By David McDermott and Gavin Moroney
Freestyle Max Pty Ltd
106 pages, $16.95
In 2003 Stephen Leong and four Aussie buddies came to Whistler to spend the winter snowboarding. At the end of the season they went back to Australia and Leong decided to create a book about the experience. Create, because not being a writer or an illustrator Leong hired a 21-year-old writer and a graphic artist student to pull together the scenario and artwork under his direction.
The resulting 106-page graphic novel, Snowboarding Whistler , is a narrative about five Aussies who learn not only about how to become better riders but also the adult rudiments of getting along within their group and with roommates in a household of 10.
There is the requisite handsome blond male lead, Freestyle Max, who though remarkably loyal to his dark, silent sidekick Justin, nicknamed Mute for his brevity of speech, is just as remarkably obtuse about women, especially spoiled rich girl Laura who secretly craves the handsome lout. And louts they all are, an oddly compelling group of foul-mouthed adult-sized but emotionally prepubescent characters who rarely consider consequences of their practical jokes or petulant actions.
What they are good at is learning how to snowboard. And what is especially prescient about this graphically-smooth but narratively-challenged story is that as the characters learn tips and techniques so does the reader. When a roommate helps tomboy Nikki master the art of waxing her board the reader also picks up on the step-by-step process.
In addition to a group story and how-to guide to intermediate snowboarding, the book is also a survival guide to Whistler. Want to know who has the best burgers in town? Or where to get your bindings repaired? It’s in here in a practical but unlikely to be Tourism Whistler-approved two-page village map that includes location markers for the medical centre, the physiotherapist, the post office (“always a long line”), the info centre, the library (“15 minutes of free internet a day”) and, of course, the liquor store (“grog shop”). For Whistlerites it’s a whole lotta fun to see local landmarks recreated to a T: the front of Marketplace IGA, Whistler Health Care Centre, Moe Joe’s and even the Whistler-Blackcomb logo on park rails are sure to produce a chorus of “look at that!”
As the Aussies traverse adult landmines and requisites of jealousy, loyalty, and respect they also learn about the dualities of the mountains: in watching for bears, discovering an awesome snow cave and dealing with that eventual bugaboo, getting injured. They take a road trip into the city to catch a Canucks game and like all of us are stunned into silence by the Tantalus range.
Although the plot stumbles in the final third of the book with a rushed and inconclusive ending, the graphics and chummy familiarity rescue the faltering narrative. Stephen Leong may be on to something in a combined story/snowboarding manual/survival guide. Kudos to him for taking on a clever project that with an evolving story line might prove to have a long life as the Aussies come back to North America to check out Mammoth in book two in what could ultimately end up being an off the hook series.