Euro Reviews: ‘750cc Down Lincoln Highway’ – An Escapist Journey Across America
by Richard Bruton
A runner on the start line of the NY marathon gets a ‘dear John’ text, the words, ‘We’re finished,’ stopping our narrator in his tracks. So he gives up the idea of running and, instead, ends up running from his life, far further than he ever intended.
750cc Down Lincoln Highway is one man’s 3,000+ mile journey across America, written by Bernard Chambaz, art by Barroux…
The mythology of America, it’s such a romantic and evocative thing. And there’s no better idea of the romantic ideal of the USA than the idea of a coast-to-coast road trip.
Contrary to what you might think, going East coast to West coast doesn’t happen on route 66, it actually happens on the old Lincoln Highway – all the way from Time’s Square, NYC to Lincoln Park, San Francisco, winding its way through America’s heartland, one of the oldest roadways in the States.
And that’s what’s happening here in 750cc Down Lincoln Highway. A motorbike ride on the Lincoln Highway, 90 pages of fractured moments with a broken soul riding his way to enlightenment of sorts.
Everything that happens in 750cc Down Lincoln Highway is triggered from a break-up, as so many things in our lives tend to be. That runner on the start line of the NY marathon gets that terminal message, ‘We’re finished,’ and ends up in a local bar.
And it’s in that bar he meets that neighbor, Ed, who fills him in on the whole idea of the Lincoln Highway, the historic road running east to west across the USA. And with Ed’s words, his philosophy of life ringing in his ears, our narrator is away…
First, you forget her! Second, you take off!
Except that’s not quite what happens. Sure, our narrator does the second part, getting a 750cc motorbike and taking off. But he doesn’t get to do the first thing, doesn’t get to forget her… not yet anyway.
And off we go, one narrator, one bike, 3,389 miles, 13 states to go through – Time’s Square in NYC to Lincoln Park in San Francisco.
And like so many travelogue tales, it’s not about the journey so much as it’s about the experience of taking the journey, a reflective journal of the narrator’s internal journey as the miles add up.
So, over the 80+ pages of 750cc Down Lincoln Highway, we’re treated to a journey of one man’s coming to terms with who he is, post-break-up, with what he wants, all filtered through the lens of each little American town that passes by. And with so many miles to cover in less these pages, it’s no surprise that each little stop is a fleeting glimpse, whether seen in passing or part of the rider’s stops. Whether it’s rest stops, repairs, gas, food, it’s all taken in the shortest of moments. Each moment adding to the distance from NYC, adding to the distance between the narrator and his emotional moment, giving him time to pause, reflect, recover, find himself once more.
Anecdotes and tales come forth; Sturgis House in East Liverpool where the corpse of ‘Pretty Boy Floyd’ lay after being shot dead by the FBI, the Middlegate Shoe Tree in the middle of nowhere, and so many other places, some iconic, some well-known, some mere stops along the way.
What’s wonderful here is that sense of fractured existence, as we see mere snapshots of what’s happening, each page seemingly a new place, each moment isolated and important. He talks of the sadness fading but the lack of understanding remains.
His contact with people on the road is as fleeting as the moments in towns along the way. Strangers in laundromats, strangers in bars, occasional moments of connection, random pickups in random towns along the way, mere moments in his journey, just passers-by in the world, in time.
Gettysburg, Mount Ararat, Pittsburgh, Chicago, the Mississippi, Ceder Rapids (minus the rapids), Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Great Salt Lake, Reno, Lake Tahoe, Berkeley – the place names rack up over time, as the narrator here speeds through them.
His direction is already cast, getting to the end of the Lincoln Highway his only goal.
And for what? What is he trying to accomplish? Is he merely riding to escape the events of a break-up? Is he looking for something inside himself as he travels the Highway? As with so many travelogues, the answers to those questions are left hanging, left for us as readers to fill in as well undertake the journey with this narrator.
But like so many travelogues, it’s not the destination, not the overt idea that’s important here, but the experience of moving, travelling, escaping, time and distance working together to change things.
And thus it is here, through the 80+ pages of gorgeously grey-washed artwork, pages of 3/4-panels, a simple line giving light to a dream of America and an evocative journey from one state of mind to another.
It’s one of those books that exists to encourage the reader to imagine, to engage, to contemplate their own experiences even as we experience those of the narrators. And as such, it works well, each contemplative moment of the page triggering thoughts in my mind about moments in my own life. Hopefully, it will do the same for yourself. Is it everything it could have been? Well, perhaps not. The fleeting nature of things is, perhaps, just too fleeting at times, and there’s that sense that we never quite go deep enough into the mind of our narrator to truly empathise, to really engage.
Interestingly, when I read it, I had two touchstones in my head – the work of two quite brilliannt British artists, Joe Decie and Oliver East. Joe’s art is so similar to this, all grey-wash beauty, yet his tales are more personal, more involving, and as such draw us in so much more. And although Oli East’s art couldn’t be further from this lush grey-wash loveliness, he’s also an artist captivated by the journey, yet every one of his journeys captures so much more of both the landscape passed through and the subjects experiences and emotional journey than this book truly manages to do.
In the end, 750cc Down Lincoln Highway is a book that gets so close to being something quite magnificent, something that makes the reader reflect and imagine, yet it just seems to never quite reach the emotional or introspective goals it seems to be trying for. It’s a beautiful, contemplative book for sure, yet at the end of it all, I was just left feeling it could have, possibly should have, managed to go even further, become even better.
750cc Down Lincoln Highway – written by Bernard Chambaz, art by Barroux, published by NBM, 2020. (Originally published by Urban Comics 2018)