Tim Lane’s Happy Hour in America #1 from Fantagraphics has fantastic art. I’d heard of Tim Lane before and had been struck by one or two examples of his art but I knew virtually nothing about him before reading this issue. Afterwards, I discovered that we’re friends on Facebook but as is often the case, I don’t know how or when that social media acquaintanceship originated.
It’s Lane’s art that primarily pulls me in. The cover especially, which shows a duel in a historical saloon that is magnificently rendered and as far as I can tell, has nothing to do with the contents of the book. Except that it evokes ‘America’, and ‘Happy Hour’ is in the title so maybe that’s the ironic connection to a saloon?
I can see the clear influences of some alternative heavies like Spain Rodriguez, Drew Friedman, Kim Deitch, and especially Charles Burns, in the art style. Especially Burns. Lane has a very solid, weighty brush line, striking compositions, strong sense of black/white contrast, and attention to detail. You definitely notice his panels. The pools of black and the heavy detail in things like facial hair, folds of clothing, and grit and dirt, especially ground his images. It’s very reminiscent of the aforementioned Charles Burns except that Burns’ stuff has a very finished, almost vinyl, slickness to it. Lane’s work still some organic quality that keeps you off-centre. You can’t call it roughness, because it’s quite polished in its own right (and in comparison with the images from his first series that I’ve seen online, shows a progression that is striking).
This issue is the start of Volume 2. I am told by Fantagraphics that Lane is working on a second issue but it might not be out until 2019–this is clearly a man who labours over his pages. Not having read the first volume, I found myself lost in his work. The issue centers around Steve McQueen, bearded and hiding out in a motel, both reckoning with and hiding from his notoriety. McQueen was at one time the quintessential model of masculinity for the American populace and Lane uses him as a sort of mirror for America’s pop idea of itself.
There’s a timeless quality that hearkens the 60s, and some of the cliches of bad-boy rebels on motorcycles, fawning East Village women, and other seedy iconography, reflect this. Lane looks at America and its values through a mirror that belongs in a funhouse carnival rather than a Weight Watchers clinic (although Weight Watchers is probably just as apropos for today’s society).
The writing is infused with a literary, almost intellectual, air. Lane focuses on sensory details that I don’t often read in comics writing but it can also be heavy-handed. The art is arresting, but Lane could get his points across by writing less and letting the storytelling and panels speak for themselves. The ideas come across through the weirdness and pop/cult sensibility and do not need to be overwritten. It’s not a narrative story in the way you might expect from Spain or Burns (even after you take their surreality into account) but sort of a visual essay examining Lane’s themes, throwing them around using both young and older surreal versions of McQueen, in generic settings. In fact, America itself sort of becomes a genre in his hands. I’m curious as to what he’ll do with the second issue.