by Nicholas Mahler
Top Shelf Productions
Lone Racer is a story of redemption, of beating the odds, of sinking to the lowest of lows, then pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. In this graphic novel, Mahler tells the tale of a nameless race car driver whose life has hit rock bottom. His wife is sick, he can't win a race and he spends his evenings at the local dive bar. He sits with his equally frustrated friends, drinking all night long and falling deeper and deeper into a rut. The main character is stagnant. Everything that surrounds him is stagnant too, and the beginning is almost too painful to read because of its realism. Thankfully though, when tragedy inevitably strikes, he decides it's time to turn his life around, and does just that.
Told in black, white and burnt sienna, the artwork and dialogue are deceptively simple. It reads like a broken inner monologue, struggling for completeness. The characters are deconstructed down to only a few lines. Their personalities are understood by the reader by the features the artist chooses to highlight. Mahler often does this with a dark sense of humour. Lone Racer's best friend's name, for example, is Rubber. A few years ago, Rubber was in a race, got hit by a flying tire, and now all that remains of his face are some tread marks.
Even though the artwork consists of franticly placed lines, the hurried manner in which it's drawn, crosshatching, strong curves and lurching bodies suggests a race track, a race toward something. Everything is speeding by as the characters sit and do nothing. The lines and the shapes struggle to move forward and it is as much the pen strokes that motivate Lone Racer to change his life, as it is the tragedy he is confronted with.
It's a small book, only ninety-two pages long, but it is powerful and at times uncomfortable to read. The emotions are conveyed almost too realistically for my taste. And even though it ends happily, one can't forget the previously cringe-inducing, pathetic state of the characters.
What I like about this graphic novel is that it is a story about hope. It reminds us that we can always change our paths as long as we have the determination. I do think, however, that Mahler could have spent a little more time on the ending. He packs a lot of emotion into such a short amount of time. It's easy to swallow, but a little difficult to digest, and the ending comes quite quickly. The reader spends so much emotion feeling bad for Lone Racer that Mahler didn't give us enough content or time to rally behind him as he turned his life around. The happy ending came too soon after the climax.
Mahler is gifted at telling a story with a few lines and fewer words. To be able to leave such a strong impact in a book that takes about fifteen minutes to read is near genius. I just hope his next book is longer.