Our spotlight series dives into some of our favourite titles released in previous years. Here, we share a glimpse into the first chapter of the comic AMERICANA, as well as reconnecting with Luke Healy to discover how he feels about the book now, and what he has been up to since the book’s release.
Americana is the intimate, engaging autobiographical work recounting the author’s own attempt to walk the length of the USA’s west coast. Luke Healy’s life-changing journey weaves in and out of reflections on his experiences in America and his development as an artist, navigating both the trail itself and the unique culture of the people who attempt to complete it.
Text and illustrations © Luke Healy 2019
“Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail was supposed to be my time away from making comics. I had just finished work on my first graphic novel, How to Survive in the North, and I was extremely tired of sitting at a desk drawing pictures. That tiredness is what inspired me to commit to living outside in nature for five months, as I walked the length of the USA from the Mexican border in the south, to the Canadian border in the north.
Four full months into the trip, as I sat at an impromptu campsite somewhere in the sprawling rainforests of the Pacific Northwest, I decided I wanted to write a book about the experience. The hike had gone, in my mind, from a holiday away from work, to a story worth telling. So much for time off.
As soon as I returned to Ireland, I began to write. I hadn’t kept any notes on the trip, and had taken precious few photos, so the entire book needed to be written from memory. Thankfully, my memories of events were strong, and detailed. I’d been so outside of my comfort zone in the deserts and mountains of California, that even the earliest events of the trip felt fresh in my memory, as though they’d just happened.
Working to catalogue the trip in book form was a very satisfying experience. It helped me to make sense of things, and I found reliving the memories to be enjoyable. I chatted with other hikers, and consulted on whether their memories lined up with mine. I sneakily referenced their photos on facebook, filling in the blanks where I’d failed to capture the stunning scenery. It helped solidify the camaraderie of the trail into lifelong friendships that I treasure still.
I look back, and I’m very proud of the work I did on Americana. It’s a project that I’ll always hold dear to my heart. It still feels like the clearest version of me that I’ve ever put to paper, and I’m so glad that people have enjoyed reading it over these last three years.
Since the publication of Americana, I’ve only attempted to go hiking once— an ill-fated trip to walk the length of Great Britain from North to South. But the desire is still in me. I’ll get back to it eventually. I’ve worked on other books as well, one inspired by my experiences performing stand up comedy in London, which is coming out this summer with Faber & Faber. The other, a meditation on climate change, which I’m deep in the middle of working on right now.
My advice for anyone who is interested in making graphic novels is this: just make it. Make short comics, make loads of comics, share them with your friends, put them online. Make crappy work, make great work, figure it out. Just get started! Getting started is the hurdle most people fall down at. And at the end, even if it doesn’t get published, you still have a book— hopefully one that you love— that you can look back on and appreciate for the rest of your life.”
The Pacific Crest Trail runs 2660 miles, from California’s border with Mexico to Washington’s border with Canada. To walk it is to undertake a gruelling test of body and spirit… challenge accepted.