A black train travels across Canada, collecting souls. It travels over land and rivers, beyond the limits of time, carrying the stories of those who board it.
Welcome aboard The Spectral Engine, the ghost-train that haunts the pages of Ray Fawkes’ new graphic novel, published earlier this month.
The Toronto-based artist and writer is also known as the author of the acclaimed graphic novel One Soul, winner of the Harvey Award and the Eisner Award.
Fawkes offers us a collection of 13 reported ghost narratives that are part of the Canadian collective imaginary. The Spectral Engine is not a physical machine — it is made of memories and myths that have been retold for generations.
Each stop of the train is the story of one of the ethereal passengers, in the moment they encountered death. They all revolve around the themes of remembrance and redemption.
As the train carries its incorporeal passengers, they have a chance to look at their own life and death, and to evaluate the things they have done such as a Newfoundland alcohol-dealer wanting to redeem himself for all the suffering he had caused, a lonely and shy girl that haunts the tracks of an abandoned Toronto train station, a ghostly nun that is always seen in the surroundings of Alberta’s Dunvegan Bridge.
Fawkes’ book is a celebration of Canadian culture. It makes us rediscover almost forgotten stories and myths of our history. It also touches on rooted human feelings of fear, redemption and hope. Various cultures are represented, such as First Nation tribes and Chinese immigrants.
As the written material is rather scarce, the nebulously crafted illustrations are responsible for transmitting to the reader the feelings and personality of each character. It is a more personal approach to these myths, focusing on the particular people and events that are the origin of these legends.
Fawkes’ artwork blends perfectly with the dark content of his narrative. Shades of black and white, rich in details and careful brushstrokes, help involve the reader in an eerie journey of historical fiction. Some of the drawings are very elaborate and the reader is forced to slow down and examine the details carefully in order to understand what is going on. Nevertheless, Fawkes maintains the fluidity of the narrative which is the very essence of The Spectral Engine’s expedition. It is always moving, always vanishing and reappearing, through the borders of time and space.
The Spectral Engine, featuring a glow-in-the-dark hardcover, is published by McClelland & Stewart and is available for sale on Amazon.