Morton: A Cross-Country Rail Journey
David Collier, 160 pgs, Conundrum Press, conundrumpress.com, $20
Shaken by the unexpected death of his grandmother, cartoonist David Collier decides to pack up for a month-long train trip across Canada with his partner, Jen, and his young son, James—and to sketch everything that happens along the way.
Like the best road trips, Collier’s graphic memoir is slightly hectic. Collier and his family bounce from place to place, from Hamilton to rural Quebec to northern Manitoba—and so does the focus of the narrative. Scenes weave in and out, sometimes flashing by like billboards on the side of the highway without any obvious rationale—an early scene musing on the difficulties of publishing immediately gives way to a brief memory of a friend’s lesbian older sister and her prodigal sex life, for example —but the overall effect is to make a reader feel like they’re a part of the whirlwind ride.
The undeniable strength of Morton is Collier’s showcase of unique facets of Canadian life. I found myself learning something about each stop on Collier’s trip, thanks to the wealth of historical information he relays. No CN towers or northern lights here, either—instead, readers visit a mosquito-swarmed sled-dog training facility in Churchill, watch aggressive panhandling on the streets of Winnipeg, and spend a night camping in Drawn & Quarterly founder Chris Oliveros’ Montreal backyard.
Collier’s cross-hatch-heavy, R. Crumb-esque linework is expressive, although it can be inconsistent. He certainly captures the spirit of many of the places he visits, but while some panels are clearly the work of a master cartoonist, others feel rushed. (The cover, for example, is just bizarre.) Thankfully, this never hinders the reader’s experience of the trip—Morton remains a unique look at the country I thought I knew well. (Kris Bone)