For his 21st book, Norwegian comics artist Jason has decided to change things up a little bit. We’ve read enough of his books by now to get his shtick: anthopomorphised dogs in nourish or fantastical situations that sometimes revel in banal detail in a sweet way. You never quite know what to expect from a Jason book – with the sole caveat that you can usually expect something you won’t ever get elsewhere. So you might reasonably ask: how has Jason delivered the unexpected this time? Well, he’s broken what Stewart Lee has called the last great artistic taboo: he’s become sincere on us. On the Camino is an autobiographical graphic novel. Shut the door, you might say (if you were Richard Ayowade). It’s true.
This is a book about a sort of pilgrimage (in that he walked a pilgrim’s trail) from the French side of the Pyrenees, across northern Spain, to the holy site of Santiago de Compostela, without quite knowing why he was doing it. Jason (or John as he refers to himself in the book) is a relentless self-questioner, a loner, we sense, someone who likes to sit apart even as he longs to be called to join in with others. Much like Guy Delisle’s recent book, Hostage, there is a repetitive quality to the book (he sleeps, usually badly, he gets up, eats breakfast, alone or with other travellers, sets off, alone or with others, in good weather and bad, walks up hill and down, loses and finds his way, stops off at various places, is humbled, bored and amazed by the world and other people, gives people – albeit people who look like dogs, it is a Jason book – names, recites lines from movies, worries about things he’s forgotten, gets blisters, does laundry – you get the drill) but it’s never dull. You’re in the company of a seasoned story teller and he knows what he is doing.
Part of the reason he gives for taking the Camino – a set of paths walked by millions of people every year – is his turning 50 and, we sense, reading between the lines, looking to do something significant for himself and his own – we don’t want to say spiritual, we sense he would resist that – let’s just say development, instead, to mark the occasion. The creation of the book in turn marks a departure, a greater humanism, perhaps than we’ve witnessed previously, and a daring ambition to be more open with his reader. Perhaps not unexpectedly it’s a tremendously warm book, full of life, the kind of life you see around you every day and quite possibly don’t take enough time to stop and gaze on. On the Camino is the kind of book that makes you want to fill your lungs with air and then exhale slowly, the kind of book to savour and appreciate. It’s also one of those lovely reads you sometimes get from an author you’ve followed and liked that hints at whole new potential vistas to come, the kind of book that will have you excited about the books Jason has yet to write.
Any Cop?: In case it isn’t clear, a hearty recommendation from us.