Jon Claytor’s Take the Long Way Home Part of Ongoing Ascent of Atlantic Graphic Storytelling
Take the Long Way Home
In his debut graphic novel, published by Conundrum Press, established Maritime artist Jon Claytor asks us a question: “Are we defined by the stories we tell or the stories we don’t tell?”
It’s a question he also poses to himself, during a solo cross-country road trip, from Halifax to Prince Rupert, BC, and back again. His is a cautiously hopeful search for that road-trip-movie brand of resolution for his own life and relationships, including his on-again-off-again relationship with sobriety.
But it’s also a much broader question–one this 30th-anniversary issue of Atlantic Books Today ponders in terms of the stories published in Atlantic Canada. It’s a question about how we build our cultural landscape.
The emergence and growing success of Conundrum Press itself, which exclusively publishes works of the comic variety, may indicate that Atlantic Canadians are warming up to what media theorist Marshall McLuhan called “cool media” (which stimulates multiple senses but in limited detail, requiring imaginative participation).
Take the Long Way Home is beautifully cool in its casual references to places you know if you know, unembellished punctuation style, and even its scribbly graphics portrayed in muted grey tones with the occasional bluish hue. Not to worry, Claytor supports his readers where we need it. While building locality for local readership, we can easily swap in “Mels” for our own reliable local diner, or the giant Sasquatch in rural Ontario for the Oxford blueberry.
As we sit passenger side with Jon down long stretches of the Highway of Tears in search of his next drink or meeting (always the tension of which will come first), we become reminiscent of the long-standing migration thousands of Atlantic Canadians have made over generations: the move west, for money or answers or both, and the eventual return home. What makes Claytor’s story unique is that he isn’t a newly graduated 20-something off to work in the oil sands, he is a middle-aged father of five off to an artist residency with a myriad of artistic and cerebral friends strewn across the provinces, who we get to meet.
What’s fun about this story is participating in an existential crisis without actually being in one. We’re Jon’s road-trip buddy while he turns over forbidden questions, dark memories and a very unknown future, all while listening in on emotionally vulnerable conversations between porcupines, uncovering family secrets and secret family members, hearing an oil-painter’s thoughts on quantum physics, phone calls home with the twins, and Glen Gould.
Claytor knows his personal story is not unusual, but it’s the one he has. He’s referring to a wonderful and chaotic childhood, navigating family and love in a small town, fighting for sobriety and trying to be a good person. It’s also a story told in a way only he could tell, and is another beautiful iteration of Claytor’s work.
Take the Long Way Home is a meaningful contribution to a growing bookshelf of Atlantic Canadian graphic novels that further establish our stories as deeply human, delightfully raw and surprisingly uplifting.