written by Tim Lane
To simply call Tim Lane’s Abandoned Cars a collection of short stories on a particular theme is a bit misleading. While the book is presented as a collection, Lane’s first as a matter of fact, it is rather a well orchestrated set of stories—likely conceived together—that return in multiple parts, are sometimes strips split and scattered throughout the book, and often framed by recurring ideas.
Lane deals with what he calls the “Great American Mythological Drama,” closely associated, but not to be confused with, the American Dream. His characters are mostly on the younger side of middle-aged and dealing with what can best be described as an emptiness related to the realization that the something—a feeling sold through the collective promise that is America—they were expecting to find later in life just is not there for a variety of reasons. It deals with the time when expectations and dreams meet reality and examines the rift between them.
They are mostly introspective characters, wandering in a noirish blur, staring down decrepit alleys, contemplating what life means without that feeling and how it got away, or if it ever existed. Some, as in a tale billed as autobiographical, are still trying to find a trace of it by any means necessary—in the case of the author, that means seeking the rush of hopping freight trains. The characters travel separate paths but deal with nearly identical feelings.
By its nature, some of the book’s tales can be downright gloomy, and fittingly Abandoned Cars doesn’t arrive at a clear-cut solution to the American Myth, but Lane’s effort to understand it for himself is beautifully presented.
Each tale is drawn in greatly detailed black-and-white evocative of Charles Burns, and the characters, the action, and the environments (much like the stories themselves) are exaggerated, creating a surrealistic tone. Lane also takes small cues from Chris Ware and uses the medium of comics extensively. Readers are presented with cutout pages of American archetypes, fabricated advertisements that play into the theme and several panels Lane arranges out of traditional order and occasionally requires readers to turn the book to follow.
The Ware-esque devices, far from being gimmicky, successfully serve the purpose of actively including the reader in the process of self-examination. The reason it feels misleading to call Abandoned Cars a collection is that every last detail of the book seems perfectly devised by Lane to bring the stories together and make the reader join the inner dialogue on the subject of the Great American Mythological Drama. It is a brilliant debut.