Americana is an undeniably passionate and sincere reflection on both the physical and metaphorical America – the country, the culture and the ideal. Luke Healy’s masterful graphic memoir tells the story of his journey across the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2660-mile trek stretching from the West coast of America, all the way from the Mexican border in the South to the Canadian border in the North. However, it is much more than an autobiographical record of events; it is also an ontological consideration of all the little bits of ‘Americana’ that make up that whole, and an introspective meditation on Healy’s own perceptions.
It does this through a unique combination of prose and more traditional comic panelling, offering moments of deeper insight whilst also managing to visually convey scenes of his interactions and experiences on the trail. Healy’s passionate reflection and search for the wizard-behind-the-curtain that is America radiates out of the book from the get-go; the limited colour scheme affirming undeniably into the eyes of the reader: red, white and blue. It is therefore inevitable that we will read Americana through these American-tinted spectacles, each panel continuing the patriotic chant and raising questions about what the word actually means. Likewise, both the reading of this memoir and the story itself are impossible to engage in without considering the broader implications; Healy’s experiences bring him in contact with topics including homophobia, climate change and immigration as he passes through various groups of hikers and various towns along the route.
This American commentary is then contrasted to a much more personal and individual account: of one individual trying to hike across it. However, despite being predominantly a story about a solitary hiker, Americana also tells the more universal story of trying to fit in and a yearning to belong. When Healy faces tough times, this really shines through and emphasises the ability of friendliness and simple social interaction to aid recovery and keep you going for longer. His colour palette also works to allow the reader an insight into Healy’s mentality throughout. For example, when he is in an awkward situation, we see the colours shift from one panel to the next: suddenly the red shifts from the surrounding landscape onto Healy, transferring the reader’s focus along with it and revealing his feelings of embarrassment.
Truly, Americana contains the quintessential component for all great stories – a singular goal with a clearly defined journey, which sweeps us up along with it. Yet, in this instance the journey is literally sign-posted along the 2660 miles that make it up and allows for a captivating insight into a self-confessed American fanatic’s perspective on that colossal continent, and whether these views genuinely map onto its reality.
Luke Healy (W/A) • Nobrow Press, £16.99
Review by Rebecca Burke