The Night Driver
Script by Ken Lowery
Artwork by Gavin Guidry
Letters by Micah Myers
There used to be this running column in my local weekly where people could write anonymous letters ranting about fellow citizens or making embarrassing confessions. Sometimes the rants would be about truly odd, one-of-a-kind experiences but the bulk of the time they were about public breaches of etiquette and hygiene that pushed someone over the edge. When the weekly started publishing them once a day on their blog, it became especially clear that one of the best ways to drive other people up the wall during the morning bus commute was flossing. Ken Lowery, Gavin Guidry and Micah Myers’ The Night Driver could be one of those anonymous confessions brought to comic life, depicting one way those unwilling floss voyeur commuters might have wished they could deal with their neighbor’s impromptu grooming (and questionable pop culture opinions). And it also serves as a reminder that on any given day, we’re all an aggravation away from fatally snapping.
Bleakly comic and stark in presentation, The Night Driver borrows the structure of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and simultaneously applies it to Coen Brothers style neo-noir and the drudgery of the cubicle world. The narrative is simple: an unnamed man drives through the night with something in his trunk, trying to get away with a crime he believes we will understand his reasons for committing. Most of the story unfolds as a confessional, the unnamed protagonist staring out at us with the eyes of a man who has permanently snapped; the story doesn’t hinge on any twists, the fun instead comes from knowing he’s going to break (again) and trying to guess how it will happen.
Guidry uses oppressive light and shadow to make the reader not sympathize with the broken man but to get inside his head and understand that while one moment may have destroyed him, it was untold days, weeks, months, years of annoyance and frustration that led to him no longer being able to contain his outsized rage. Lowery’s script doesn’t absolve the man of blame, but it does ask you to consider your deepest, darkest fantasies about silencing someone whose main purpose in life seems to be to irritate you. Most of the panels focus on the man’s unblinking eyes and visual motifs referencing them, from the headlights of his car to flashlights peering in at him. The man’s expressions are either blank or enraged but his eyes, and the inanimate eyes pursuing him, are searing and unfeeling, peering out from the white hot anger of the abyss. The only other visual element that is as consistent in its prominence is the ceaseless scratching sound coming from his trunk, a nod to the thump of the tell-tale heart but also a nod to the sound that pushed the man over the edge in the first place.
Sound effects are often played for laughs in comics, or used as flashy distractions, but Myers’ lettering here is a key component of the story’s effectiveness. It breaks from normal lettering tradition and frequently moves in on Guidry’s visuals, a reminder that the unhinged protagonist is being attacked by the sound from all sides and that won’t stop any time soon. In the story’s climactic scene, the sktrch skrtch sound has taken over almost every panel on the page while the coloring shifts between blood red hues and muddied flat whites, a pitch perfect representation of the all-consuming rage that brought the man down in the first place.
The Night Driver may not be so much a new story as it is a well-executed and stylish twist on a story that never gets old but that’s a welcome respite from the try-too-hard antics of some of its crime and thriller peers. Much of its potency, in fact, comes from how disciplined its creators are, avoiding the masturbatory, caption-heavy text that bogs down way too many modern noir comics that have emerged in the wake of Ed Brubaker’s success in the genre. It’s a simple but cutting noir story that doesn’t take you through a grimy world of femme fatales, poetic thugs and backstabbing friends but instead reminds you how hard we all work to keep our tempers in check when dealing with the small, petty grievances that are part of the cost of living in society, be it a bus passenger clipping their toe nails or a loudly flossing coworker. And isn’t that more nerve wracking, anyway? The notion that criminal behavior isn’t isolated to exotic urban worlds but always present within us as we go about the drudgery of our lives and jobs?
The Night Drive is currently available through comiXology Submit.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover