The title Ramshackle, as Alison McCreesh implies in the introduction to her first graphic novel, refers as much to the city in question—”this book features one snippet of many Yellowknifes,” multiethnic and multilinguistic—as to the building of the book itself. It was a comic blog started after graduation, based on sketchbook and diary pages, with panel gags becoming two-panel strips, and finally these “autobiographical comic snapshots” were redrawn and recontextualized, bound together here.
The odyssey begins when McCreesh—graduated from college in Chicoutimi, in Halifax for an art-internship—is convinced by her boyfriend, Pat, to head far, far northwest. Once there, they get a tour from a local who gets by as a housesitter; they quickly get jobs they bike to from their home, the “soccer-mom van.”
This endearing personal-travelogue-essay’s shot through with personality (first impression—”THE TOWN WAS UGLY AND THE PEOPLE WERE NASTY [PAY]PHONE-WRECKERS”) and curious facts (in Quebec, buyer and seller must go together to change a car’s registration). An inky, washed-out look conveys the vast skies and white expanses encircling this Northern capital (62°26’3″N, 400 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle), called Sombak’e or “Money Place” by the local Dene.
The people in McCreesh’s Yellowknife tend not to have mouths—reflecting folks’ tight-lippedness out in the cold and/or True Northerners muffling their faces with scarves or parka collars?—so we’re left to read into their expressions more. The two-page spread of the place’s history is a packed rush of changes, booms and stats. Mirroring the higgledy-piggledy-ness of the Old Town district and its “woodyard,” inset snapshots of houses, lots and shacks pile up on or overlap each other. Info-strips (“The Deal with Trucked Water” or “A Practical Guide to Using A Honey Bucket in Your Home”) vie with amusing personal encounters and time-in-the-life entries (“Camping Trip #1: Solstice” or “Polyamory”). In places, mind you, the story can be a bit jammed and text-heavy.
But the book remains, ultimately, a droll stroll through a town soon called home—a fun-fact-filled, scrapbook-memory-making, scruffily lived-in place, with our self-effacing host McCreesh never wide-eyed or narrow-minded in her view of this quirky, ramshackle, icy burg.
By Alison McCreesh
Conundrum Press, 140 pp,