Americana is the latest meticulous work from cartoonist Luke Healy (How To Survive In The North) and follows his exploits hiking the Pacific coast trail across America. But will it inspire you to pack up your rucksack and get walking, or make you glad you can enjoy it vicariously through Luke?!
Publisher: Nobrow Press
Writer/Artist: Luke Healy
Price: £16.99 from Nobrow
The Pacific Coastal Trail (or PCT) runs from the Mexican border with California in the South, up to the Washington state border with Canada in the North. As you would expect our story begins in the former and follows Luke on his epic 4 month journey, and documents not only the amazing landscape and fascinating people that he meets but is also packed with personal reflection. With plenty of time to think about his place in the world, Healy looks at his own historic relationship with America and how attempting to move to the US has been as much of a struggle as his physical journey up its Western coast.
While it’s a conventional story to tell (it reminded us a lot of the wonderful Bill Bryson in it’s concept) Luke is not one to follow the herd and his approach to a travelogue is much more contemporary than Bryson’s philosophical meanderings. As we have seen in Luke’s other work, like the wonderful Permanent Press, he is not afraid to experiment with the art form and this time he does that by mixing his unique and immaculate cartoon style with longer form chunks of text similar to Lizzie Stewart in Walking Distance. While Lizzie uses her text to flesh out some of the more lightweight and esoteric images in Walking Distance, Healy does this as a way to layer on yet more detail onto his story. It’s a brilliant way to ensure that moments of personal reflection about his own time in the US or his motivation for doing this trek aren’t condensed or modified in order to fit a traditional comic page. He can share his thoughts on a subject without having to create an artificial conversation or forced moment. It also means that he can focus in on the minutiae of the story and his relationships along the way, without feeling like he missing out on the more contemplative moments, or without having to add in dozens of extra pages to make everything fit. (It’s still a rather hefty read as it is!)
Healy’s focus on the minutiae of the story in Americana really makes you feel like you are there with him on the trail and you get a real sense of the characters he meets on the way, as well as the locations he visits. It means the story is highly personalised but Healy is such a compelling writer that you get drawn into his world and the journey he is on. The characters are a glorious bunch of misfits, and because they are never pushed to the forefront, it’s also never anything other than completely genuine. They are observed and appreciated on the journey as much as the landscape – and what landscapes?! The locations for the story are just glorious and Luke really make the most of his simple style and limited colour palette to bring you every town, every mountain and every epic vista in glorious detail.
Like a lot of travelogues Americana feels quite front loaded and focuses on the trials of the early part of the journey rather than the tribulations of the latter. All of which means it ends rather abruptly. However in the duration of the book, it manages to tell the story that Luke is looking to tell, and if you are looking for positives it leaves the door open for more, if required.
While Americana may lack an obvious over arching narrative of other travelogues (like for example the relationship drama in Kat Chapman’s Follow Me In) the meticulous nature of the story feels more like a classic piece of travel writing. Replacing the Boomer wisdom of a Bill Bryson with the Millenial Intimacy of a Live Journal blogger this is another wonderful read from a really compelling and unique cartoonist.