Two graphic novels about the immigrant experience in New York City have just come into my hands (um, by me purchasing them for the library.) This is the first of them.
Gone to Amerikay by Derek McCullough. Art by Colleen Doran. This graphic novel interweaves the story of three periods of Irish people coming to America. In 1870, Ciara O’Dwyer comes with her young daughter Maire, expecting her husband Fintan to follow soon. She moves in with family in the slums of New York and starts working as a laundress to support herself. Months pass, and even though a letter arrives saying that Fintan is on his way, he never turns up. Only Tim O’Shea, an altar boy with her husband when they were small, comes. Tim tells Ciara that Fintan changed his mind, joined the military, and might turn up in a few years. Meanwhile, he gets involved with the Irish gangs in New York and starts drawing Ciara into his Life of Crime. Meanwhile, in 1960, Johnny McCormack, a young would-be actor, emigrates to New York and finds work performing traditional and original Irish music instead. He falls in love with another Irish boy, a less recent immigrant, who introduces him to the right people but also breaks his heart. Finally, in 2010, businessman Lewis Healy, made rich by the Celtic Tiger, comes with his assistant who is giving him a tour of the origins of “Ciara’s Song.” This was the least interesting story for me – nothing really happens to Lewis himself – but it holds key information to both of the other stories. There is a wee bit of ghost story mixed into this – really just one creepy spread – but lots and lots of Irish song lyrics and an old story or two. I never really got a feel for the modern character, but both Ciara and Johnny have for me a deep inner integrity – that lifted them out of their sordid circumstances and gave the story, despite its many distressing elements, an overall upbeat feeling. I never lost confidence that both Ciara and Johnny would live out their American dreams, despite the many setbacks. Colleen Doran, famous for her work on Sandman, does not disappoint with the beautiful work that captures the people and places of all the different times. There is some violence and implied sex that might make this unsuitable for young children, but overall, this is an uplifting tale of the Irish immigrants in America.