Some of you will remember Camden, the town that lost the Missouri River to a shifting channel in 1915. Once a lively place with steamboats, passenger trains and an opera house, this home to 191 people has fallen on hard times since the river left.
It’s impossible now to ignore the dilapidated buildings that populate Camden.
I missed the prosperous days, but I drive through several times a week now, looking for things I’ve seen before to renew predictability, and for new things that bring freshness and adventure.
One of my regular searches is for Shadow, a black town dog who’s down to three legs but staggers on resolutely, much like the town itself.
When I told Shadow’s story in this space earlier, it happened to make its way to someone whose son, a cartoonist, lives near St. Louis. It turned out the artist, Scott Quick, spent summers in Camden as an adolescent, visiting his grandmother and grandfather, who ran the post office and a store.
It’s where his late father, C.D. Quick, had gone to school, back when Camden kids learned in a building that’s only partially standing now, shrouded by thick brush.
Scott’s family connection interested me, but the title of the online comic strip he’d drawn, written and updated twice a week since 2011 prompted a double-take: “Camden Bottoms.”
It’s been 45 years since he and his family stayed in his grandparents’ apartment, but something about the town and his experience there kept Scott telling stories through characters he’d based on people he met or heard about from family.
He and his siblings and father roamed the bottomland where the river had been, to hunt — and hunt for treasure. Those quests engraved memories that emerge today in the characters. Yes, Camden has produced its share of those.
Scott wrote to tell me about his strip and Camden connection, and though we haven’t met, we exchange email and have signed a blood pact to wander the back roads of Ray County someday, searching for kindling to light our imaginations.
What’s so odd is that we’d have a place like Camden, as woebegone as it might be, in common.
Creatively, we’re not alike. I write songs and newspaper stories, and take photos — all, it seems, in a rough-hewn, unpolished way — while Scott finely crafts his drawings, story lines and dialogue.
Anyone I’ve shown the strip to notes how professional it is. You can judge for yourself: Scott’s allowed us to reprint a strip here.
His writing and sense of humor “ain’t bad, neither” — something one of his characters, Ray Douglas, Ridley Gridwell, Claude Antebellum Bonnebottom (of the Mississippi Bonnebottoms) or Cholly, might say.
Even Scott’s self-written, tongue-in-cheek bio is funny, hop-scotching between reality and imaginative self-deprecation: “Raised on a diet of Slim-Jims and comic books, R. Scott Quick spent much of his childhood visiting his grandparents in Camden, Missouri,” it notes. “In 1996, he attended the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, New Jersey, after which he scratched a career out of video game animation. At the turn of the century, he was treated for what psychiatrists believe may be the first case of In Barra Vite, or chronic embarrassment over one’s very existence. Retired from animation, Quick now draws this strip from a sanitarium just outside of Saint Louis, Missouri, visited frequently by his dutiful wife and son.”
I’ll let you decide if the In Barra Vite or sanitarium are factual, but my guess is they’re symptomatic of a healthy imagination.
Camden seems to nurture that in people.