Jason’s latest graphic novel, unambiguously titled Jason on the Camino, is without a doubt the most personal and, consequently, touching book in the Norwegian cartoonist’s body of work. It’s an autobiographical account of a pilgrimage hike he embarked upon from the French side of the Pyrenees, across northern Spain, to the holy site of Santiago de Compostela. Jason walked the Camino a few years ago, to mark his fiftieth birthday, and the 32-day trek is chronicled here with the master storyteller’s signature mix of deadpan humor, understated emotion, and anthropomorphic characters.
Jason (“John from Norway”) acknowledges that, while every person has his or her own reasons for walking the Camino, other than marking a significant chapter of his life, he’s not entirely sure what his own motivation is. But in those first few pages we get a clear picture of a man who, despite a certain modicum of social anxiety, is prepared to fully immerse himself in an experience rich in all the quiet subtleties of life and, more importantly, one that promises to be enhanced by interacting with other people. One may walk the Camino alone, but the true nature of any pilgrimage is the fact that one person becomes part of many, across time and space, a connection among people from around the globe and throughout the centuries.
It’s charming to see Jason take conscious steps towards overcoming his unease, watching his imagination convert interactions and conversations into progressively more playful daydreams. As his disquiet diminishes, the profundity of his physical journey becomes clearer. As the days and pages tick by, Jason appreciates his surroundings more, and every little detail becomes more meaningful. From a tear on the cheek of a fellow traveler remembering her father, to the taste of a morning latte, or the late-night flashlit search through wet cobblestone streets for a goddam yellow arrow or scallop symbol to get back on the path, every moment contributes to the self-discovery.
Ultimately, Jason’s journey reminds us about everything that is good, glorious, and life-affirming about travel. We meet other people; we learn about ourselves. We connect to the greater human experience. Right now, I think all of us could use a little more of that.
“Hey, Wait” there’s more! Jason’s U.S. publisher, Fantagraphics, is re-issuing several of his earlier works this week as well. One of my favorites, I Killed Adolf Hitler, is presented in a 10th anniversary edition.