Acclaimed Cartoonist Jason's Travelogue, On the Camino, Walks into New, Mixed Territory

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Acclaimed Cartoonist Jason's Travelogue, <i>On the Camino</i>, Walks into New, Mixed Territory

Writer/Artist: Jason
Publisher: Fantagraphics
Release Date: May 24, 2017

What, exactly, is the problem with On the Camino, the new book by acclaimed Norwegian cartoonist Jason? Here are some possibilities. It appears to be autobiographical, relating a 500-mile walking tour of/pilgrimage to the Camino de Santiago, a pedestrian road that concludes in Galicia, in northwest Spain. It is a single story that takes up 192 pages, much longer than usual for Jason, who tends to work either in collections of stories or in shorter single-narrative graphic novels. It’s also published in spartan black and white, not color. It also falls, maybe, on the boring side, although whether this issue results from the subject matter or the execution is up for debate.

But On the Camino is not a bad book. As far as nearly-200-page, probably autobiographical, sparely drawn stories about walking pilgrimages go, it is totally readable, and one can respect Jason for trying something different. Most of his stories feature people behaving violently toward one another, whether literally or emotionally, and reacting to that violence in a stoic manner. This book is far gentler, which is probably the point. It’s more about trying to be mindful, as one walks, rather than intellectualizing the process. And it’s about failures to connect with others. Jason encounters many other tourists on the road, often not knowing if he’ll see them again. Sometimes he tries to talk to them. Mostly, he eats, sleeps and walks alone, ruminating on why he doesn’t try to interact with others.

On the Camino Interior Art by Jason

Journal comics are often repetitive, but they don’t have to be. Eleanor Davis’ You & a Bike & a Road makes for an interesting comparison with On the Camino. It, too, documents a journey that involves pushing one’s physical limitations, embarked upon in the hope of discovering something about oneself. It’s black and white, it’s transparently autobiographical and it’s longer than the author’s usual work. But Davis is younger and less stoic in the face of emotion. She’s shy and not always in a hurry to push herself into social situations, seemingly more content to be an observer than a participant. But there is more feeling in her work. She also doesn’t spend a lot of time drawing her own face. It’s as though you, the reader, are undertaking the journey from inside her head, looking out through her eyes. On the other hand, Jason draws himself as a character for a lot of the book, making it less immersive, albeit more polished.

On the Camino Interior Art by Jason

The main issue is not On the Camino itself, as an isolated publication. It’s that the book is not as strong as Jason’s others, several of which Fantagraphics will republish this year. On the one hand, you have to give him credit for trying something new, both as a human and an artist. On the other hand, novelty is more likely to result in failure than the familiar. On the Camino is fine, but it’s not more than that.

On the Camino Interior Art by Jason