Drawing inspiration from the funnies: UVic writing prof publishes new novel

Culture Literature
Adam Hayman (graphic)
Adam Hayman (graphic)

UVic writing professor Lee Henderson recently finished his second full-length novel, The Road Narrows As You Go, which traces the life of a San Francisco newspaper comic strip creator, affectionately nicknamed Wendy. Filled with fictional interpretations of historical strip creators, this book is a great read for anyone who has ever craved the funny pages with their Froot Loops in the morning, (or whatever mature people eat for breakfast).

“I was obsessed with newspaper comics strips and always wanted to be a comic strip artist,” claimed Henderson. This novel was a chance for him to live vicariously through Wendy’s journey from doodler to syndicated strip creator. With actual comics drawn by Henderson himself inserted into the book, the author really embraced the experience.

“My vision of the novel itself didn’t really touch on comic strip creation all that much,” said Henderson. The events and the description are so dense that Wendy’s profession can fall into the background. Henderson felt that “the comics allowed it to stay in the foreground. I’m glad that I did that. It was about 10 per cent of the work I put into it but I think that it makes a real difference.” The inclusion of the strips helped show the author what it takes to create a strip from blue pencil to a fully inked strip, and when Henderson got tired of writing he could take a break by drawing comics.

“It might take six or eight years according to my process,” said Henderson, on writing a novel. “I have to really have something inspiring on a deep level so I go back to childhood, and things that either scared me when I was a child or that I was obsessed with as a child or things that I just can’t forget so with this book I wanted to also just write something that came from this place . . . I still have my photo albums from the eighties with the original releases of [Calvin and Hobbes] strips from the Calgary Herald. I’m sure that had a lot to do with wanting to write the book.”

At roughly 500 pages, the novel isn’t light by any means, but it’s fascinating to read because the entire novel tiptoes between maturity and childhood. The genre of newspaper strips, the constant allusions to Peter Pan, the narration from the perspective of four twentysomething freeloaders, all this and more help solidify that core idea of grappling with maturity. The artistic tendencies of Wendy and her many roommates set up many possibilities for richly described images of their varied creative pursuits. This can, at times, leave the reader stuck in a half page of description; however, Henderson paints brilliant images more often than not. They range from drag queen cabarets to the slow movements of an artist tracing sailing stones, and, of course, comic strip creation.

I recommend that anyone interested in this novel accompany it with a viewing of Dear Mr. Watterson on Netflix. It’s a documentary on Calvin and Hobbes and lots of the strip creators mentioned in Henderson’s novel are interviewed, which makes the references more meaningful. It highlights both the commercialization of the medium, as showcases the tight-knit comic strip community. If nothing else, the documentary is about Calvin and Hobbes, and who doesn’t like Calvin and Hobbes?


The Road Narrows As You Go will be launched at Munro’s Books on Oct. 4 at 7 p.m.