Road to America

By Baru, with colour by Daniel Ledran (Drawn & Quarterly Publications)
ISBN: 978-1-89659-752-2

We privileged ones live in a world where gratification – if not instant – is far from arduous to attain or hard to enjoy. For us the only struggle is choosing how best to indulge ourselves and, if you’re a comics nut like me, the biggest mystery in a hedonistic existence is why so many truly superb artistic efforts get sidelined or forgotten, when relative immortality is merely a matter of scanning and publishing/posting.

Here’s a lost treasure that proves my point. I’ve got this in its paperback form, but I’d happily pay again to get it digitally. That won’t feed one single starving kid, but reading it in a freely accessible form might inspire them…

Sport, despite being a world obsession, has oddly dropped out of the remit of most comics storytellers these days which is both odd and a shame. The Road to America, by Baru, uses the fervour of the immigrant’s dream and the fierce metaphor of struggle as depicted in the boxing ring to create a compelling tale of adversity against a true historical backdrop.

Set in Algeria in the 1950s – when the country was struggling to achieve independence from France – it’s the story of the bloody rise of impoverished street urchin, Said Boudiaf. Becoming a boxer, he literally smashes his way out of the slums to the glittering lights of Paris, even as his less utilisable brother turns to bombs and a more permanent form of bloodletting as a freedom fighter determined to overthrow French Colonial rule.

Said is an unstoppable force in the ring, and becomes a sporting hero, but in the real world he’s a leaf in the wind. Civilised, cultured (white) French citizens despise his ethnicity whilst capitalising on his achievements, and he’s regarded as a puppet by the Algerian resistance forces. Nevertheless, both sides want him for his propaganda value….

Said wants nothing more than personal freedom. His fights are non-political, as is all sport, but when his successes mount, and his unstoppable rise culminates in him winning the French Championship, politics claims him anyway as a race-riot between native Algerian and French spectators erupts in the stadium.

The tragic culmination occurs when Said makes it to America, and qualifies for the World title, but on returning to Paris to train for the bout he is sucked into the events of October 17th 1961 – the day when a protest march against anti-Algerian policies and heavy-handed police suppression leads to a bloody riot and a terrible massacre…

This beautifully executed tale is both blunt and subtle: weaving threads of ambition, morality, freedom, sacrifice and prejudice, both personal and social, into a compelling if sometimes chaotic narrative that is a joy to behold but often a bitter pill to swallow.

Doesn’t that sound like something we should all be reading in the current world climate?
© 2002 Baru. All rights reserved.