A Winnipegger’s adventure in a graphic novel

Jamie Michaels publishes his story of canoeing to Mexico

Jamie Michaels turns an adventure into a novel experience.

Photo by Keeley Braunstein-Black

Winnipeg author Jamie Michaels describes his soon-to-be-released graphic novel Canoe Boys as equal parts adventure romp and personal development roadmap, filtered through a grotesque Canadian imagination.

“Three Canadian deadbeats drop out of university, follow their dreams and canoe to Mexico. Hilarity, debauchery and chronic alcoholism ensues.”

Michaels partnered with local illustrator Evin Collis and has worked on Canoe Boys for the last six years. The inspiration for the book came from a trip he took when he was 21.

“The Canoe Boys story is loosely based off of some experiences I had canoeing from Winnipeg down to Mexico. I put the canoe pretty much in at my parent’s backyard. We had a launch at The Forks, and we ended up in North Mexico.”

The self-described team captain and initiator of bad decisions, Michaels convinced two friends to take the six-month trip with him, travelling down the Red River, into the Bois de Sioux, through “marshes and terrible, inhospitable paddling conditions” and then portaging to the Minnesota River, which leads to the Mississippi – all in a custom 23-foot canoe.

“I think it is really important, when you are young especially, to follow through on your bad ideas and not just talk about them,” Michaels says. “Life is too short not to. I was in love with adventure. I was really into this idea of leaving behind the drudgery and monotony of everyday life.”

Michaels says he didn’t go on the trip in order to write about it, but once he came back and read through his travel journal, the idea of creating a graphic novel wouldn’t go away.

“A year after, I approached Evin, and I said, ‘I want to do a graphic novel, are you interested?’ He was really excited about it,” Michaels says. 

In the years since Michaels and Collis started this project, their style and vision have evolved, but they have always maintained a working process in which text and image inform each other.

“There was so much back-and-forth this whole time. I’ll come up with the ideas, and then I’ll say, ‘That’s how they should look on the page.’ I’ll bounce them off Evin, and he’ll give me feedback, saying, ‘This is how this should look.’ Then I’ll say, ‘What about this?’ There is a lot of organic interplay between the text and the illustrations.”

Michaels says most travel literature has a hero complex, but he just wants to tell the story about some guys who failed until they made it and, in doing so, encourage others to explore off the beaten track.

“I think there is one message that this book contains: the ability to overcome things by incompetence, by struggling, by just pushing forward and figuring things out as you go. That is the tone I want to set in telling these stories. We just want to highlight the absurdity in adventure travel.”

Canoe Boys is in the final stages of editing, and Michaels hopes to have copies hit shelves by December. 

Published in Volume 71, Number 8 of The Uniter (October 27, 2016)

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