Road trips, a time tested genre in film and novels, isn’t something readers run across very often in comic books and graphic novels. However, for those looking to get their road trip fix in the form of a visual page turner, then Ashes, the debut graphic novel from Spanish artist Alvaro Ortiz, is for you. Ashes, a breezy yet poignant tale, steers the genre into the graphic novel landscape with an interesting and humorous mix of complex characters dealing with unresolved trauma, organized crime, a monkey, and the paranormal.
An unexpected road trip reunites three estranged friends, Polly, Moho and Piter as they embark on a mission to fulfil the last wish of one of their friends. Armed with a mysterious map and enough personal baggage to weigh down their car, the trio hit the road. Their dear friend’s final request leads the them on a journey that highlights the bonds of friendship and examines how those bonds can be tested over time.
Told through Piter’s narration, Ashes at times reads like a memoir. Piter is the most well adjusted of the group. His upbringing is unremarkable compared to Polly’s broken home and alcoholic mother and Moho’s rebellious, boarding school early years. Like any good stretch of road, there are some twists and turns along the way to make things interesting. Victims of themselves more than of circumstance, the trio must contend with cowboy hitmen, an unfortunate switch up and several unsavoury characters who want to do them harm for one reason or another.
Ortiz’s art is easy on the eye and the reading experience breezes by even with a multitude of panels on each page. The art layout is almost like a collection of small mosaic squares delivering the narrative in small doses that don’t hinder the story’s pace. Krystal Beisick’s lettering adds to the graphic novel’s memoir-like feel making the words on the page feel as though they’ve been plucked from someone’s diary.
Ashes mixes the time tested genre of the road movie and throws in some off beat scenarios and characters with a dash of the paranormal to create a compelling and layered experience. It deserves a second reading, not only to see how Ortiz connects the various moments of the past to the present, but also to pick up on subtle story points you may have missed and to enjoy the journey one more time.