Originally published in 2008, Tim Lane’s acclaimed Abandoned Cars will see print in softcover format in April of 2010. A collection of short stories united by the common theme of the “Great American Mythological Drama”, this graphic novel is a showcase for tales of jilted lovers, old-timey grifters, seedy bars, late night diners and old 45’s. Elvis Presley meets Jack Kerouac to the tune of a Bob Seger song while a lonesome locomotive horn sounds in the distance. Long cars with fins seem to wrap around the block and desperate men search for something that was promised long ago. It’s vaudevillian and it’s Old Hollywood. It’s rock n’ roll and beat poetry. It’s introspective and depressing and quite often funny, and depicts a world that exists on the fringes of society where the American Dream meets the cold, harsh reality of life as viewed through a grimy windshield.
Reading this book felt a little like I was observing a class project in which every student approached the assignment from a different angle. Same basic idea; many different interpretations… and it was all from the same guy! There are several stories and tons of imagery packed into these 168 pages and Tim Lane utilizes variety of different styles of artwork for each. As a result, it’s almost like reading an anthology and a bit like Voltron: each piece on its own is awesome but when combined, they become something quite amazing. It’s filled with faux advertisements, prose pieces and these weird little cutouts of archetypical American characters such as the crazy guy on the street corner, local police officers and Chuck Berry. Even the cover tells a story, as it appears tattered and worn with the price written in pen on the back in that familiar scrawl that every owner of every used bookstore seems to have. When you put all the pieces together, you don’t simply get a story or a group of stories, you get a book that pulls back the curtain on the collective unconscious of a nation.
I was reminded of the first time I read On the Road and the desire to hit the open highways with nothing more than the clothes on my back. I thought of that crazy guy in the bar who, after imbibing spirits for the better part of the evening, would begin spinning yarns about his time spent in the Merchant Marines or the adventures he’d had running with small-time hoods back in his youth. Images of working in the garage with my dad listening to the oldies station or finding a stack of old newspapers in my grandma’s attic came to mind. I couldn’t help but think of my grandpa’s faded tattoos and wondering just what the hell they were, anyway. Abandoned Cars is a mishmash of Americana, folklore and pop culture told through stark, black and white imagery. But it isn’t all fond memories and nostalgia; in each of these stories is the reminder that while a shiny new car might represent the American Dream, you can’t run from your problems no matter how fast or how far you drive and the fact that for everyone who buys into the dream, there are many who can not and will not. Sometimes these decisions give us freedom, other times they only lead to yet another cage. The flipside of every success is another dismal failure.
But the bottom line is that it’s also just a bunch of good stories told by a very unique talent. If Tim Lane was just an author, he’d have a very compelling voice that would be worth paying attention to, but the fact that he works in pictures as well as words makes it that much sweeter. Each and every story contained between these covers is a good one, but having finished it, I find my mind reeling with a variety of pictures and mood, even two days after the fact. Like the myths that it is inspired by, Abandoned Cars lingers long after reading and grows in stature as you re-live and re-tell it.