What’s better than camping? For anyone who’s ever camped, glamped or slummed it in a rundown caravan and really not enjoyed the experience, pretty much everything is better. Joe Decie’s droll and candid Collecting Sticks is for the lovers and haters of camping; a brilliant and beautifully illustrated portrait of one family’s unfortunate attempt at getting in touch with nature.

Through monochrome, autobiographical comic-strip vignettes, Decie tells the amusing tale of a couple and their young son, who escape their busy and stressful life in the city for a spot of glamorous camping in a log cabin. Whilst mum and dad pack the basics, ‘the boy’ joins in by collecting his own useful essentials – lots and lots of sticks. Because you never know when you’ll need one.

Battling the withdrawals from social media and every day technology, the family go back to basics – building fires, foraging in the woods and wandering through the wilderness. It’s all fun and games until mosquitos get involved, and where camping in the UK is concerned, you can pretty much guarantee a mozzie or two. Combine that with getting stuck up trees, hazardous wildlife and the typical English weather, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a trip filled with mishaps and minor calamities.Decie deftly captures the small moments that make up ordinary family life; parents worrying about leaving the oven on or the iron plugged in; telling campfire stories that everyone’s heard a thousand times before; the over-imaginative child who refuses to go to sleep. The dialogue is quietly playful and intelligent, reflecting the idiosyncrasies of typical British families.

Collecting Sticks is a reminder of all the best (and some of the worst – did I mention mosquitos?) things in life. It’s a funny and poignant graphic novel that will resonate with anyone who’s familiar with our hapless attempts at getting reacquainted with Mother Nature.

★★★★★

Collecting Sticks was published by Jonathan Cape on 13 April 2017

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