Lone Racer
by Nicholas Mahler (Top Shelf, 2006)

The plot of Lone Racer is easy enough to follow. The title character is a racecar driver who is past his prime. His wife is sick in the hospital and continues to lose coherency, so he spends his days drinking in a bar with his buddy, nicknamed Rubber. Along the way, there's a chance for a heist, a "middling love-affair" and a chance at returning to greatness. For the most part, the plot is a mishmash of predictable movies or stories you've heard before, but it's still a mostly enjoyable story -- mostly, mind you, if it wasn't for the art.

The art ... I don't know whether to call Mahler's style cartoonish, stylistic, oversimplified or just plain odd. The figures are barely anthropomorphic, with four limbs and kind of a head. There is a tad more definition to the figures, yet it's completely absent of any sense of proportion and balance. Oh, and some of the characters, such as the title character, have a nose-appendage sticking out from their faces that are at least as large as the legs. Imagine a Keith Haring figure given a few more lines and then randomly stretched and/or scrunched like Laffy Taffy.

It's not just the figures that are problematic at best -- the few everyday objects (like a bar glass), the furniture, the buildings, the backgrounds, etc., have a fraction of perspective and depth, as if an attempt was made in each drawing but was abandoned. If this is an intentional stylistic choice by the author, it's a distraction from the story. If I were to attempt to overanalyze the work, I'd say that the unrealistic portrayal of the figures acts as a juxtaposition to the slightly surreal world whose physicality plays fast and loose with the laws of reality. However, I honestly don't think there's that much intention -- it's simply a matter of inconsistent artwork, where the figures are given a peculiar (and potentially interesting) style, while the world they inhabit is basically fast and loose, artistically speaking.

So, Lone Racer is an interesting enough story, if you can get past the odd art. But if odd is your thing, then this graphic novel will be worth at least one read.

review by
C. Nathan Coyle

16 June 2007

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