Abandoned Cars (Fantagraphics)

abandoned-header.jpgThe disgruntled and disaffected offering long internal ruminations of the glass-is-half-empty variety in Tim Lane’s new graphic novel.


168 pgs. B&W; $22.99

(W / A: Tim Lane)


Tim Lane’s Abandoned Cars is about loners who miss the wives they never fully understood, loners imagining the glories of girlfriends they’ll never have, loners pickling themselves into senility in dive bars, loners jumping trains to anywhere, loners staring into the bathroom mirror wondering what the point of it all is… you get the idea.

It’s a noir comic, much of it imagined in the rain or at night or in the rain at night, with the disgruntled and disaffected offering long internal ruminations of the glass-is-half-empty variety. 

In one of the first stories in the collection, a wanderer thinks "I don’t understand it always, but those conversations you get into with strangers at a bar you’ve never been to before and never will go to again… / those conversations that don’t seem to have any meaning. Well, they do. / Hiding under the blanket of those meaningless words lies the real conversation. / You’re talking about the pain. You’re talking about the lie, and you’re saying, ‘Did you ever think it would hurt this fucking bad?’"

Happy happy, joy joy. There’s humor here too, as when a half-crazy old coot imagines a vengeful ghost emerging from a pizza box on the ground to pursue him. ("Son of a bitch," he cries, "the spookies!") Another story offers a recluse who gets his kicks by stripping naked and peering through his window blinds to mutter complaints about the passers-by. 

The cover to Abandoned Cars by Tim Lane. Click for a larger image."Spirit: An Autobiographical Adventure," an extended piece on train-hopping, seems to best embody Lane’s cri de coeur. Nothing much happens, really. A guy packs some salami, wine, cigarettes and other supplies in a bag, hops a train, winds up in a small town, gets a few rides from kooky locals, and takes a bus back home. Of course, it’s the teller here, not the tale. Lane’s graphic stand-in offers a never-ending stream of contemplations on loneliness, solitude, romance, adventure, and Elvis. It’s all terribly wordy, and I’m afraid a grating violation of the "show-don’t-tell" storytelling rule. How much more powerful this could be if the author let the story speak for itself. Instead, his characters internal babbling often seems to leach the story of the lyricism to be found in the art.

And what art it is. Lane’s moody black-and-white work speaks for itself. Characters are lit from various angles for pulpy drama in the shadows. Linger over his drawings of a railyard at night, or a ‘70s Trans Am, or John Steinbeck, and you marvel at his talent. His style is kindred to Charles Burns’, and it’s easy to see why he’s been tapped to illustrate articles for The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Wired, and so on.

When he lets the stories unfurl naturally, his choices are impressive. In "To Be Happy," a fantasy vision of a man back together with his estranged wife gradually resolves from a vague gleam reflected in his car stereo’s volume knob. In "Cleveland," a man who’s just become a father babbles excitedly in the hospital, and his words, unheard by the narrator, snake across the background of three adjacent panels. It’s inventive, and it works.

Abandoned Cars is chock full of romantic doom and existential griping. It’s the sort of passionate questing you find in work by Nate Powell (Drawn & Quarterly) and Jeff Levine (Sparkplug), which has a way of drawing me in, every time. The haunting poetry of it all is blunted by a leading-the-witness, overwritten quality, but readers will want to take the dark journey for themselves. | Byron Kerman


Click here to learn more, courtesy of Fantagraphics.

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