Graphic novelist, illustrator to speak at Purdue Cancer Culture Community event

October 18, 2010

The cover of the 1994 graphic novel, "Our Cancer Year," written by Harvey Pekar and wife Joyce Brabner and illustrated by Frank Stack.

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Award-winning graphic novelist Joyce Brabner and illustrator Frank Stack will highlight the Oncological Science Center's Cancer Culture & Community Colloquium at Purdue University in early November.

Brabner and Stack will speak during the Discovery Park event at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 4 in Stewart Center's Fowler Hall. Brabner, Stack and the late Harvey Pekar, Brabner's husband, collaborated on the 1994 graphic novel, "Our Cancer Year," a book-length comics narrative that chronicles Pekar's diagnosis and treatment for lymphoma in 1990 and other events that year.

Pekar, who also had been scheduled to participate in this year's event, died July 12 at age 70, ending his decades-long battle with cancer. A book signing will follow the Purdue event, which is free and open to the public.

"The colloquium and the graphic novel created from this event, 'Lafayette-Our Cancer Year,' will be dedicated to Harvey Pekar along with everyone who has fought against cancer," said Julie Nagel, managing director of the Oncological Sciences Center.

The Lafayette, West Lafayette and Purdue communities are participating in the event through the center's Creating Hope program, said director Kristine Swank. Those who have been personally touched by cancer have submitted more than 30 stories -- from the local community and coming from as far away as Maryland and Colorado.

Excerpts from graphic novel 'Lafayette-Our Cancer Year' will be displayed at the center's Creating Hope Community Exhibit from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Nov. 4 in the Purdue Memorial Union. Art by teenagers from a beginning comics workshop for Tippecanoe County's Juvenile Area Management Service also will be displayed, Swank said.

Purdue Galleries will present original illustrations of Stack from "Our Cancer Year" from Oct. 25 through Dec. 5 in the Stewart Center Gallery. A second art exhibit will showcase the students' "Our Cancer Year" projects from Oct. 25-Nov. 5 in Pao Hall's East Gallery.

Pekar is the author of the comic book series "American Splendor." Stack is an award-winning professor emeritus at the University of Missouri. His works include drawings, prints and paintings, but it was his experience in comics, sometimes published under the alias "Foolbert Sturgeon," that brought him to Pekar. Stack illustrated stories for Pekar’s autobiographical series "American Splendor." His own books include "Dorman's Doggie," "Amazons," "Dr. Feelgood's Funnies" and "The Further Adventures of Jesus."

"When the opportunity arose for us to present the illustrations from a graphic novel by Harvey Pekar, we jumped at it," said Purdue Galleries director Craig Martin. "Pekar, whose story was presented in the movie 'American Splendor' with Paul Giamatti, is a legend of comics and underground literature. In combination with the Cancer Culture and Community project, it is a rare gift for the Greater Lafayette area to enjoy a visit from Harvey's wife, Joyce Brabner, and Frank Stack, the artist who brought many of his stories to life."

Sam and Maze, the cartoon cats featured in the comic strip "The Window" that is painted on three windows at the corner of Fifth and Columbia streets in downtown Lafayette, also are participating. The strip will change the next three Mondays -- Oct. 18, Oct. 25 and Nov. 1 -- leading up to the Nov. 4 colloquium.

"Our Cancer Year" won the 1995 Harvey Award for Best Graphic Album of Original Work. That work and stories from Pekar's "American Splendor" series, which portray his life as a U.S. Department of Veterans clerk, provided the basis for the popular 2003 film, "American Splendor."

The Purdue Student Union Board is offering a free screening of the film, starring Paul Giamatti as Pekar and Hope Davis as Brabner, at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28 in Fowler Hall.

The Stewart Center Gallery and the Robert L. Ringel Gallery are open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Saturday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursdays; and 1-5 p.m. on Sundays. All Purdue Galleries exhibitions and events are free and open to the public.

For class and group visits, contact Mary Ann Anderson at Purdue Galleries at 765-496-7899. For more information, visit

Other Cancer Culture & Community sponsors are the Office of the Provost, College of Liberal Arts, Purdue University Center for Cancer Research, Department of English, Patti and Rusty Reuff Department of Visual and Performing Arts, and the Purdue Student Union Board.

Discovery Park's Oncological Sciences Center, in partnership with the College of Liberal Arts, launched the annual Cancer Culture & Community initiative in 2007 to explore how the arts and literature provide an outlet of expression to those struggling with cancer.

Writer: Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133,

Sources:  Julie Nagel, 765-496-9316, 

                   Kris Swank, 765-494-4674,  

                   Craig Martin, 765-494-4061,