Miscellaneous: November 1993
Hugo Tate: O, America
Written and Illustrated by Nick Abadzis
Published by Atomeka Publishing
Longtime readers of England’s Deadline magazine have no doubt come across the work of creator Nick Abadzis. In particular, Abadzis has given us the blank-faced Hugo Tate, a very likable young man with a chip on his shoulder.
Atomeka Press has gathered together one of Abadzis’ story lines, O, America, in an attractive graphic novel package (which will hopefully result in wider exposure). The crux of this story features Hugo traveling from his existence in England to America in search of some sort of “experience.” Hugo begins by staying with his sister Edie and her obnoxious husband in New York. Unfortunately, Hugo manages to make himself a nuisance to Edie’s stuffy husband David, and after an awful party experience, followed by a nightmarish subway trip, Hugo hooks up with the enigmatic Larry “The Spoonhead” Spooner in transporting a vintage auto across the country.
But things aren’t quite so easy for Hugo, an aspiring writer. While Hugo remains largely open-minded by nature, it quickly becomes obvious that Spoonhead is a big-time psychopath who engages Hugo in a variety of adventures—some bizarre and some terrifying. A promising encounter with the charming Babette is cut short by Spoonhead, leading to a campout in the woods in which Hugo is spooked by a supernatural entity.
The happenings continue to build in nightmarish fashion. Hugo grows increasingly paranoid while Spoonhead’s obsession with Hugo becomes more frightening. When Hugo finds the strength to break free from Spoonhead’s plans, Spoonhead responds with violence.
All these events are captured well by Abadzis’ remarkable sequential art storytelling (comic-book-style-depiction for you laymen). The story begins slowly, gathering momentum as it goes and is both personal and universal. While Hugo’s experiences are very personalized, the setting and details serve as a depiction of modern America. From one coast to another, as Hugo travels, the reader sees Abadzis’ own feeling about just what is wrong with the United States. Leave it to an outsider to spot just what Americans care about. Irony, you say?
This is not to say that O, America is large in scope, though. It remains, instead, a powerful tale of one man’s American Experience; a kind of English On The Road, if you will. The simultaneously jaded yet naive Hugo Tate is the ideal protagonist, weary of his English life yet sickened by the seemingly meaningless existence lived by the people he encounters.
And yet, O, America remains very hopeful. Seemingly contradictory? Not so. While the majority of the people Hugo meets are either psychopathic or lost, there are a rare few like Babette and the transgender Casey.
The back cover blurbs feature words like “cynical,” “melancholy” and “wifty,” “yet erudite” and “acerbic” seem much more fitting. The seemingly random tide of empty sex, violent acts and cruel reality all underscore the hurdles facing modern man.
But this reviewer would be lax in neglecting to detail author Abadzis’ consummate skill. Ambitious in scope, the work remains very personalized through the person of Hugo; Tate’s charisma serves to pull the reader in—as Hugo experiences, so does the reader.
Likewise, the format works to Abadzis’ advantage. Passages and events which would be difficult to depict in prose style carry more power in comic book trappings. Likewise, Hugo’s blank face serves a purpose. He is an everyman and yet his ever-wearing eye evidences the corruption he experiences. As Hugo wanders around a West coast beach and takes a dive into the Pacific Ocean, the reader experiences a kind of baptismal catharsis—Hugo has survived his trek and becomes a stronger, richer man.
Luckily, Abadzis is equally adept with words and pictures, whether depicting emotional tenderness or frightening violence, and his drawings carry remarkable power.
I could honestly rant all day about Hugo Tate: O, America, but it’s preferable that those piqued by this review seek out a copy and experience it for themselves. Unfortunately, the book is a bit expensive ($9.95, for roughly 100 pages), but it’s money well-spent. Similarly, it’s recommended that you bug your favorite retailer to order it. You’ll be thanking me. —Scott Vice