David Collier’s comic book chronicles our pandemic

Not long after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, David Collier began a daily ritual of paddling his kayak from Bayfront Park across the harbour to a small inlet on the Burlington side called Rock Bay.

He would pack his sketch book, pencils and pens, along with some military grade camping gear to keep him warm and dry, and draw all day long about the crazy things going on in the world.

It was a time of uncertainty and fear. Nobody really knew how bad COVID could be, how many people would die. Health-care workers and grocery store clerks became overnight heroes.

Panels in David Collier's new book, 'Winter of Our Pandemic.'
Panels in David Collier’s new book, ‘Winter of Our Pandemic.’The Hamilton Spectator

Collier, one of the top names in alternative comic book art in Canada, was determined to use his talents to chronicle how the pandemic was affecting the city of Hamilton and, more particularly, the North End neighborhood where he has lived with his wife Jen for more than 20 years.

“I wanted to capture the bravery of people who went to work every morning not sure whether they would live or die, like my neighbour the health-care worker, or the ladies working at the Lighthouse Fish Market (on James Street North),” Collier says about the impetus behind his new comic book “Winter of Our Pandemic.”

“I just wanted to document it.”

Collier is grappling with a dripping ice cream cone — one scoop vanilla, another chocolate — on the patio of Creamy Atlas, an ice cream parlour owned by Daryl Bender, a longtime friend and neighbour. Bender, who designed many of Hamilton’s bicycle routes while working for the city’s Public Works Dept., is also one of the many characters who crop up in “Winter of Our Pandemic.”

The cover of David Collier’s ‘Winter of Our Pandemic.’
The cover of David Collier’s ‘Winter of Our Pandemic.’Supplied photo

Collier is an avid biker — better to ride a bicycle than take the bus during a pandemic — and is a big fan of Bender’s bike lanes. Bender even has a spot of the cover of the new book. He’s the guy wearing the “Supercycle” helmet.

Collier figures he wrote and drew more than half of the book during his daily kayak visits to Rock Bay.

“I’d go after breakfast, spend all day there and come home for supper,” Collier says. “It was my workshop, my discipline.”

Collier takes readers to familiar Hamilton locations like Kenesky Sports in ‘Winter of Our Pandemic.’
Collier takes readers to familiar Hamilton locations like Kenesky Sports in ‘Winter of Our Pandemic.’Supplied photo

In typical Collier fashion, “Winter of Our Pandemic” is a 120-page collection of vignettes that often take strange segues into history, including a flashback to the 1918 flu pandemic, a meetup with the late great cartoonist Charles Schulz and a retelling of the story of hockey legend Cyclone Taylor.

The book’s home base is the outdoor skating rink at Pier 8, where Collier and Jen spent much of their time during the pandemic winters. From there, Collier takes us to other city landmarks such as Bryce Kanbara’s you me gallery, Kenesky Sports and Cycle and the Beasley skateboard park. There are also visits to city hall protests, homeless encampments, big-box stores and the boarded-up Jamesville housing survey — all drawn and captioned with an endearing sense of wonder.

David Collier flips open a page in his new book, 'Winter of Our Pandemic.'
David Collier flips open a page in his new book, ‘Winter of Our Pandemic.’The Hamilton Spectator

“There’s no big statement in this book,” Collier, 59, says. “What I wanted to do was get what happened to us on paper.”

“Winter of Our Pandemic” represents almost two years of work by Collier, but his biggest challenge was finding a publisher. Alternative comic books are a niche market, and, like all forms of print media, have lost much of their lustre since the dawn of the internet.

Collier’s Canadian publisher Nova Scotia-based Conundrum Press was happy to have it, but wouldn’t be able to release the book until 2023. His American publisher Fantagraphics was willing, but wanted to have it printed in China.

Collier didn’t want to wait another year to publish — he sees comic book art as a much more immediate communication between artist and reader — and he didn’t want it published in China. His mother had “Free the Two Michaels” posters hanging at her home in Stratford.

Illustrator David Collier with his new book, 'Winter of Our Pandemic.'
Illustrator David Collier with his new book, ‘Winter of Our Pandemic.’The Hamilton Spectator

Collier turned to an old friend and fellow comic book artist, Anthony Woodward, who runs a boutique publishing company in Regina called Spare Parts Press. Woodward and Collier arranged to have it printed by Impressive Printing, a small firm based in Hamilton.

“Comics have to have good karma and I couldn’t have my book printed in China,” Collier says. “I wanted it printed in Canada.”

“Winter of Our Pandemic” is available through the Spare Parts Press website (sparepartspress.com), or in Hamilton at Creamy Atlas (10 Mulberry St., near James North), J.D. Gordon Books (314 King St. E.), City in the City Books (181 Ottawa St. N.), Epic Books (226 Locke St. S.) and King West Books (1060 King St. W.).

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