Wednesday, October 3, 2018

SWF 2018 - Interview with David Collier

In March 2002, David Collier and I were driving around in his car in Hamilton and we were tempted to visit Devan Nair, the at-that-time disgraced ex-President of Singapore. We didn’t, wanting to give the old man some piracy. Like why would he want to meet a Singaporean comics researcher and a Canadian comic artist from nowhere? Would he throw us off his lawn? Did he even have a lawn? I don’t know and I have since regretted not plucking up our courage to say hello to Devan Nair.


Anyway, Collier is coming to town for SWF. Here’s the spiel on him:

As the only uniformed member in the history of the Canadian Forces Artists Program, David Collier has participated in the therapeutic benefits of soldier’s art. An inveterate traveller in a big country, he explores these twin themes in his most recent book-length comics, Chimo (2010) and Morton (2017).

Collier has his comics published by the great Robert Crumb in Weirdo and later he was published by Fantagraphics, Drawn and Quarterly (D&Q) and now, Conundrum Press in Canada. To me, he is up there with Chester Brown, Seth and Joe Matt in terms of autobiographical comics, when all four of them were active in the Toronto comics scene of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Collier is featured in the following SWF programmes.

Your books are about history, memories and the disappearance of our past – how do you avoid sentimentality in your storytelling?

By putting my present-day foibles in there.

To me, Chimo is about masculinity and Morton is about mortality. Do these two issues weigh heavily on your mind?

Yeah. Told my wife Jen a statistic from a newspaper: When your kids graduate from high school, you will have spent 93 per cent of your in-person parent time with them.

When we started corresponding in the 1990s, you were living in Saskatoon and you would tell me about your Chinese landlady. You visited Saskatoon again in Morton – how is the old girl doing?

She’s dead.

What did D&Q publisher Chris Oliverios say when he found out what you did in his garden in Morton?

He was relieved, it seemed, to find out Jen wasn’t there in real life. The book Morton is fictionalized to the extent that about seven separate trips were rolled into one manic adventure. The travels in Quebec were just my son James and me while Jen finished a university degree. So Chris saw, after we talked, my reluctance to leave James alone and I had to do what I did in his garden.

After taking train rides throughout the whole book, you went home on a plane. Isn’t that irony?


You also did not mind putting yourself in unflattering situations like your encounter with a counter staff at a train station and you were thinking how your dad would do in such a situation. It’s almost a R Crumb moment of just putting yourself out there. How does it feel?

They say literary fiction is valuable to the reader in that it lets us see others making decisions.

How come you didn’t approach Fantagraphics for your recent books?

Geography. Conundrum Press is based in Canada. My most recent, a “25th Anniversary Edition”, of Collier’s #3 was published by Anhtry Pham, who runs his press out of his family’s Vietnamese sandwich shop, down the street.

We connected because of the army (both of us were combat engineers) and R Crumb. What has changed in the 25 years since we have known each other? Are you still in the army reserve?

Have realized that an artist is a “man of the people” and that it’s good that I’m still a corporal that few are intimidated by.

Train connections remind me of connections in life. 20 years ago you got off a plane for a ticket to anywhere in the world and you came to visit me in Singapore. After that, you even took a train to visit Lat in KL. What places in Singapore do you hope to visit again in 2018 and where would you bring your son, James? What is the one Singapore dish you would like him to try?

Would like to explore the history of Singapore’s industrial seaport. James can’t come, after all, due to his studies. Would’ve liked to have taken him to that area near your parent’s place, where we shared a meal.

You used to send me political cartoons by Heng Kim Song that appeared in the Canadian papers. Have you been following Singapore news since the 1990s?

People here are most interested in how Singapore deals with housing. As shelter gets too expensive everywhere in the western world, Singapore’s approach is treated as a positive example to be studied.

How do you think Singapore is like now? (would it still be a Disneyland with the death penalty ala William Gibson?)

It seems to be an outward- looking place dealing with the tensions of living in a tough geo- political neighbourhood with art.

We last saw each other in 2002 when I visited you and the family in Hamilton. I had a great time playing with your dog Large who has since passed on. I miss Large…

Here’s a photo of Large for you.

Would you want to work on other people’s stories like what you did for Harvey Pekar’s Unsung Hero (2002)?

Working with my old boss Gary Topp from the days of helping to stage concerts in the early 1980s, now.

Do you still exercise every day? Skipping? You gave me a skipping rope!

Yes, paddling my boat or skiing. Dead friends give me motivation.

Are you still taking cold baths?

Yes! Hope my room in Singapore has a tub.

What’s the next book about?

Gary Topp (see above).

A bonus question - did you listen much to Joni Mitchell when you were living in Saskatoon?

Listened to Joni Mitchell not far from where she grew up.

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