David Collier, Hamilton Sketchbook (Drawn & Quarterly, 2002)

David Collier is a cartoonist who lived in the wide open prairies of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. He had lived in Toronto, and visited the city of Hamilton but one day, after circumstance led him to this point, he packed his family into a U-Haul and moved to Hamilton. To live there. Hmmm. Now, I've lived here almost my whole life. Actually, I live in a small town to the west of Hamilton, which has been governmentally annexed recently (don't get me started) but I work in Hamilton. It's a city of almost half a million (now that amalgamation has expanded it) best known for its steel, and for its unsuccessful attempts at procuring an NHL team over the past decades. Hamilton Sketchbook is pretty much exactly what it claims to be: a collection of drawings by Mr. Collier, illustrating the movement and resettlement of his family. And it's a pleasure to read, too.

Collier has a style, not really like R. Crumb, but reminiscent of Crumb's loose, spontaneous-looking ink-work. Collier eschews the blatant sexual imagery of Crumb, but it's clear that he IS an influence. Collier's notes refer to Crumb (and to other contemporary cartoonists, like Chester Brown and Seth). His drawings have a warmth and softness belying the hard edge of the pen and ink. Portraits of family and friends sit alongside sketches of street people, and buildings, and brief encounters told in drawings and narrative anecdotes.

When I was in New York City this summer, I stopped at a large comic book shop to find myself a copy of McSweeney's Quarterly (which features a couple of colour pages of Collier's work!) While there I saw Collier's book from across the room. I recognized the King Street bus on the front cover. It was a weird feeling to be in the Big Apple and catch this little glimpse of home.

We see the growth of of his son and the development of his relationship with his wife in these little gentle tales, some only a sketch, with a sentence to describe it. The outsider will get a pretty good look at the city of Hamilton from this volume. Thoughtful, entertaining, well drawn, and from where I sit, darn homey.

[David Kidney]