A Few Perfect Hours
by Josh Neufeld (Alternative Comics, 2004)
Home-keeping youth have ever homely wits…
I rather would entreat thy company
To see the wonders of he world abroad
Than, living dully sluggardized at home
Wear out thy youth with shapeless idleness
Heeding Shakespeare’s words, Josh Neufeld and his girlfriend Sari, left the United States and went travelling together. Over the course of a year and half they backpacked from Hong Kong, through South East Asia and the Balkans before stopping in Prague.
As Sari explains in her foreward:
The challenge of the backpacking odyssey is unique. Stripped of the normal scaffolding of life, we must narrate our own adventures to die them weight and to give ourselves form. When we travel, we become both actor and storyteller, hero and scribe.
Neufeld narrates their story (with additional words from Sari) in the form of the graphic novel. While A Few Perfect Hours covers some well trodden backpacker countries and experiences, Neufeld does so with warmth, originality and honesty.
Along the way, the pair work as extras in a Singapore soap opera, confront their fears in a Thai cave, visit an off the beaten track organic farm, get an unexpected religious experience at a Buddhist festival, have an, almost, encounter with an ice cream salesman in Serbia and travel by train through Belgrade during 1993.
While Neufeld may be the hero of his tales, he is not afraid to lay bare and share his own fears, misgivings and reactions which bring the stories to life, tinge them with reality and bring the personal to the insights he gains from his travelling experiences. Part of A Few Perfect Hours‘ charm lies in the insights gained from the ‘small’ or everyday in the stories and also the travellers’ tips interspersed among them. Meanwhile, the illustrations keep the tales fresh, bringing humour and immediacy to the scenes and adding detail and elements of fantasy.
Comics or graphic novels are not everyone but this is a nice collection, well complemented by Sari’s foreward. A Few Perfect Hours is part of a growing body of graphic travel writing, a form which lends itself well to the genre. As Eddie Campbell (author of From Hell) sums it up on the back cover:
The travel book has a tradition both grand and frivolous. It’s a literary form that continues to welcome the embellishment of illustration long after fiction has expunged them, whether through photographs or the author’s own sketches of the sights seen. It has always looks to me, therefore, like a waiting challenge for the so-called comic book.