Under the Surface with David Collier

If you’ve ever dreamed of seeing Canada through the windows of a passenger train, Morton will get you one step closer. It’s a cross-country travel memoir of the very best kind – filled with little known facts, gorgeously rendered landscapes, and a quirky sense of humour.

Just last week, The Comics Journal posted a fantastic new review that really gets to the heart of what Morton is all about. To celebrate, we’re sharing this exclusive interview with David Collier.



Conundrum Press: You’ve been interested in Canadian history for a long time. Of all the history books you’ve read, which was the first to really capture your imagination?

David Collier: My Mom worked at the Windsor Public Library as a teen and my Dad’s always been this huge omnivore. There was a low shelf under our TV, which often got ignored in favour of the books and magazines under it, like Henri Rossier & Pierre Berton’s The New City and the Berton-edited Canadian Centennial Library. The combination of words and images in these books was irresistible.


CP: There were obviously pros and cons to being a voyageur. If you could travel back in time, would you do it?

DC: Yeah – the alternatives were so much worse. In 17th & 18th century Quebec, you were either down on the farm or under the oppressive influence of the Church.


CP: Who was the most interesting person you met on your trip? Have you stayed in touch with that person?

DC: You’re asking this of a guy who’s just come in, after an hour outside in -27c cold. Any other time of year, this question would be tough – there were so many interesting people not even in the book. But this morning my thoughts were with Gerald Azure up in Churchill who had a lot of climate & environment challenges to deal with, even in July. Tried to send the major figures in Morton a copy of the book, out of the box of comps Conundrum sent me, but never heard back from Jenafor & Gerald.


CP: I’m sure you went into the journey with some assumptions about what a family trip of that length (and that mode) would be like. What surprised you the most?

DC: How well we could work together as a little team and pack our stuff up in a hurry, when we had to.


CP: You’re pretty dedicated to print journalism, and you seem to feel strongly that it’s a necessary way to help people recognize real news vs. fake news (which is easier to mask online). Where do you think print journalism goes from here?

DC: The candle business was never as good as it was after the electric light bulb was invented. Once everybody had electric light, people reacted against the notion of being the same as everyone else. Print is special and pleasing, like candlelight.

During 1995, my year of doing a cartoon for the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, I’d set up my little work area every day in the newsroom. Once, a journalist came in with her newborn. “Might as well show her what a newspaper looks like now”, the reporter said. “Because there’s no way they’re going to be around when she is grown.”

She was wrong.


CP: There’s a lot of Canadian history packed into Morton. Did you do a lot of research specifically for the book? Or is this all information you’ve collected over the years through regular reading and discussions?

DC: It takes so freakin’ long to draw these comics they are usually researched as they are made.


CP: You mention an article by Dave Bidini that talks about all the things you learn when you chit chat with people you don’t know. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever learned from a random stranger?

DC: A guy in Medience Hat, Alberta, one freezing, snowy night in 1987 on the pedestrian overpass spanning the Trans- Canada Highway, told me that you use less energy taking stairs two at a time.


CP: What are you working on now?

DC: Working on getting some nice clothes together to go to my wife Jen’s grandmother Jean’s funeral, which reminds me of Jean’s husband, Ronald Hambleton. He grew up poor in Vancouver, self- taught, then went on to be a music critic for the Toronto Star and write books. When people would ask him what he was working on he’d reply that talking about the work takes away the motivation to do the actual work.


Want to stay down a little longer? Go Under the Surface with Sherwin Tjia.

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