Dirty Water Comics, a new local publishing company founded by Jamie Michaels, is launching their first publication, Canoe Boys, on Saturday, March 4 at 7 p.m. The launch will feature a reading of an excerpt from the graphic novel, a Q&A about canoeing to Mexico, and a book signing.
Canoe Boys is Jamie Michaels’ fictionalized account of his canoe trip from Winnipeg to Mexico with some childhood friends. He and two of his friends navigated rivers, lakes, and ocean in a 23-foot, 84-pound canoe – large by canoe standards, but dwarfed by other marine crafts along the way.
“I’ll tell you a plot twist to save you reading all the editions of the book – it’s actually much quicker if you fly,” Michaels said. “We did all our navigating by hand, nothing new school, everything old school, no cell phone assist. It was so poorly planned in retrospect.”
“Everything was kind of trial and error for us, and we kind of learned as we went,” said Michaels.
As they progressed towards their destination, the Canoe Boys – as they called themselves – learnt new and different paddling techniques, portaged way more than they intended to, and probably almost died a few times. Nevertheless, the trip allowed Michaels and his friends to take a risk, wrestle with nature, and challenge themselves.
The new graphic novel is intended to be a three-part series with each part representing an ideological facet of the trip. The first issue will narrate the upstream struggle to reach the Mississippi River, the second issue will cover the quintessential Americana of the Mississippi, and the third will depict the existential terror of canoeing the open ocean of the Gulf Coast.
“There’s such an unbridled joy in the Mississippi, then you come out, and you’re just in this merciless, open inter-coastal waterway that feeds into the Gulf of Mexico. Such a different experience,” said Michaels.
“There’s something so surreal about starting in Winnipeg where the river freezes over and you can skate on it, and by your own human power ending in an ocean where dolphins will pop up and pause beside your canoe.”
Michaels used journals from the canoe trip to write Canoe Boys. He would write out scenes, then create storyboards to send over to his illustrator and childhood friend Evin Collis. His collaboration with Collis helped bring his words to life. He started working on the project with Collis shortly after returning from Mexico, and their efforts took about five years to come to fruition.
“I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I would even draw out very crude stick figures and describe motion, and describe the scene, and Evin’s got a really good grasp of the world we were trying to create. He did an amazing job of fleshing out the universe,” said Michaels.
“I think the graphic novel is the most dynamic medium. It’s such a great interplay between texts and images that you can’t really have another format,” said Michaels.
The graphic novel allows Michaels to depict the stagnancy of house parties through repetitive framing, the slow pace of canoeing through repeated imagery coupled with dialogue, and juxtapose retrospective narration with events unfolding before the reader’s eyes.
In the process of developing the graphic novel, Michaels started his publication company Dirty Water Comics. Michaels initially funded the project with his savings, then turned to Kickstarter to make the money back. Dirty Water Comics’ Kickstarter was highly successful, with over $10,000 raised.
“The writing is really where my heart lies, but I was looking at getting some of my work published conventionally, and I thought it was a little bit eclectic, and a little bit out of the norm of what people are looking at right now. It’s a little gritty,” Michaels said.
“We’re extremely grateful. It’s always such a pleasure to see the community come to support a local cultural project.”
Michaels is hoping to open up a submissions process for Dirty Water Comics for ‘quality Canadian literature that’s a bit off of the beaten track’ by the end of 2017.
The Canoe Boys launch will be held at McNally Robinson at 7 p.m. on March 4. For more information, visit http://www.dirtywatercomics.com/