Gone to Amerikay: masterful, heart-tugging Irish immigrant graphic novel

Gone to Amerikay is a masterfully told tear-jerker of a graphic novel that tells the stories of multiple generations of Irish immigrants to New York, skilfully braided together. There's a storyline from 1870, the tale of Ciara O'Dwyer and her baby daughter who arrive in the Five Points slum ahead of Ciara's husband, who is meant to catch the next boat, but does not arrive. There's a storyline from 1960, in which a merchant seaman named Johnny McCormack jumps ship to become an actor, but instead ends up in folk-music-saturated Greenwich Village, discovering turbulent truths about his calling and his sexuality. Finally, there's a 2010 timeline in which a stratospherically wealthy Celtic Tiger CEO named Lewis Healy touches down in New York in his private jet so that his lover can give him a gift for the man who has everything: the secret history of a song that changed his life when he heard it as a child.

Writer Derek McColloch and illustrators Colleen Doran and Jose Villarrubia make this three-way narrative sing (literally, at times) by exploiting the unique visual storytelling capabilities of comics in ways rarely seen. Their masterful treatment boosts an already fine -- if sleight and sentimental -- tale into a higher orbit, giving it a velocity and a mass that makes the book both unstoppable and heart-tugging.

This is a sensitive treatment of race and class, sexuality and art, betrayal and gender, and above all, the immigrant experience in America. Like a great folk song, it is at once simple and complex, a paradoxical confection that could only have been rendered in graphic form.

Gone to Amerikay


  1. The third story seems a little off-key considering the collapse of our country in to rabid plutocracy and a mass exodus of our youth to Australia and Canada…
    Id love to see a fourth story which parallelled the first one but set in 2012 with a young person, nearly penniless crossing the Atlantic despirate for work.

    That said, ill still pass this onto my friends who are more interested in studying the diaspora then i am.

  2. I’ve always been astonished by the history of Irish immigration. Comparatively late in my life I learned that, at one point in the past, being Irish was about the worst thing you could be considered in America. Of course I had been taught about black slavery and discrimination, and I was aware of the horrible abuse of Chinese labor. But I had no idea until then that Irish immigrants, who seem so utterly integrated into society now, had ever been considered the bottom of the barrel and horribly reviled. It just proves how illogically these class-based hatreds are. 

    And by the way, check out George Takei’s new musical “Allegiance” about the forced relocation of the Japanese Americans during WWII. The things we do to our neighbors…

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