17 March, 2012
Review: Gone To Amerikay by Derek McCulloch, Colleen Doran, Jose Villarrubia
While Gone To Amerikay doesn't release until early April it seems appropriate to talk about an Irish tale on St. Patrick's Day. As an imprint Vertigo means brightly colored and often slick commercially appealing work to me. Gone To Amerikay fits nicely into that target. Divided into three parts it takes Irish immigrants from 1870, 1960 and an Irish billionaire from today to tell a story anyone who's ever cued up a playlist of ballads could recognize. The book is strongest in all areas when it's dealing with the 1870's story of Ciara O'Dwyer. Focusing on the Gangs of New York era Five Points, the issue of anti-Irish bias is largely avoided. I really wanted more of this section, as Ciara lands in America ahead of a husband who may or may not arrive. Working a variety of jobs to keep her young daughter fed and safe, Ciara travels through different levels of New York society.
Gone To Amerikay's tales are told in unison, with the art serving to distinguish them on the page. This aspect of the book was so well done. Even without the visual cues of clothing it smoothly transitioned between the time periods. Colleen Doran has done some lovely things with the backgrounds, making the time register naturally. (I'd consider Gone to Amerikay for some of the panels alone.) In the 1960's we meet a folk musician named Johnny McCormack. His story is not quite as engaging as Ciara's, but it's a story we don't encounter in many graphic novels. The details work, the characters (Is that a John Barrowman inspiration I see there?) ring true. If the stories of 1870 and 1960 were tied together by a different thread, I think I'd like both much better. While the twist that knots them is also in keeping with classic ballads, it feels forced. I don't want to give away the story. Having enjoyed it, I hope you would as well. The connection between Ciara and Johnny is too easy for me. Making it requires the inclusion of the third, and least successful, time period. If those pages had been dedicated to more of Ciara and Johnny I'd have preferred it.
The advance copy reports that Lewis Healy, our modern day Irishman, will have a connection between himself and them revealed. That's a bit of a stretch. Lewis is a fan of McCormack's whose wife takes him through a Who Do You Think You Are style reveal of their times and places. You know those comics they used to hand out in the 70's telling you not to light forest fires? Or maybe the ones where a superhero stumps for RIF? The time spent with Lewis feels like that. It's not bad, and as a narrative thread it ties everything together while giving the author a way to move forward. The difficulty lies in it feeling like a commercial for the joys of genealogy. Lewis isn't important to the plot except as a conveyance for the readers. He's a Harlequin Presents piece of perfection with a loving wife who uses their well funded accounts to research a pet project for him. Unlike Johnny and Ciara, there's nothing at stake for Lewis either emotionally or physically. I think Lewis would work better with a deeper investment, allowing the reader to invest in him.
Overall, I enjoyed Gone To Amerikay. Frequently I admired it. This is the sort of graphic novel that can easily slip through the market unnoticed. Commercial work tends to cause less of a splash than something perceived as indie or edgy. While not completely successful, I'd check it out. When it's working, it's as lovely as lovely gets.