Rumble Strip

If you want to get away with murder... buy a car
£12.99 Buy now Recommend

'One utterly original work of genius. It should be made mandatory reading for everyone, everywhere.'—The Times

Woodrow Phoenix’s impassioned and beautifully drawn graphic novel questions our love affair with cars, and asks why, when you are in the driving seat, killing other people is not murder. Or even manslaughter. It’s… misfortune.

Over 1.2 million people are killed on the road each year. Our increasing dependence on vehicles to ease our crowded lives has led to a critical imbalance in power between drivers and pedestrians – a situation where road deaths are viewed as acts of God, random events with no cause and no recourse, rather than as the result of human behaviour.

Woodrow Phoenix’s dry, sometimes painfully mordant wit, backed up by accident statistics, personal observations and case histories, offers a trenchant analysis of the problems of road users everywhere and the risks we all take every day.

Rumble Strip surprises, challenges, asks us questions that badly need answers and makes us think about things we may prefer to ignore. But sometimes we all need a wake-up call: Woodrow personalises the experience of the commuter, the driver, the pedestrian, the accident victim – because any one of them could be you.

Stephen Holland, Page 45

9 September 2020

Do you drive a car? Please read this book.

A heart-felt, eloquent and surprisingly gripping indictment of our current obsession with cars, our behaviour on the roads and the vulnerability of the pedestrian, this is as Paul Gravett observes, "an extraordinarily human book... without showing a single human being."

I'd hazard a guess that this very exclusion forms part of Woodrow's argument that pedestrians have been relegated to anonymous and dehumanised second-class citizens whose rights are as nothing compared to those of us enclosed in thousands of pounds worth of hard, heavy metal. We're what counts: we need to get where we going far more urgently than you lot on foot, so don't you dare cross the road until you're told to, where you're told to, and I don't give a shit if it's raining outside because it's not raining in here. Where's that CD I burned last night?

Yes, that's how old this review is, resurrected with tweaks for a timely brand-new edition with an infinitely more apposite title, CRASH COURSE: IF YOU WANT TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER, BUY A CAR.

I originally read this an hour before my own car was due in for its annual MOT and service, plus as a precautionary measure they changed what I believe is called the cambelt. If they hadn't, they would definitely be changing it now. I've never understood a mate who was so concerned for his children on board that he turned on his headlights in broad daylight, yet happily answered his mobile phone whilst driving along, one-handed, distracted. For my own guilty part I've lit so many cigarettes over the years while driving. Yup, the first one to put his hand up is me. I'll never do it again, and nor will you once you've read this. I feel wretched.

As Woodrow navigates motorways, turns at junctions and admires the view through his windscreen he muses on our self-delusion when it comes to safety, our attitude to death by driving (you kill someone any other way, and you're in deep trouble; in a car, not necessarily so much), the horrors of the pedestrian underpass, the weirdness of an empty retail car park, and the absurd SUV 4x4 family arms race. It's moving, compelling and even poetic in places, pared down to level-headed wake-up calls like this:

"There is a dreamlike quality built into the experience of driving. A car windshield is a big window. And also a screen. A windscreen. A long rectangular picture frame. Locations unwind on the other side of this rectangular glass almost as they do on a movie screen. The constant, smoothly unrolling scenery. The continuously changing vistas. It's like the ultimate cinematic presentation. With you, the driver, as both the director and the star."

It can be mesmerising too.

"It's an intoxicating feeling to have the power to govern every aspect of your private world. You sit cocooned in your cabin. You control the temperature of the interior and you listen only to the soundtrack you have chosen. Everything outside your windows is contained, the rest of the world an arm's length away."

But no more than that for BMW drivers who tailgate.

That's from about the least affecting couple of pages of this book (and they ring so true, don't they?) as Phoenix assesses what your car says about you, why some arrogant arseholes refuse to budge out of the middle or even outside lane regardless of what speed they're doing (my own biggest irritation with others, along with their failure to indicate - the consequences of which you'll discover towards the end), and quietly relates some very real incidents of fatal failures to give a damn about cyclists and those on foot.

As to road rage:

"How did it happen that ridiculous, inappropriate eruptions of impulsive brutish aggression should have been thought to be adequately described by the handy appellation, 'road rage'? It's a phrase that hides more than it reveals. Designed to neuter and tidy away the truth. A sheet thrown over a misshapen lumpy ogre of violence. Almost legitimising the strange shapes that poke around underneath. Road rage is an indulgent, doting term, dignifying and excusing behaviour that has no dignity and no excuse."

And so we come to the art. Roads. Roads and roads of roads. And rorries.

Is it even necessary? Would your experience reading this be any different if you'd just paid £1-50 for this week's Guardian, and this was reduced to a single prose feature in the Weekend Supplement rather than 150 pages of chevrons? Yes. Yes it would, because the chevrons here are as hypnotic as they are in real life, and therein lies a point.

Anyway it's not all roads: there is, for example, a small procession of human beings reduced from individuals to the faceless figurative forms that symbolise human beings on pedestrian crossings; and you'll never take those for granted again, either. Best not think of all those actual lives now snuffed out: people who woke up and went for a walk but will never come home again.

The ideas I've expressed here are all Woodrow's - ideas, not views: his views if not awful experience match my own seamlessly. I could never have done so without his prompting, and it worries me terribly that I may ever be careless enough to hit someone in my car. The chances of that after reading this, however, are at least a lot slimmer because I've been given a wake-up call, and we could all use a little reminding, surely?

Originally released as RUMBLE STRIP in 2008 (still in stock), this comes with a new essay by Woodrow Phoenix who also notes: "CRASH COURSE is 206pp to RUMBLE STRIP's 160pp with 106 of those pages being completely new US-specific material - and much of what remains tweaked/updated." Why not buy both, then compare and contrast? ;)

Publishers Weekly

9 September 2020

This urgent treatise by Phoenix (Rumble Strip) decries the mortal threat posed by errant drivers and a dysfunctional automobile-centric society. The graphic essay is composed of declarations (“the causal link between action and consequence is unhooked in a way that would be considered psychotic in any other area of our lives”) spooled over empty street scenes and repetitive sequences of white roadway arrows painted on highways.

Phoenix rails against the arrogance of consumers, carmakers, and government leaders who protect drivers over pedestrians; the dangers of self-driving cars; and the inequity in risk to drivers, themselves, exposed in the deadly police shootings of African-Americans during traffic stops. Accusations are punctuated by alarming statistics, such as a rise in bike fatalities in New York City, despite recent changes in urban planning to make the city more foot- and bike-friendly.

The reliance on blacktop visuals can become as monotonous as a long drive, though rarer spreads—such as of a pedestrian fatality depicted with stick figures—or a sobering rendering of a makeshift memorial on a curbside where a cyclist was killed, lend emotional impact. The psychoanalysis of narcissistic drivers sometimes loses sight of larger societal forces and counter arguments (did urban sprawl outpace mass transit expansion, for example).

This is a resolute protest against vehicular deaths as a silent epidemic, though its impact is ironically buckled-in by static visuals.

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Gear and Grit

9 September 2020

Crash Course by Woodrow Phoenix is a painfully shocking indictment of driving which comes as less of a shock to those of us who spend significant amounts of time on two wheels. The British graphic novelist applies a not at all conventional medium for this kind of societal review in a thought-provoking and effective way.

Phoenix opens the novel with an analogy, that anytime you drive there’s a grand piano dangling from a flimsy attachment above your head. It’s a powerful image, and certainly a feeling I’ve had while riding on the 18-inch, gravel covered strip of road allotted me alongside careless drivers.

Crash Course then moves to the real-world with examples of people who were run down, by accident or purpose, and the perpetrators went free. Again, this is all too familiar. Any cyclist who spends enough time in the community will encounter someone who’s been hit by a motorist and maimed or killed. Seldom, however, is a motorist truly held to account. The word accident used to abdicate motorist’s duty to ensure safety to those around them, implying the crash was not preventable, despite the fact that a majority of collisions are caused by human negligence or error.

The top causes for road crashes are poor street conditions, distracted driving, drunk or impaired driving, excessive speed, and negligence on the part of the drivers. All of these causes are preventable.

Along the way, Phoenix weaves in the psychology of driving, institutional racism, and road rage “an indulgent, doting term, dignifying and excusing behavior that has no dignity and no excuse.” He also explores the many absurd rules of the road which increase danger and examines the vehicle as a weapon as in its use against activist Heather Heyer, who was struck by a car and killed during the 2017 white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville.

What resonates throughout is the way in which vehicles enhance the worst of human behaviors (and driverless cars programmed by them). The primal need to be first and fastest when applied to a gas pedal controlling a heavy metal box is deadly, especially when other road goers are pedestrians and cyclists. Phoenix says, “I wrote this book to make you mad.” I suppose that’s true, but more accurately it makes me sad.

It’s a stark reminder that “a car” has never hit anyone. Motorists hit people.

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Kirkus Reviews

18 May 2020

The author's probing commentary, combined with its stark visuals, effectively stokes the complicated emotions its author intended to instill in his readers. A keen and unapologetic consideration of how driving often brings out the worst in us. (Rumble Strip is published as Crash Course in North America by Street Noise Books 2020)

The Beautiful Room

1 January 2012

I’ve just read Rumblestrip by Woodrow Phoenix, a monochrome graphic book all about what happens when we get behind a steering wheel.  And as you read, you feel as if you are in fact on a virtual car journey.  The book provides alarming statistics about deaths caused by driving and is thought-provoking.  I sometimes dream about driving a car, and when I drive at night, I sometimes wonder if I am dreaming.  Woodrow Phoenix describes it perfectly:

'There is a dreamlike quality built into the experience of driving.  A car windshield is a big window.  And also a screen… locations unwind on the other side of this rectangular glass almost as they do on a movie screen… you sit cocooned in your cabin… everything outside your windows is contained, the rest of the world an arm’s length away… you glide through location after location as if they were erected just for you to drive past.  Every journey is a narrative with you at the centre.'

I love that last line.

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Ali Smith

Every so often a book like this comes along, one which allows fresh vision, even a change of mindset. Brilliant... Rumble Strip is a crucial revelation.

Lovereading

Woodrow Phoenix’s message is all the more forceful for using a graphic novel format. He wants to warn of the damage and death that can result from car accidents. The author also rails against the injustice of the penalty system for deaths caused by cars, the arms race with people investing more and more in ridiculously huge SUV’s and the like. The damage all this does to people and the land goes unquestioned by the majority but Woodrow Phoenix articulates - and illustrates the devastating combination of human and machine on our roads.

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Latest

Phoenix, who attained an MA in narrative illustration at the University of Brighton, show[s] the comic as the ultimate creation of narrative meaning.

Comik motorik

Simply astounding... It’s important though to express how natural this book feels, how timely and how key to our ongoing national conversation... one of the most original, impressive and essential British comics of the last ten years.

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Bricycles

Compulsory reading for people who carp on about rising fuel prices, lack of parking and how cyclists are the scum of the earth.

London Cyclist

A unique addition to the transport policy debate.

Down the Tubes

This is a timely, well researched and fascinating novel and one which Jeremy Clarkson would probably hate. Surely yet another reason for getting out there and buying a copy.

Broken Frontier

Congratulations to Woodrow Phoenix for making such a difficult subject readable and entertaining in a thought provoking way. Once you start reading, you can't stop turning the pages... This is an emotional horror story told with a perfect symbiosis of text and image.

Creative Review

A gripping narrative – he just presents the hard facts and they stay imprinted on your mind.

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Argus

A darkly dazzling graphic book... a disturbing indictment of the culture of the car presented in a simple, shocking and brilliant way.

The Late Show, BBC London

I love your book. I think it's a really interesting take on ‘the road’... wonderfully controversial... phenomenal and very original.

Herald

In thrall to the vivid iconography of the roadside – the signs, the arrows, the unfolding motorway landscape – and vividly sketches the ways cars can isolate us from each other.

The Times

One utterly original work of genius. It should be made mandatory reading for everyone, everywhere.

Paul Gravett

For a graphic work that doesn’t show a single human being, this is an extraordinarily human book. Its ideas and questions about how the car impacts on your life will echo in your mind long after you’ve finished reading it, whether you’re a driver, or a pedestrian, or both.

Jon McGregor

Brilliant. Angry, articulate, bewildered, and beautifully drawn; a visceral blast of truth-telling against the cult of the road. They should be giving it away with new driving licences.

Rumble Strip