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Cartoonist Aimée de Jongh released her first English-language graphic narrative last fall, but reading about taxis trips in crowded cities right now feels like a surreal dip into the ancient past. I just looked at photos of empty Los Angeles highways — the same ones de Jongh draws. She settled in L.A. after leaving her homeland of Holland and arrived in North America via the wonderfully congested routes mapped in Taxi!. I used to hate commuting the Garden State Parkway every day, but never thought I would long for traffic.

Taxi: Stories from the Back Seat: Jongh, Aimée de: 9781772620399 ...

I have an urge to describe the memoir in film terms (a back-cover blurb refers to her “cinematic sense of storytelling”). The content is even reminiscent of Jay Jarmusch’s 1991 film Night on Earth about five taxi drivers and their passengers in five cities, two of them the same as de Jongh’s. Instead of just interweaving simultaneous events though, de Jongh reaches across time too, connecting actual conversations from her backseat vantage. After opening in Los Angeles in 2014, the comic leaps to Paris 2018, then backwards to Jakarta 2017, and then to DC during the same year, with Holland never shown but always present in the backstory and dialogue.

Aimee de Jongh - graphic novels and animated films

The leaps are artfully linked. The L.A. driver honks his horn in 2014, and suddenly the Paris driver is honking too, erasing the four years and thousands of miles between the paired actions. Another driver declares, “Welcome to Jakarta,” and next de Jongh is standing under a partially cropped airport sign welcoming her to the United States. A voice on the radio introduces an L. A. weather report, and we’re back in the puddles of rainy Paris. A complaint about crowded streets segues to an even more crowded full-page image of a Jakarta traffic jam.

Taxi! Stories from the Back Seat |

Each leap occurs with a page turn, emphasizing the page as the primary unit of structure, an effect that has no parallel in film. De Jongh is also an expert of visual rhymes, placing the grinning face of the Paris driver in the bottom right panel of page 18 and the stony face of the L.A. driver in the same layout location on page 21. Though the two images are ten panels apart, the placement encourages a flipbook-like connection that ignores sequence in favor of a physical cross-reading impossible in film.

Taxi!: Stories from the Back Seat - Aimée de Jongh's Collection of ...

These kinds of rhyming leaps define the narrative logic at a deep level too. De Jongh constructs a jigsaw puzzle of personalities, life experiences, and national identities, where even contrasts ultimately reveal connections.  The DC driver rants about the dangers of texting drivers, while the Jakarta driver spreads a newspaper across his steering wheel. The grumpy veneer of the L.A. driver hides a secret warmth, while the cheerful surface of the DC driver keeps splitting with angry asides. The Jakarta driver’s father died three days ago, while the DC driver has been on the job for three days, returning after the trauma of witnessing a fatal car crash two years earlier. Both rides occur in 2017, but de Jongh gives no hint at order, instead building an expanding sense of an all-encompassing present.

Choosing What Is Seen: Aimee de Jongh's Taxi! and Jon McNaught's ...

While the memoir collapses time and space, it also breaks down ethnic divisions. De Jongh opens with her account of a dark-skinned friend who always misses connecting flights while delayed by security. The Paris driver laments about the challenges of being Muslim in a city of chocolates during Ramadan, unaware that he’s passing a street memorial to cartoonists murdered by terrorists.  He was born in France, but his parents are from Algeria. He mistakes de Jongh for Greek, but her family is from Indonesia. She’s lived in Holland her whole life, and the Jakarta driver flinches at the word, accusing her of three hundred years of brutal colonial rule. But then he reveals that his father is from Holland, before sharing pictures on his phone of the recent funeral.

Bunt Blogt: Taxi! (Aimée de Jongh)

De Jongh’s cartoon style forms yet another link, as if all of these characters are distant relatives sharing similar faces and body types, all of them wholesomely hobbit-like in their squat proportions and slightly-too-round heads. The effect is heightened by de Jongh’s otherwise naturalistic attention to detail, the textured bark of palm trees and the refracted light in street puddles. She allows herself the occasional cartoon convention of emanata lines surrounding a surprised expression or motion lines trailing a moving car, but she explores her own subtly idiosyncratic flourishes too. I especially admire how she draws talk balloons contained and sometimes even blocked by the window frames of the taxis, as though the dialogue can only be partly overheard by the viewer standing outside of the car. The inclusion of a photocopied receipt from the DC driver on an otherwise blank page is also a pleasantly jarring visual break from the book’s drawing norms and a reminder that the events are remembered rather than invented.

The artwork is all black and white and sharp-lined, contrasting the softer-edged earth tones of her collaboration Blossoms in Autumn published earlier last year. There de Jongh was working with another writer’s script, but Taxi proves that her narrative skills are as sharp as her drawing pens. The nominal plot of each interwoven vignette is the same: the driver’s attempt to get de Jongh to where she wants to go. But she’s already exactly where she needs to be.

Interview met stripmaker Aimée de Jongh over TAXI en BLOESEMS IN ...

[A version of this post and my other recent reviews appear in the Comics section of PopMatters.]

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