Friday, 16 June 2017

On the Camino by Jason Review

To mark his 50th birthday in 2015, Norwegian cartoonist Jason decided to walk the Camino de Santiago, a 500 mile pilgrimage in north-western Spain. Which he does. And that’s that!

Jason is one of my favourite cartoonists but On the Camino is his weakest book to date. It’s also his first venture into nonfiction which is quite telling because his fictional comics are usually outstanding and fun to read while this autobiographical memoir is very dry, one-note and kinda boring.

Nothing happens on the hike besides the predictable blisters and bad weather, none of the people he meets are especially interesting and he uneventfully completes the route. I kept wondering what we were meant to get out of the book; it’s so lacking in insight, purpose, inspiration – anything really! I’m sure it’s a powerful, moving and spiritual experience whether or not you’re religious but we don’t get a sense of its impact (if any) on Jason.

I vaguely recall seeing a documentary on the Camino years ago so I knew a bit about the hike going in but it still would’ve been nice to have some context as to what it is and the significance of the route, etc. especially for readers who don’t know about it.

The best parts of the book were when Jason let his imagination loose. The mundane reality of hiking is thankfully broken up with dramatic panels of giant slugs, Jason machine-gunning bedbugs and parodies of scenes from famous movies like Blue Velvet. And his own invention, the Camino police, was great – I wish the book had been about that dude solving “Camino crimes” instead! As always, I really enjoyed the art which is simple and spare yet elegantly detailed enough, clean and appealing, particularly the splash pages (a rarity for Jason) – and, of course, nonfiction or not, everyone in it is animal-headed!

On the Camino is a well-made comic that’s sporadically interesting and gives you a good idea of what it’s like to walk the trail itself. But listing a series of non-events doesn’t make for a very exciting or engaging read either and I found myself putting it down quite often. It’s just an ok book which is disappointing given that Jason’s comics are usually fantastic. Here’s hoping he goes back to writing fiction again soon because his nonfiction unfortunately ain’t all that!

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