipped, at the San Diego Comicon a year following his death, that Harvey had allowed readers all over the world to look at comic art in a new way.  That he scripted a comic art biography of Lou Proyect, drawn by Summer McClinton, might be described, in a number of dimensions, as the perfect project. Some part of Harvey was Studs Terkel, the famously loquacious oral historian. Another part of Harvey was Lou Proyect, hard-bitten master of arguments and avowed revolutionary

A file clerk at a VA hospital and a life-long resident of blue collar Cleveland, Pekar made his own persona the expression of a philosophy, a way of life, of the American Jewish intellectual-radical-critic. He was already known to the followers of jazz reviews in magazines before he launched his own home-made comic series, sold at little comicons and local bookstores, slowing gaining national attention over the course of the 1980s. A young and troubled Robert Crumb, almost literally saved by the friendship of Pekar, devoted some of his most intimate and touching pages to Harvey’s self-described life.

By the later 1990s, Pekar had been on the Letterman Show repeatedly, complaining aloud about the control exerted from the heights of the military-industrial complex aka General Electric, a Letterman sponsor. Harvey was made to seem clownish, in effect the representative of a failed, post-industrial city. He  refused the role, and achieved his vindication in American Splendor (2002), an awarded biopic, the first and perhaps the only film to include the real live protagonist, the actor playing him, and an animated version of the original.

Pekar happened upon Proyect by a curious incident, or perhaps one more story in the quiet comradeship of aging American leftists. As an occasional visitor to New York while giving history talks or attending events for the non-fictional comics that I was bringing out from 2005 onward, I hung out with Lou and spend the nights on a futon in his condo unit. Harvey Pekar came in front out of town for a shared event, an exhibit at CUNY Graduate Center for the release of a comic, and asked Lou if he could put up Harvey instead of me. Done Deal.

A friendship followed and the project that they worked on together. Harvey was a master of biography, and relished writing about a personality so much like his own, avowedly leftwing and irascible, unyielding. In the end, and working with one of the most talented comic artists on hand, a creation emerged. Every reader will have a unique response, based on generation, personal experiences and narrative tastes. There is something here for all. But what I wish to emphasize is the meeting of spirits or souls. The intimacy of the telling holds the charm to this book.

The Unrepentant Marxist chapter one, an escape from the Borscht Belt to Bard College

To be continued tomorrow


  1. Thanks so much for this, Louis. Deeply moving. My growing up as nominally Christian in Jewish North Buffalo during the 1950s could not have been more different. In high school, I was part of the in-crowd but deeply unhappy and terribly confused. My guidance councilor and some extraordinary kindness from family members enabled me to get away and slowly begin working at figuring things out. At 80, still working. Go India!

    Comment by Stephen S. Gosch — June 30, 2021 @ 6:12 pm

  2. Exraordinary, Louis. Having spent time in Woodridge in the 1950s, and have been around the SWP, your story resonates. I love it!

    Comment by davidberger6799 — June 30, 2021 @ 8:35 pm

  3. “Here it is at last, that exquisite thing,” said Henry James, expiring. I feel that way about the Proyect-Pekar-McClinton production. I’d heard about it way back in my ripe middle-age. In fact, passing through NYC I tried to leave the price of a copy to be mailed me in Istanbul. Louis told me I should invest my money and wait. Wise, because there followed a nasty ego drama that kept the thing from print. Pre-publication became a saga fading toward blank pages. There were only odd mumbles and a lonely few panels. So here it is at last.

    Anyone who has lived those years will find his own point of interest in this Non-Fiction Marxist itinerary. What interests me most in Louis’ life is how he got to Bard College and what it did to him. I imagine it in terms of a ballad. The Greengrocer’s Son stumbled into the Court of the Czar and found his balance. He’s dancing still.

    Marvelous the chancy way in high school he came upon Sartre’s study of Jean Genet. Life’s a lottery. I had to forsake Chicago and live years in Quebec and Paris before I opened that thick book.

    Next chapter, please.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — July 1, 2021 @ 9:22 am

  4. […] decided to begin serializing it in seven installments this week on my blog. Additionally, you can download it yourself. This was a draft copy that Harvey’s editor never […]

    Pingback by The Lighthouse Tribune | The Unrepentant Marxist Comic Book — July 2, 2021 @ 8:35 am

  5. The last thing I pictured in my mind of you, Louis, was you on a motorcycle…Interesting glimpses of our alma mater during this period…

    Comment by Kurt T Hill — July 2, 2021 @ 2:40 pm

  6. Thanks Louis for posting the pdf! I never thought this would see the light of day.

    Comment by Denis Williams — July 2, 2021 @ 2:49 pm

  7. This is quite amazing, thank you so much for publishing it.

    A real story. So good.

    I have to say I cannot imagine something so different from the background of us European leftists..

    We have had mass left wing trade unions and a variety of mass left parties, social democratic, Labour, socialist and Communist Partes and its quite normal to begin in your teens with a Trotskyist group at FE college or Uni and then move to a more moderate positon, be a lay union official, a councillor, even a MP.

    So normal the present Labour Leader Keir Starmer is a former ‘Pabloite’….

    Comment by Andrew Coates — July 2, 2021 @ 4:41 pm

  8. […] The Unrepentant Marxist comic book, chapter one | Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist […]

    Pingback by Rare Harvey Pekar book | Sean Michael Wilson — July 4, 2021 @ 3:18 pm

  9. […] The Unrepentant Marxist chapter one, an escape from the Borscht Belt to Bard College. […]

    Pingback by Louis Proyect, has passed away. | Ipswich Unemployed Action. — August 27, 2021 @ 6:08 pm

  10. […] The Unrepentant Marxist chapter one, an escape from the Borscht Belt to Bard College. […]

    Pingback by RIP: Louis Proyect – Shiraz Socialist (Second Run) — August 28, 2021 @ 5:38 pm

  11. […] Most people accept the way things are and live their lives accordingly. But a few do not. They rebel against the status quo. Some abandon the world in one way or another, living off the grid, refusing to settle down, joining a religious cult. Others dig in their heels and devote their lives to   analyzing society and doing what they can to change it. Louis was one of these. He was born in Kansas City, but he grew up in the Catskills in the “Borsht Belt,” as he used to say. While raised in the Jewish faith and certainly influenced by what it meant to be a Jew in an antisemitic society, from an early age, he was a nonbeliever. He enrolled at Bard College when he was sixteen, and he did some graduate studies at the New School. He wrote much about his upbringing and his education, as well as his entire life, perhaps most openly and wittily in the comic book autobiography, in which he wrote the dialogue while Harvey Pekar, who had become a close friend, did the strips. Anyone wanting to learn about his life will want to read this. You can find it here. […]

    Pingback by Save a Space for Lou Proyect, Rebel Against the Status Quo – Critical News Autoblog — August 31, 2021 @ 9:46 am

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