Streamliner is a pair of 2017 French graphic novels. Their main author is Stéphane “’Fane” Deteindre, chiefly known for a popular comics series about bikers.
Streamliner also features a *lot* of internal combustion engines. But it is an atmospheric, slow-burn thriller set in a cinematic, parallel version of 1963 America.
But with more 1970s grindhouse/exploitation movie vibes.
Some years ago I’d have assumed that it couldn’t get exported beyond the core EU markets (French, German and Dutch editions). But things change. As of 2020, Magnetic Press publishes an US version of Streamliner.
The word “streamliner” was in widespread use during the 1930s/1940s/1950s.
It originally was used for fast locomotives, designed for aerodynamic penetration. From there it spread to certain motorcars and motorbikes – hence the graphic novels’ title.
From *there*, it became a design aesthetic, called streamline moderne . It was one of the more recognizable design trends during the XXth century.
This article is presented in two parts, since it covers more ground than I expected.
Plus, you guys insist on reading our in-depth articles on small hand-held screens. So we have to make sure each document isn’t too long.
- Part 1 — Streamliner setting and worldbuilding.
- Part 2 — Cristal O’Neil.
This profile has some S P O I L E R S. I’ve kept them into a separate section near the end, and didn’t detail the race (which is the part that could genuinely be spoiled).
The bulk of the story takes place in 1963, with an epilogue in 1973.
It seems set in an equivalent of the Southwestern USA. *Perhaps* resembling Southern California around San Bernardino.
The mores, aesthetics, technology, etc. roughly correspond to the late 1950s/early 1960s real-world US of A. But it is clearly an alternate timeline and there’s no mention of “America”. The place is only referred to as “the continent”.
If you absolutely, doggedly, repeatedly, heavily insist, it prolly classifies as decopunk.
It uses a semi-common approach in French works set in sort-of-the-USA. Which is to :
- Take the national self-mythologisation found in 1950s and 1960s US movies.
- Carefully slice it off.
- Let it float on its own, as a sort of hazy impression of how past America wanted to dream itself.
With this approach, there’s little reason to assume that the setting has much in common with the real-world USA. It’s a (selective) dream of old movies.
So there are two approaches here, y’all :
- Assume an alternate history with the fewest possible differences (since what we see closely resembles known times and places). We’ll mostly go for that one here.
- Do not assume similarities. What we see resembles known times and places because of a sort of convergent evolution, not because of commonalities.
We won’t use the second one for lack of data. But you could, say, decide that the story takes place on a planet with just a single large continent. And that its history and population are primarily similar to Europe’s.
Divergences (part 1)
I can’t be 100% sure with the stylized colouring, but *everybody* seems to be White, even in city crowd scenes. Three hypotheses :
- The history of slavery was different on this Earth, *and* there were exclusion acts – like the real-world 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act .
- The country is an absurdly strict apartheid regime.
- World population, geography and history are entirely different.
The two main powers on “the continent”, a Northern one and a Southern one, appeared in 1935. They are the result of one large state sundering after decades of tension.
(There’s no indication of what the issue was. Though it apparently cannot be chattel slavery of Africans.)
In 1940, the North (called the Continental something) and South (name unrevealed) went to war. The South was allied with, or had a lot in common with, something resembling the Third Reich. They flew Messerschmitt fighters, whereas the North flew B17s and P51s .
(The B17s have a winged roundel, but with a “C” mated with half the real-world USA’s star. The Messerschmitts have a stylised “S” with a clearly Third-Reich-based design.)
The 1940-1951 war was called the Great Continental War. It seems to have ended up in a stalemate, then a surprisingly cordial peace, then a Federal framework to coordinate the two areas.
(That the citizens of both sides didn’t particularly hate the others’ guts loosely implies that the matter was a specific, solvable point of contention. Rather than nationalist rancour.)
Divergences (part 2)
The geography is hazy, but it seems different from our North America.
- There is an equivalent of the Rockies, but apparently its rough axis is East-West rather than North-South.
- At the feet of these mountains, on either the Northern or both sides, lies the Continental Desert. It seems larger than any warm desert in the real-world USA.
- Names are almost never given for cities and areas. And those few that pop up are generic (such as “Belleville”) or nonsensical (“Flat Lake City”).
The mountains and desert likely explain why the war lasted for so long and accomplished so little. Reaching enemy territory was difficult, and the bulk of the conflict may have been an air war.
This obstacle might also be the cause of small cultural differences. The South had a slightly more “Old World” feeling to it, and the North a bit more of a “Western Frontier” feel.
Divergences (part 3)
After the 1940s war, a DMZA demilitarized zone, from which warring parties agree to remove their forces. was established or renewed between the two powers on the continent. It roughly corresponds to the Continental Desert. It wasn’t a no-man’s-land, but it wasn’t subjected to any jurisdiction.
In 1951 or 1954, plots were sold to citizens. The land was terrible, but the government urgently needed funds for the post-war reconstruction.
A 2500-miles highway project was approved, crossing the desert and linking the two countries. It was called Route 666.
(This suggests a different history of Christianity in this continuity. I just don’t see real-world mainstream 1950s America calling anything “666”.)
The two governments eventually bought back the land, returning it under their authority. But at least one owner, Evel O’Neil, never sold his huge plot.
Even though most characters are outlaws, few firearms are seen. One is an old revolver (quite possibly a Colt Peacemaker) kept by the O’Neils, and the other is another Old West piece – a lever-action carbine à la Winchester 1873.
There’s an implication that gangs don’t pack in order to lower police heat.
Most people are heavy smokers of cigarettes, and drink quite a lot of alcohol.
A TV station deploys a dirigible, the USS Graffberg, to ferry a reporting team and their cameras. It is an anachronistic means of transport even in this world, but getting it out of mothballs for this specific job made sense. Plus, it’s an alternate timeline guys, we gotta have Zeppelins.
Before the war, propeller biplanes were the dominant form of light aviation. They’re still flown by hobbyists.
Link Wray’s The Swag is a solid fit.
Subculture: the meaning of style
In this reality, there apparently was no G.I. Bill . Which was a critical measure in creating a modern, prosperous, more equalitarian America after World War II.
Therefore, “the continent” ended up with :
- Throngs of young veterans in various states of hurt after the war.
- An understimulated economy without enough jobs for said veterans.
- Poor conditions for creative and/or entrepreneurial types to build their own thing.
This resulted in the creation of young adult subcultures rejecting the mainstream. Which is a different feel from real-world, post-WWII American car-centric subcultures. It’s closer to post-WWI, the Great Depression or many post-Việt Nam experiences.
Warriors, come out to play !
However, the better-off parts of society seem authoritarian, individualistic and conformist. Much like in the real-world early 1960s, cops and many squares see subculture types as inherently troublesome, despicable scum.
Therefore, subculture members organised as gangs for security.
Many people not quite comfortable with society had an idealised vision of these gangs. They saw these as frank, brave rebels à la James Dean.
By 1957, tensions about authoritarianism and misogyny were again on the rise. In particular, feminist and beatnik movements passed a tipping point in size, resolve and organisation.
Red Noses (part 1)
This is the main subculture we see during the story. I’d imagine the name comes from once having had a nose emblem on their vehicles.
The Red Noses appeared in 1951, mere months after the armistice.
Red Noses essentially are a greaser subculture. So – early rock ‘n’ roll, greased-back hairstyles (and/or pompadours), Perfecto leather jackets, thick leather boots… Think The Wild One (1953), Rebel without a cause (1956), Grease (1978) and Fonzie in Happy Days (1974+).
They also resemble early “hot rod” cultures, of the illegal street racing type. Their culture revolves around customising 1930s cars (usually Ford Model 32s ), into racing machines nicknamed “hot irons”. The modified engine is typically exposed, to strip the car down and eliminate dead weight.
Red Nose life revolves around cars and mechanics. Their view of Heaven is a blueprinted flathead V-8 engine.
(I’d imagine that the Red Noses are based on the 1930s/40s hot iron drag racing communities around the Californian salt lakes. But I don’t know much about those).
Red Noses (part 2)
There’s a sense that the Red Noses and their 1935-ish hot irons are a bit retro.
It is possible that they stuck to pre-war cars both for comfort, and because they had no money for newer cars. Then achieved enough mass to stick with those choices as their lifestyle.
(The majority of Red Noses cars we see are 1930s Ford hot rods. But at least one resembles a late 1950s Indy roadster. Some heretic, no doubt.)
The Red Noses seem to be an all-men gang. The one woman we see likely was a local pretty girl hired as a race starter.
Another artefact of them being drifting, ill-fitting war veterans is their discipline. They sincerely obey what few rules they have. Likewise, the orders are reliably followed… unless they contradict the rules.
Black Panties (part 1)
The Black Panties Gang are young, militant radical feminists. They formed in 1960 and feel much more modern than the Red Noses – almost real-world early 1970s.
The Panties reject men (often referred to as “ballers”). They seem to have pretty strong bi and lesbian representation – including their leader, Sue Ferguson.
Their oft-brusque demeanour reinforce the impression that the rest of society is harshly misogynistic and predatory toward women.
The Black Panties are organised as an outlaw motorcycle gang – think 1950s Hell’s Angels. Those Panties members we see in the story are gearheads, and passionate about their bikes. After all, they’re the ones who rode a looong way just to race.
The Panties mostly ride 1930s and 1940s British motorbikes – a mix of Excelsiors, Nortons and Triumphs. In-universe, these likely are Southern brands.
From a stray remark, it seems that the Panties have some sort of code about not hurting other women – and not letting women be harmed. It’s probably specific, though.
A signature Black Panties move is to hurl a fistful of heavy nuts and bolts at cars chasing them. At high speeds, that will easily shatter a windshield.
Black Panties (part 2)
This delegation also likes sexed-up outfits — visible underwear, bare chests, tight clothes, etc.. There too, many details are more typical of the 1960s or even early 1970s. Such as Daisy Dukes or more naturally-shaped bras.
(A number of Panties wear low-rise jeans, but the cut seems closer to 2000s ultra-lows than of 1960s hip-huggers. It might be an original design by the gang).
These are cruising and hangin’ ’round, hot weather clothes. For serious riding, the Panties switch to greaser clothes, much like the Red Noses. Perfecto jackets, thick denim jeans, cowgirl boots, 1940s aviation goggles, etc..
Calamity Jane, a scandalous rock star, dresses much like Black Panties gangsters. But she seems to be a counter-culture figure. A bit like Iggy Pop during the Stooges era. She’s also a figure in the feminist movement, so some clothes designs might be political.
The cinematic references for the Panties are, uh, less high-profile than for the greasers of the Red Noses. But they evoke a body of exploitation, schlocky “girls gang” movies mostly hinging on a cast of beautiful lasses in skimpy clothes.
Such as She-Devils on wheels (1968 – look, I told you it was low-profile) and, especially, Faster, Pussycat ! Kill ! Kill ! (1965). Do Batwoman’s Batgirls of America (in the 1966 movie) also count ? Unfortunately, I’d err toward “yes”.
(I’m going with a generous reading about old movie references, and the clothes being counter-culture political statements. The non-generous reading is stock objectification.)
(The Black Panties’ name might be an oblique reference to Les Chaussettes Noires (“The Black Socks”), one of the most popular 1960s French rock ‘n’ roll bands. I wouldn’t bet on it either, though).
This early, anarchist gang is only mentioned in an appendix.
It seems to have had about the same mystique and success as the Red Noses or Black Panties.
Early hippies ?
Some subcultures resemble early 1960s hippies, in clothing and mannerisms.
There are almost certainly differences, though. The Streamliner society doesn’t seem super-conductive to importing Indian spirituality. And heh, there might not even be an Indian subcontinent to start with.
Frex, one “hippie” says “Freedom” with the same body language and attitude that a real-world 1960s hippie saying “Peace”. Perhaps they are more like beatniks, with the Eastern religious parts replaced with a 1910s anarchism revival ?
(One Red Nose gang member once refers to them as “beatniks”.)
Some such “hippies” drove 1960s-style chopper motorbikes. They also seemed fond of acoustic guitars, tambourines, and weed.
What we see of the police seems similar to a well-organised mob. They’re here to enforce their authority and interests, and keep society on the rails they have selected.
They preserve the appearances of law enforcement, but routinely run Mafia-like hits. This may be more prevalent in the South.
We see a reference to the “Federal Bureau”, and one to “Security”. So the most senior law-enforcement organisation might be the Federal Bureau of Security, presumably run by a Hoover -like figure.
Local police forces and/or Northern police forces might be less violent. Since gangs went mostly unarmed to avoid provoking them, and it seemed to work.
There’s one reference to Marilyn Monroe. But it gives the impression that she led a shorter career on this Earth, remaining known as a sweater girl starlet rather as an actress.
Calamity Jane and her band seem to go guitar, rhythm guitar/vocals, bass guitar and drums. This strongly suggests rock ‘n’ roll, and one poster does have “rock ‘n’ roll” written on it. But I doubt it’d sound anything like our Earth’s version, due to the aforementioned lack of Black people.
(It’s pretty hard to imagine what American music without Black musicians and innovators would sound like, really.)
One character hums George Thorogood’s Bad to the bone . But it’s a 1982 song, and also reliant on African-American music. So that was prolly just a small out-of-universe joke.
Now that we’ve discussed the bulk of the setting, we can move on to the story, character and stuff.
This, motor sports enthusiasts, will be in the second half of this article.