Artwork lifts 'Amerikay' to classic level

  • Article by: ANDREW A. SMITH
  • Scripps Howard News Service
  • June 21, 2012 - 2:44 PM

The new "Gone to Amerikay" (DC/Vertigo, $24.99) is not only a terrific graphic novel, it is a quintessentially American one.

The plot is actually three plots, each following one of three Irish characters arriving in America in three different time periods (although the three tales are presented more or less simultaneously). The first is emigre Ciara O'Dwyer, whose husband never arrives, leaving her to raise her daughter alone in the notorious Five Points slum of 1870s New York. The second is Johnny McCormack, who lands in 1960 hoping to act on Broadway, but finds a music career in New York's Greenwich Village instead. The third is billionaire Lewis Healy, whose wife gives him a gift in 2010 New York that ties all of these stories together.

What connects these three is the mystery driving the story, and I will not spoil it here. But honestly, as I read the book I was so captivated by the presentation of this obvious labor of love that I didn't much care. It wasn't the destination, as they say, it was the journey.

And "journey" is certainly the operative word for the many Irish people who left their lives behind in the past 150 years to take a stab at a new life and fortune in the New World. "Amerikay" can't encapsulate that history, but it does provide a huge lens by which to view it, and many flavors of Irish by which to savor it.

Not that Ciara, Johnny and Lewis are props for "the Irish immigrant story" or anything. Writer Derek McCullough ("Stagger Lee," "Pug") infuses three-dimensional personalities into these characters, and I enjoyed meeting them. Whatever extrapolation readers care to make about the history of Irish immigration is their affair. These three led lives we recognize, true, but they aren't either archetypes or stereotypes.

I've saved the best for last, though, and it is the thing that raises this book to the level of classic: the lush and generous art of Colleen Doran. I've followed Doran's career since 1983, when she began serializing "A Distant Soil" (the work for which she's best-known). And I've watched as she improved with each subsequent effort, like a story arc in Neil Gaiman's legendary "Sandman" and Warren Ellis' graphic novel "Orbiter."

As good as she was then, "Amerikay" is a quantum level beyond. This is an artist at the peak of her powers, full-throated where power is called for; nuanced and subtle for emotional scenes; detailed, fluid and confident throughout. Doran almost makes you regret her strong storytelling, which gently seduces you into flowing through the three intertwining stories, because you want to stop and gaze at the pictures. The cool thing about comics, though, is you can do both: Enjoy the story on first read, then flip through again and again to admire Doran's skills.

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