Creative Writing instructor transforms short story into whimsical, yet poignant, graphic novel

By Maia Odegaard, Marketing and Communications

Getting your children to share your interests is a struggle that many parents are familiar with. For award-winning author and Creative Writing Instructor Wayde Compton, this struggle led him to produce his first graphic novel, The Blue Road: a Fable of Migration, illustrated by April dela Noche Milne and published by Arsenal Pulp Press last month.

Wayde Compton

A fairytale for those forgotten

The Blue Road: a Fable of Migration was born out of a short story called “The Blue Road,” part of Wayde’s first book, 49th Parallel Psalm, published 20 years ago. 49th Parallel Psalm is essentially a long-form poem about, in part, the arrival of the first Black community in British Columbia during the gold rush.

“The Black community was different than other communities,” says Wayde. “Many of the early Asian immigrants and the white Americans who came here were single men. But the Black community came under different circumstances. They arrived as one big group; basically, half the population of San Francisco moved in one summer, motivated by fears that California would become a slave state.”

“The Blue Road” was somewhat of a fairytale for the children of this first Black community, whose stories are mostly absent from historical accounts, says Wayde. The protagonist is a young migrant boy who must leave his home and travel north to start a new life.

An old story for a new generation

When Wayde had a child of his own, he was eager to share his writing with her. But he soon realized that the only work of his appropriate for a child was “The Blue Road.” Even so, once he read the story to her, she wasn’t into it. 

“She just switched off. So I stopped, and instead just told her the story from memory, and she liked it. It got me thinking, what was the difference? Why did she enjoy the version I told and not the one I wrote?”

As the 20th anniversary of 49th Parallel Psalm approached, Wayde decided to recreate “The Blue Road” into something his daughter would genuinely enjoy. “I switched the sex of the protagonist, and we did it as a graphic novel because I thought that would be the most accessible, child-friendly version of the story,” says Wayde. He was also very pleased with April’s illustrations, noting that she had a very free hand in interpreting the look of the world in the story.

The Blue Road: a Fable of Migration is the story of Lacuna, a girl without a family, a past or a community. She lives alone in an ink-filled swamp until one day an angry will-o’-the-wisp evicts her and she embarks on a harrowing journey to the fabled Northern Kingdom, where she hopes to discover a community. The only way for Lacuna to reach her destination is by following the Blue Road, a path not without its own trials, including the treacherous Thicket of Tickets and a persnickety guard at the Rainbow Border.

When Lacuna finally reaches her destination, she encounters a whole new set of obstacles unique to those not born in the Northern Kingdom. While she is happy to have found a society, she soon learns that being human isn’t enough to be welcomed and instead, she must get creative to survive in unfamiliar territory. Eventually, Lacuna learns that leaving, arriving and returning are all just different words for the same thing: starting over again.

History repeating

The story of Lacuna’s migration and all of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles she faces along the way – including the border guard who informs her that without a “ticket,” the only way to cross is by doing the limbo under a line painted on the road – are timeless.

“People ask if I wrote this because of what’s taking place now, but this was happening 20 years ago, and 20 years before that and 20 years before that. It highlights how perennial the issues of international migration and xenophobia are as part of the background to life here,” says Wayde. 

The reviews are in

It took roughly one year to complete The Blue Road: a Fable of Migration, and while its most influential reader could have had a sneak peak, she wouldn’t take the bait.

“She was scrupulous!” says Wayde of his daughter. “I tried tempting her with pieces of it, but she was like, ‘Nope, I want to see it when it’s a book.’ And so when I finally got a physical copy, I gave it to her.  She took it straight into her room and read the whole thing in one sitting. When she came out, she said she really liked it.”

About the author

Wayde Compton teaches Creative Writing at Douglas College and is the author of four books, one graphic novel and the libretto for an opera about the College’s namesake, Sir James Douglas, and is the editor of two anthologies. He is the co-founder of Commodore Books, Western Canada’s first Black Canadian literary press, and has been writer-in-residence at SFU, Green College at UBC and the Vancouver Public Library.

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