26 July 2011

READ: Harvey Pekar - Huntington, West Virginia 'On the Fly'

I was at Chicago Midway Airport last night, when my flight got delayed. It was late and I was too tired to finish the book I was reading, so I went looking for some lighter reading. I was browsing the non-fiction section when the words "West Virginia" caught my eye from the spine of one book. I grabbed it and saw the title "Huntington, West Virginia 'On the Fly'" and to my surprise was from the late Harvey Pekar, the famed writer of the underground comic series American Splendor.

I have never read a comic book in my life. But like many, I became a fan of Pekar as a character and creative individual after the 2003 film adaptation of American Splendor, which starred Paul Giamatti as Pekar, who himself was featured in the film.

When I saw "On the Fly," I had to buy it because I lived many a year in Huntington, and was curious why Pekar was writing about the town. The book is, according the the back of it:
"... prime Pekar, recounting the irascible everyman’s on-the-road encounters with a cross section of characters—a career criminal turned limo-driving entrepreneur, a toy merchant obsessed with restoring a vintage diner, comic-book archivists, indie filmmakers, and children of the sixties—all of whom have stories to tell. By turns funny, poignant, and insightful, these portraits à la Pekar showcase a one-of-a-kind master at work, channeling the stuff of average life into genuine American art."
An hour or so after picking up the book, I had breezed through the 160 pages and was left with a smile on my face. The "On the Fly" story, the final of about six character portraits, takes Cleveland-native Pekar to the Huntington for a book festival. In the early pages, it capitalizes on a couple opportunities to poke fun at West Virginians, as Pekar's autobiographical character questions a a couple people's intelligence. By the end, he befriends a group of smart, creative, passionate Huntingtonians. His slice-of-life writing style captures the true open-arm nature of Applachians, and it left me proud that someone half-known as a misanthropic curmudgeon could be touched by characters with which I am so familiar.

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