by Mike Dawson
Troop 142, Mike Dawson's graphic novel about a week at Scout camp in 1995, brought back some serious memories.
This book, which was originally published as a webcomic I believe, takes us through the entire week at camp, and while it is narrated by one of the fathers accompanying the boys, we get inside many of their heads and see the experience in a multi-faceted way.
I had my own experiences with the Boy Scouts through the 80s and early 90s, and while there are some differences, there was a lot of stuff in this book that I could relate to, and memories came flooding back as I read it. The terrible campfire songs, and the endlessly corny skits; the smell of the canvas-covered wooden platforms that we slept in, and the senior leader (in this case, an old white man who goes by Big Bear) whose sense of privilege and morality gives him permission to drone on about character at every opportunity.
More at the heart of this book is the casual cruelty of the boys towards one another. They jockey endlessly for position, turning on friends, and making life miserable for the boys that they have decided they don't like, such as Chuck, the son of one of the leaders and the camp pariah. Dawson also captures the weird line between homoeroticism and homophobia that is rampant at these gatherings. Some of these scenes get pretty awkward, especially when Dawson hints at a relationship growing between two of the youngest boys, but never makes it clear what happened between them. And, of course, at the end of the week, Big Bear turns one of his morality speeches into a rant against gay Scoutmasters, but no one sees a problem with the troop playing with a carved wooden dildo the next morning.
Even more subtle is the way that Dawson manages to show that no one is enjoying themselves at camp. This matches a lot of my memories, where the fun is only to be had in retrospect; too much of the time, you are focused on feeling dirty, uncomfortable, exhausted, and frequently unsafe.
The whole Boy Scout thing is a unique experience for boys (and now girls, although that would necessitate some big changes in terms of the shared latrines and showers) and one which I think is on the wane, at least where I live. Dawson manages to tell a good story and preserve a unique North American experience. This is a very good book.