Spanning the channel between Marin County and San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge stands a majestic 220 feet above the turbulent waters of the bay below. Since its opening in May 1937, the distinctive red suspension bridge has served as a vital daily transportation network, as well as a tourist and popular culture attraction; however, it has a darker, tragic side: the wind-swept deck is a magnet for suicides, purportedly averaging one every other day. Taking approximately four seconds and reaching speeds of up to 75 mph by impact, jumpers rarely survive. One has to wonder what goes through the mind of a jumper in those brief moments. Is there regret? Is there relief? Maybe it provides release, hope, and maybe a second chance.
Writer Ben Meares (Hellraiser: Bestiary, Hellraiser 2013 Annual) has written a melancholic story of regrets and lost hope titled Romancing the Bridge, a graphic novel published by Buzzy’s Press. Joining Meares is artist Meaghan O’Keefe (Identity Thief) who brings a unique mixed media approach that creates a disturbing and haunting visual experience. Rounding out the creative team is letterer Christian Francis.
Romancing the Bridge is a well-written and engaging story. Meares’ brevity of words in no way diminishes the depth and complexity of the somber main character (Ernie) as he reflects on his mistakes, particularly with his two sons, now adults. Britney, the young waitress of Buzzy’s Diner, is the sounding board to Ernie’s confession of regret, and in the shadow of the bridge, she connects that Ernie has reached rock bottom and plans to jump. In the final pages of the story, Meares provides a rather double-edged twist of hope. It is a provocative and thought-provoking narrative step. I think it works well.
Complementing the minimalist story are the visual images created by O’Keefe through the incorporation and manipulation of photographs, newspapers, and paints. She uses skewed high and low angles, as well as gritty and distressed techniques, to lend visual cues as to the mindset of Ernie. O’Keefe even uses subtle foreshadowing of Britney’s true identity that is clever and took a second reading to catch. The use of the Golden Gate Bridge as a supporting character is often present, either highlighted or muted and fading into the darkness – it represents the epitome of despair and doomed freedom. Francis’ lettering rounds out the visual experience. The choice of font – typewriter letters – inside rough rectangular speech bubbles adds to the overall somber mood of the story as it unfolds between Ernie and Britney in a deserted diner in the dead of night.
Romancing the Bridge is a wonderful, little gem. Meares has crafted a tight story, and it is skillfully realized by O’Keefe and Francis. I relished every page as the story unfolded in my mind and before my eyes. I do not often re-read books, but this one is an exception: I know I’ll be back to read it again.