Landscape and Location
Back and Forth is a book created in Canada, inspired by the vast contours of this grand old land.
When I immigrated to this country as a small child, these great distances were beyond even my fertile imagination. For years I stayed cloistered in the suburbs, developing an ever irritating itch to discover what lay beyond the invisible walls of subdivisions. When it came time for me to start university, I took my first opportunity to scratch. I headed West.
In British Columbia I first began to marvel at the great differences between the beautiful cities of Canada. Vancouver had a completely new set of values, social norms and activities to learn. The air was moist, the horizon was mountainous and the faces were fresh and smiling. It felt like a new life.
At this time, I was reading a lot of Douglas Coupland, a Canadian authour who situated many of his novels in the Vancouver area. Reading his books on location had a profound effect on me. Many of my previous experiences with media (books, movies, tv, etc) featured plots situated in major American cities. I had fantasies about the wonders of New York City and Los Angeles because these were the cities where things most often happened. But here was an authour doing something different. When he wrote about the Lion’s Gate Bridge or north Van, I felt more connected to the story because I had been there myself. They were stories about my home (however temporary it was) not some glitzy, idealized other place.
I decided that what Coupland was doing was too important to be forgotten. I swore that when it came time for me to write my books, I would use my personal experiences of location rather than trying to create an imagined NYC. More than anything, I wanted someone do for Toronto what Coupland had done for Vancouver, to place it within the cultural imagination. Toronto seemed just as exciting and full of potential as other places, yet the popular attitude towards it was of ambivalence or disdain. I wanted someone to reveal its hidden gems, local favourites, those things that make the city itself and only itself. It turned out that someone was me.
Back and Forth does not follow a linear structure of time, but rather hops “back and forth” between two cities, two timelines. My reasoning for this structure comes from my personal experiences living in Western Canada. I mentioned before that being in Vancouver felt like a new life. I had new friends, a new home and new surroundings. Beyond long distance phone calls from family and friends, no part of my previous life came with me to the West. Once, sitting on an airplane back to Vancouver from winter holidays, I identified myself as ‘bicoastal’ and felt as if I had two separate lives that could never become one. (Turns out I was wrong, but that’s a whole other story). It was this experience of feeling split in two that inspired me to create the disjointed narrative of Back and Forth.
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Tags: art, books, canada, Douglas Coupland, graphic novel, toronto, vancouver