Page 45 Review by Stephen
"There's a dead cat in the side of the road.
"I can see the sun, but where's the rain?
The ups and downs and the truly unexpected: there's nothing like a trek into parts unknown, and for the first time ever Norwegian-born Jason journeys into the realms of autobiographical comics, celebrating his 50th birthday by walking the Camino de Santiago.
I walked all 500 miles alongside Jason and relished every single second of his jaunty Spanish stroll, without having to endure his blisters or bed bugs. As much as I prayed for our pilgrim to reach his chosen destination, I wish he never had, for I didn't want this ambulatory, countryside idyll to ever end.
I felt as if I had met each individual whom Jason encountered - as much as the adorably reticent and retiring Jason can bring himself to meet anyone. I dined alongside him, whether the meals be kitchen cook-ups which he had to cater and scavenge for himself, hostel-hosted group dinners, cheap Pilgrim's Menu choices found around each town or the occasional, v. rare, solo self-indulgence on an à la carte menu!
Initially John finds it difficult to break the habits of a lifetime, preferring to walk in solitude anyway and make conversation in the evening, but until he grasps the easy way in - the routine of enquiring which nation each traveller is from and why they've chosen this special route, undertaken by many as a religious vocation - he can't quite make that first move, and the first legs are full of actual silence or missed (and immediately mourned) opportunities to join in. But as John wends his way, he gradually gets into his conversational stride and builds brief bonds with individuals whom he leaves behind in his pre-dawn departures or falls behind only to be reunited with them farther down the trail which is marked by handy yellow arrows which unfortunately don't glow in the dark.
Top tip: take a torch for early morning starts, last late-night furlongs and extricating yourself from a hostel without disturbing anyone else. Packing in the dark becomes an art which John masters early on; choosing the right hostel, however, is one he never quite gets the knack of.
Oh yes, Jason's real name is John. I think we'll keep calling him Jason.
He finds plenty of time for imagining how conversations might unfold or events might play themselves out, before pulling back with "Nah! That didn't happen". I'll leave those to surprise and make you chuckle. He also finds time for self-reflection.
"Look at the view, you idiot! Try to be present for once in your life!"
Yes, nature's eye-candy is one of the primary motivations for meandering around such spectacular countryside and the one thing I found odd is that, unlike Eleanor Davis' recent YOU & A BIKE & THE ROAD, I didn't experience quite the same sense of the changing environment. In one panel Jason exclaims simply "View!" but we're looking at Jason instead!!! Funny!
The individuality and sanctity of some of the chapels he encounters is keenly evoked. Far from religious himself, Jason still appreciates the short church services with the passing of candles and exchange of hugs or their Gregorian chants, atmospherically interrupted by mobile phones. These services are sometimes part of a hostel's lure and along some sections we discover selfless local devotees providing refreshments:
"It's free. You're a pilgrim."
Such all-embracing, unquestioning generosity, also experienced in YOU & A BIKE & THE ROAD, is profoundly moving.
Jason, of course, has embarked on his endeavour not out of religious fervour but to celebrate his half-centenary, having only recently discovered nature. He's beginning not to feel his age, exactly, but to acknowledge it with respect to others.
"I'm sunburned on my left ear. I say good-bye to all dignity and put a t-shirt under my hat.
"I meet Gorka and Minnie Driver again. We exchange experiences before they walk on."
It's not really Minnie Driver, but the similarity was noted on a previous evening.
"I can see myself through their eyes: an okay enough guy. But old enough to their dad, or uncle, let's say.
"Or maybe they just didn't want to walk next to someone wearing a t-shirt on his head."
Ha! It may be Jason's first foray into autobiography, but he's retained his trademark bird and dog figures which seems perfectly natural, yet when each of the many statues popping up along the Camino is depicted similarly instead of as is, it brought a smile to my face. I don't know why!
The big advantage, of course, in retaining the anthropomorphic aspect for Jason's on / off acquaintances is that in his skilled hands one gleans a better sense of their demeanour and temperament, their essential character rather than a superficial likeness which serves no purpose in a comic like this at all.
As to Jason himself, there's a tremendous panel in which he's waiting outside the bathroom for a free shower after a 36km hike. Holding his wash bag in one hand, a towel draped over the other arm, he shows himself leaning back against the wall with an extraordinary sense of weight for such lean lines, and an expression which is quintessentially one of quiet composure, like a car idling in neutral.
Jason will be at The Lakes International Comic Arts Festival 2017 this October, so feel free to ask him how on earth he expresses so much so minimally, with what is the very opposite of exaggeration.
And it really is free if you catch him signing in our Georgian Room in the Kendal Clock Tower at 2pm that Saturday, which I've not been authorised to announce yet.
I'm ever so naughty!