Collecting Sticks by Joe Decie really is, simply, lovely. And I mean that in the very best way, the dictionary definition way – simple; pleasant or enjoyable; charming or exquisitely beautiful; used to describe a person who is kind, friendly and pleasant to be with.
Yes, lovely is a perfect descriptor of Collecting Sticks, it’s also, a perfect description of Decie himself, both the persona he puts across in his books and in person. Lovely.
That’s the family Decie, frequent subjects of all of Decie’s work. Wife Steph tends to despair, is usually the one to make the sensible suggestions. Sam is the son, a free spirit, obsessed with Star Wars, and, as you’ll quickly see, has a real thing for sticks at the moment.
Collecting Sticks covers a particularly Decie family camping trip. Although, the first two prologue strips in the book point out the particular nightmare Joe, in particular, has with camping.
This is them at Glastonbury Festival 2003…
And then at Cornwall 2012…
Oh, if only they’d have just realised it’s not going to go well, even if Steph has found them a glamping holiday.
And that’s the tale of Collecting Sticks, as we follow along with the family Decie on a very Decie glamping trip. Join the fun as we follow them getting packed (eventually), as they get to the glamping site (eventually), and as we watch them discover all those wonderful little joys (nightmares) that camping, even the glamorous sort, always entails. So, it’s pooping in a pit, trying (and in Joe’s case, failing) to light a fire, constantly stinking of smoke, and it’s so dark at night that everyone heads to bed by half eight at night.
And then there’s Joe, neurotic, worrier that he is. Whether it’s spiders under the bed or thinking he might just phone his mom to get her to check that he did, after all, turn the taps off. He did, he checked. Twice. And he checked the oven was off and whether the iron was off, even though he knows they haven’t used it in months. He even manages to start worrying while he’s relaxing down the pub on his hols…
So, yes, Collecting Sticks is, simply, genuinely, wonderfully lovely. There’s a warmth in the way he tells his stories that has you, instinctively, rooting for him, the perennial underdog. It’s a collection of anecdotes, little tales, reminiscences, family life revealed, asides, and meanderings. And it’s all rendered in Decie’s glorious pen and ink wash, capturing all the family’s expressions ever so beautifully.
But there’s a cleverness in Decie’s work here as well, make no mistake, a cleverness in setting things up as well as the best stand-up comic, crafting his stories the way a good comic crafts a long and winding joke. The cleverness has a playfulness to it as well. Take this section, early on, as the family get in the car and need to rely on Joe for directions.
Over several pages, it’s beautifully set up, with Steph calmly driving, even as Joe takes them round in circles. And as for asking directions… oh no, not going to happen, Joe’s not too good at interacting with people. But, all is not lost, as Joe has a marvelous plan… it’s out with the roleplaying adventure game…
But, all of this is just the lead up, the set-up to one delicious gag, a wonderful bit of comic trickery, comic funny and comic medium. All those pages, twist and turn, the whole getting lost thing. All to be revealed with a simple line… “Turns out it was just over the next page”.
Now, that’s damn clever, funny, and very lovely indeed. Which, is exactly how I think I can best describe the wonderful Collecting Sticks. It is, indeed, damn funny and so very very lovely.
Collecting Sticks, written and drawn by Joe Decie, published by Jonathan Cape, 2017.