Huntington, West Virginia “On the Fly” by Harvey Pekar

Huntington, West Virginia “On the Fly”
Written by Harvey Pekar, artwork by Summer McClinton
Villard Books, 2011

This second posthumous collection of Pekar’s work contains anecdotes and interviews culled from the time after the extraordinary quasi-documentary American Splendor brought him international fame and speaking engagements across America. A famously bad traveller, Pekar suffers every inconvenience of airports and hotels, but takes the opportunity to talk to several interesting people about their lives. This is what he always did best, although it’s sheer hyperbole to say his work “transformed comics from escapist fantasy into social commentary with voice balloons”, as claimed on the back cover. He certainly broadened people’s perceptions of what comics could be, but escapist fantasy in comics will always be with us, and why should that be a bad thing?

The content of the book is as strong as ever as Pekar talks to a famous limo driver, a friend who battled to restore a vintage diner and then lost it, and a cartoon archivist couple. The longest section is devoted to a single trip to a book festival in West Virginia where he meets a bunch of interesting creative people, buys shoes, worries about his per diem cheque and does a film cameo. The artwork is a bit scratchy and wobbles a bit when it isn’t based on a photo, but at least the unfortunate behind-the-scenes trouble with Pekar’s legacy doesn’t seem to be affecting the quality of his posthumous output.

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