In what can only be interpreted as an effort to earn all the merit badges, Leo LaFleur, the Saint John songwriter who put out an album based on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in 2015, followed it in short succession with a second EP, topped it all off by penning ‘The Errand’, a fairy-tale graphic novel.
The story, told in second person, is like someone has handed you down a choose-your-own-adventure where all the choices have already been made for you, combined with a Where’s Waldo book, with treasures hidden away in the corners.
The Errand follows a young boy, journeying through a dark, perhaps haunted, certainly spider-infested forest on an errand to deliver a package to an old woman. As is the nature of such things, the woman is almost certainly a witch, but she is far from being the only danger along the path.
I can imagine my five-year-old self enthusiastically diving for the safety of my bed covers: that impenetrable fortress against all things that go ‘bump’. The story itself makes mention of witches, giants, naiads, spiders and wolves, but gives us little more than a glance at the imps, faeries, lost souls and warlocks that seem to creep in at the edge of every frame. The deceptively simple narrative set against such a richly populated world is wonderful in that it hands us more questions than answers. Who is this errand boy? What did the old woman have delivered? Did it come Collect on Delivery?
The colourful bestiary is fitted out by English illustrator Adam Oehlers, who draws like Arthur Rackham on a Dungeons and Dragons binge. The partnership formed through an online correspondence that LaFleur took up following the completion of the narrative.
“Our worlds and creative visions and favourite artists and stories were so in tune that it made perfect sense for us to collaborate on The Errand as well as a variety of other projects. I mean, the guy’s a magician. He can make beauty dance with pen and ink in any way he pleases,” explains LaFleur.
LaFleur and Oehlers have been productive together; besides the graphic novel, Oehlers has also illustrated the covers of LaFleur’s last two albums.
“We’re both young creators trying our best to make moving and lasting art, and also survive and pay for groceries, etc. But Adam is a remarkable talent and storyteller, and I really admire his work ethic and attention to detail. His dedication to his work is really off the charts. Prolific would be an understatement; he was nominated last year for Artist of The Year in the British Fantasy Awards as a direct result.”
The book has also benefited from guidance, support, and being forwarded by one of Canada’s best known children’s writers, Sheree Fitch. The author of ‘Toes In My Nose and Other Poems’ and ‘Sleeping Dragons All Around’, as well as the recipient of the Vicky Metcalf Award for Literature for Young People (see also: Farley Mowat, Robert Munsch) endorses ‘The Errand’ as “Ground-breaking, spelling-binding, this book is a winning collaboration between writer and artist.”
In a modern world where cartoons are created for adults and web comics are plentiful, it’s hard to place ‘The Errand’ where it will have the most appeal. The beautifully dark drawings and open-ended story leave room for maturation that could take this story in any direction, but LaFleur explains he’s alright with that.
“The Errand isn’t a comic book. It’s also not exactly a graphic novel, as it is a story written for all ages. It’s difficult to say exactly what genre it falls under. The Errand has no boundaries, and I’m sure any and all who sit down with a copy will be captured by the flow of it, or mesmerized by Adam’s artwork, and their day will be a little bit better as a result.”
Originally, the book had been printed for limited circulation – selling mostly to family and friends. “But it was too expensive to create each book without backing and so, from the very beginning, our goal was always to find a publisher,” says LaFleur. “We got lucky and found maybe the perfect publishing house for our book, and now it’s better than before and will be available around the world… which is a really great feeling.”
Earlier in the year, LaFleur and Oehlers made a deal with Simply Read Books, who will be launching the book across North America, the United Kingdom and Australia October 24th. The book will be carried by Indigo in Canada and Barnes and Noble in the United States.
LaFleur says the deal is more than a one-off, with the sequel already nearing completion. He says that while the first book was formed as an all ages fairy-poem, and intentionally mysterious, the series will grow in detail and depth.
“By the end of the series the story moves from what began as a sort of unusual or not-so-traditional storyline in poetic format into a more traditional or fleshed-out story with three-dimensional characters. For example, there is a very powerful and interesting female character who makes her presence known in the second book!”
Although the book is officially being launched October 24th, Coles Books in Saint John will be hosting a special early launch where LaFleur will be signing copies on October 20th.