By MYRON LOVE Some years ago, I read the memoirs of Western novelist Louis L’amour and one of his observations stood out for me. To paraphrase, an adventure is interesting to read about but damned difficult when experiencing it firsthand.
While I prefer to remain an armchair adventurer (except for a bicycle ride through Holland, Belgium and northern France 45 years ago), Jamie Michaels lives for adventure – adventures that have included tramping around West Africa, couch surfing for two years in London and canoeing down to the Gulf of Mexico – which is the subject of his first book.
In 2009, the oldest son of John Michaels and Karen Sternl embarked with some friends on a canoe trip down the Red and Mississippi Rivers to the Gulf of Mexico. Now, you can read about their adventures in the form of a graphic novel – written by Michaels – that he is introducing at McNally Robinson on Saturday, March 4.
As a caution, the 76-page “Canoe Boys” may not be for those of a more delicate nature. The language and action may be uncomfortable for some – but it rings true.
The story begins with three long time buddies – feeling rather aimless and fueled by booze – hitting on the idea of going on an adventure canoeing down to the Gulf of Mexico. As Michaels writes, part way into the story: “Most people are big talkers when they get drinking. Most people don’t remember everything they said the next morning. I always did. I was a drinker with conviction. It was a terribly dangerous problem to have.”
The story follows the guys (who all grew up on Montrose Street) as they grapple with heat and rain, hordes of insects and exhaustion. Along the way, they stop and interact with local people and discuss literature (Harry Potter) and argue with each other. One of the original threesome drops out before Grand Forks and is replaced by another friend. This publication ends just south of Minneapolis as the guys begin their run down the Mississippi.
“We are all still great friends,” he says of his travelling companions. “We will always have that shared experience. I hope they will all be at McNally Robinson for the book launch.”
Michaels has been working on the project off and on for the past five years. “I have always had a passion for writing,” he says. (He has a Masters Degree from the University of London in fiction.)
“I chose to write this in graphic novel form because it is such a giving medium,” Michaels says “Being able to combine words and images allows for so much more play.”
Michaels sketched out the scenes the way he wanted them and brought on Evan Collis to fine tune the drawings. Michaels also created his own publishing company – “Dirty Water Comics” – to publish the work. He raised initial funding for his company online through Kickstarter and published 1,000 copies to start with.
He reports that his next literary project for Dirty Water Comics will be a work of historical fiction – in graphic novel form – based on the 1933 Christy Pitts riots in Toronto, when Jewish youth took on Canadian Nazis in pitched street battles over several hours.
He hopes to have that novel ready for release in about a year.
And, of course, there will be a sequel to “Canoe Boys”.
In the meantime, Michaels keeps himself busy working from April until September as a fire fighter in Alberta fighting forest fires in the northern part of the province and training as a mixed martial arts fighter.
“I had my first professional bout last October, “says Michaels, who has been wrestling since junior high school and fights under the moniker “Jamie the Bear Jew Michaels”.
He won the match – which was in Alaska -at the 25 second mark with a choke hold.
Michaels has a manager and trains 24 hours a week at the Winnipeg Academy of Mixed Martial Arts. His regimen includes boxing, Brazilian jujitsu, yoga, strength training and wrestling.
“I am hoping to fight again soon,” he says.
He notes that fighters only do three or four bouts a year.
As for fire fighting, he says that he heard about the opportunity at a party while he was taking classes at the University of Alberta. “It sounded amazing,” he says. “I applied, had an interview, passed the physical and went from there to the wild fire crew training course in Hinton, Alberta.
“We learned helicopter safety, pump and hose operations and basic fire fighting strategies.”
Last year, I was fighting forest fires around Slave Lake.”
He is looking forward to getting into the field again come the spring.