SPX Spotlight 2017: Eleanor Davis' You & A Bike & A Road

It's another entry in Panel Patter's not Patented SPX Spotlight feature! We're ready to provide you with some great pre-show coverage for one of the best comic shows in the United States! In a show with nearly 700 exhibitors, we'll help you find some of the best! You can read all our SPX Spotlights from 2017 and prior shows here.

You & A Bike & A Road
written and drawn by Eleanor Davis
published by Koyama Press

Eleanor Davis in You & A Bike & A Road is lost. She begins the trip telling her parents that biking from Arizona to Georgia is something if she doesn’t do now she’ll never do but she confesses a different reason to her readers. “I was having trouble with wanting to not be alive,” she concedes is an unspoken yet possible reason to take this journey. That troubling statement quickly makes this a much darker book than a simple travelogue should be. While she never explicitly repeats that statement, it’s general sentiment hangs over large portions of the book. Davis’ bluntness about her reason for this trip creates a different window to view this trip, not as a grueling physical journey but as a spiritual one for Davis to find her desire for life.

Davis lets her drawings create as much of the experience as her words do. As a daily diary of her trip, Davis doesn’t seem as interested in creating extremely detailed or intricate drawings as much as she wants to convey the emotions of the trip. Her drawing often feels quick and spontaneous like a diary comic should. But even that spontaneity creates some fantastic images and montages that help Davis order her thoughts for herself and her audience.

The trip itself gives us the opportunity to be alone with her, experiencing both pain and grace as she goes on this journey of recovery. While she doesn’t go too much into it, she must have at some point in her life had the desire to want to be alive. This trip seems to be not so much about finding something for the first time but about reconnecting with something that she’s lost. She has good parents and a supportive husband. The most she goes into discussing her depression is saying that she and her husband want a baby and maybe I’ve even reading too much into that statement. But Davis’ exploration of this trip doesn't extend much into the past and don’t lay the blame for her pain on any one specific cause.

Instead, this trip discovers life and the world outside of her own experience. From kindness to overwhelming pain and despair, Davis finds a unique view of humanity in her travels and most of it is reaffirming. It’s the kindness of strangers who provide as little as an encouraging word or as much as a place to stay for a night that gives this journey its strength and drive but it’s one of the more alarming experiences that helps define the character of this journey.

Biking next to a Texan canal, she sees a half submerged car and a man walking through the water. Again, like so much of the book, she doesn’t give any context to what’s happening other than the events right in front of her. As people on both banks of the canal try to either rescue, arrest, or cheer the man on, Davis allows us to observe this from her vantage point. As she has been traveling close to the Mexican border and has already spotted the border patrol many times before this, Davis doesn’t speculate or try to find out who the man is; she just relates the events. With this event almost as a centerpiece to the book (Davis devotes pages to this one event,) she paints such an eery yet accurate image of America as it exists today.

While most of the rest of the story is far less harrowing than that, Davis’s trip is as much an emotional journey as it is a physical one. So as this is actually two journeys packed into one, there is some conflict between the two, where she’s physically tired and worn but emotionally she’s not ready to abandon the trip or vice versa. Through tired legs and joints or through worn spirit frayed emotions, there are many points where she’s ready to just quit the trip and accept the failure but what’s interesting is that the ultimate destination of the two journeys may not actually match up. This conflict of endings provides a unique ending to her book that feels both abrupt and incomplete while also being quite uplifting and completely the right ending for Davis’ book.

It’s interesting that she calls this book You & A Bike & A Road and not “Me & A Bike & A Road” because the trip is so personal and it is hers. With that title, she opens up her experiences to that they become our experiences and we should thank her for that. For sharing these stories with us, Davis gives us an insight into a wonderful experience of traveling part of the United States in a way that few of us are ever going to. But by sharing the emotional journey, this is one of those books that reminds us that we’re not alone in our struggles. Whether it is the people we love or the people who are going through similar journeys, Davis reminds us that there are always other people along the way to offer the assistance or love that’s needed when it’s needed. While so much of this book is personal to her, it covers the very universal feelings of loneliness and despair and provides hope of getting through them.