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Comics Artist, Cyclist, Activist
Eleanor Davis Took a Bike Ride That Awakened Her to Injustice.
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Just before sitting down to write this book review, I glance at Twitter and see Eleanor Davis has been arrested. Her husband, cartoonist Drew Weing, tweets that he’s proud of her, “today and every day,” linking to an online Atlanta Journal-Constitution article for which the headline image is Davis being handcuffed. In the photo, she holds her chin up, looking calm but defiant. Later in the evening, her husband says she’s been released—her bail paid by the Georgia Civil Disobedience Fund.
I note this because Eleanor Davis’ increasing relationship with activism is pertinent to a review of her latest book You & a Bike & a Road. Because while You & a Bike & a Road is an enjoyable and beautifully illustrated bike tour journal (and a great follow-up to her award winning comic short story collection from 2014, How to Be Happy), it’s also a delicate and compelling story of an artist waking up to injustice.
Davis’ cross-country adventure began as a way to courier her newly built bike from Arizona to her current home state of Georgia. And just as riding your bike through the city helps you know it in ways you never could otherwise, Davis’ journey opens her up to the realities of the Desert Southwest.
Early entries—Davis posted them to her Instagram, never thinking this would be a book—are about knee pain and highways. But as she traveled she began to see intimidating US Customs and Border Protection helicopters overhead. Strangers warned her not to camp in the desert at night, “because of illegals.”
She witnessed one scene where a man, chased by border officers, crashed his car into a canal. The officers surreally lassoed him—though in Davis’ comic he offers no resistance. She deftly holds the moment where he is unable to escape but unwilling to be captured.
“I had undocumented friends and grew up in Arizona where migration is a big issue.” Davis revealed over email. “But traveling along the border let me understand the issue more deeply.”
This is all heavy stuff for me to lay on a book that is overwhelmingly life-affirming, positive, and funny! Davis obviously had a bicycle adventure that changed her. Recently she’s been making comics from interviews with recipients of the Bronx Freedom Fund, which pays bail for people accused of misdemeanors who, Davis says, might stay “imprisoned for months or years for charges that wind up dismissed.” She explained, “Before the election I was less engaged because I was afraid of doing the wrong thing or messing things up. After the election, I realized there was no way I could mess things up worse than they already were.”