canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999

TDR Interview: Chris Robinson

Chris Robinson is an author, freelance writer and the Artistic Director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival. He writes the “gonzo” column “The Animation Pimp” for Animation World Magazine. His writing has also appeared in, Take One, Cinemascope, Montage, Stop Smiling, the Ottawa Xpress and many international publications. His other books include Between Genius and Utter Illiteracy: A Story of Estonian Animation, Ottawa Senators: Great Stories from the NHL’s First Dynasty, and Unsung Heroes of Animation. Robinson lives in Ottawa with his wife, Kelly, and son, Jarvis.



Do you think artists and writers who grew up with sports instilled in their daily intake end up inevitably confronting these subjects within their art?

I'm surprised that there haven't been more books of this vein, at least in Canada. People write about music and all these other aspects of their childhood/youth I haven't read too many books, especially in Canada, where writers use sports to confront their own shit. Given that the Americans have a fine tradition of boxing and baseball literature, you'd think that we'd have more hockey related books of this ilk. There was a Canadian book a few years ago by a guy named, I think, Pete McCormack where his love of Ken Dryden became as an escape from his parent's divorce. And of course, David Adams Richards wrote a very personal book about hockey... but I'm really surprised that there haven't been more published. They've gotta be out there. Boy… did I even answer the question there?

I guess... many writers HAVE written about the sports of their childhood, BUT they've written about it with those rose coloured glasses on. You look at guys like Dick Irvin and Brian McFarlane. These are guys who are writers who grew up around hockey, but the world they write about, for me, is very nostalgic and somewhat naive. They treat the hockey world as if it were a sort of Disneyland. Just look at so much of the hockey writing (even my own stuff for the “Amazing Stories” series) out there. Does any of it actually question the fantasy? That's why, for me, books like Jarman's Salvage King, Ya!, and Bill Gaston's The Good Body are so important. They totally humanize and deconstruct the mystique. In their books, the hockey player is just a regular fucked up joe like the rest of us.

How would you convince a non-sports fan to read your book? 

This is first and foremost a book about finding yourself...about coming to terms with identity. I think that even people who don't like hockey could identify with that. Hockey's just my choice...but I think you can apply much of what I've written to any other sport. 

There are Doug Harveys in other sports too (eg. baseball), and I'm certain many people can relate to my own story. I even think alcoholics might find something in this book. This book, for me, was really a big help in getting me through the early part of my sobriety. 

Hopefully some other addicts can find something in Stole This. If that fails... I'm relatively well known as a writer in the international animation world. I've been doing this 'gonzo' column called The Animation Pimp for five years. In the column I use animation to get into personal stuff and philosophical issues. So I'm sure I can sell a pawn off a few books on those folks.

Doug Harvey was the linchpin of the five in a row Stanley Cup Montreal Canadiens that including seven-time Vezina winner Jacques Plante, the first 500 and 50 goal scorer Maurice “Rocket” Richard and Bernard “Boom Boom” Geoffrion as well as Henri Richard and others. To paraphrase the Roth quote in the beginning of your book, have you found your life? If so, what is it?

There's a great Philip K. Dick quote I've got as an epitaph for my next book (a sort of sequel to Stole This): "Unless your past perishes you are doomed." Stole This sorta put me on the road to coming to terms with aspects of my childhood. I started to confront things about my life that I kept locked away for two decades with alcohol. In my next book, I'm gonna take it a bit deeper and really dig into my obsession with fathers, saviours, and certainty. So in that sense I hope that Stole This and the next book will take me to a point of ... shit, this sounds corny but nakedness. where I can finally see myself in a sense. Christ. I sound like some new age jack, but really I spent so many years hiding from myself and Stole This really helped me clear some of the rubble.

To make a convoluted answer shorter: I'm more comfortable with myself now than I was before Stole This.

What type of research went into Stole This?

Well... half of it was my own life... but I did a lot of reading about alcoholism. I guess the reading served as a form of therapy. For Harvey, I went through hundreds of articles that I collected from the Hockey Hall of Fame resource centre and the National Library of Canada (where I also watched a few old games on video). My favourite part of the research though was talking with about a dozen old players, coaches and assorted hockey people. One day Jean Beliveau called my house and I was sure that someone was pulling a prank on me. And speaking with Dick Irvin was so weird. The guy was the voice of my youth. As much as I piss on the hockey mystique, shit... it was still exciting to talk with these guys.

Maybe this is just my warped perspective from being a fan of pro wrestling, but perhaps you can relate. In many ways, we find our heroes in sports because we think they can protect us because of their strength. There must be comfort in knowing that now in book form, your exorcising some demons here.

Yesterday I was writing my next column about the Ottawa International Animation Festival (I'm the Artistic Director) and I was trying to articulate what that intense five-day experience has on people. Time seems to stop at a festival. You're with all these people who share the same interests (like a family reunion I guess) and you feel great comfort and happiness. But then it's time to return to the real world. I think that heroes are the same way for me. So, yes, it's a form of strength, but it's really something more, a sense of protection/comfort from not just our lives, but our deaths. Without a doubt I exorcised a lot of these demons. Harvey helped me see these 'heroes' beyond their cardboard hockey cards or their Loblaws stickers. They became real people in a sense. And that also came through when I spoke with all these mystical hockey players while researching the book. That being wasn't all so negative really...

I also re-discovered a lot of the love I had for hockey. It brought back a lot of fond memories. When I was a kid I LOVED reading anything about hockey. It was really just such a pleasure and writing this book brought me back to that. In fact, I'm also a bit of a hypocrite too I guess, because I'm writing hockey books for Altitude Publishing's "Amazing Stories" series ("Great Left Wingers", "Ottawa Senators: Great Stories from the NHL's First Dynasty"). These are books that sorta feed that myth machine a bit...but shit's fun and it's satisfying. Maybe there are some lost kids out there like I was who will find something in these books.

It would be nice to think that modern man has evolved a bit. I mean, no disrespect to Harvey, but that ridged prehistoric masculinity is slowly being replaced by sensibility. Perhaps if this wasn't the case, you wouldn't have ever gotten around to publishing this book. Do you think masculinity is changing in a positive way?

I'd like to think that we've evolved a bit, but remember, I also grew up in that world of hyper masculinity too and that was in the 1970s/1980s. My stepfather ("not really my pops" in the book) worked in this really macho environment. He later admitted that it had an enormous effect on him. I think that he actually went into copland as a young, sensitive boy and that the police environment turned him into a bit of a 'prehistoric' macho man. And I'm sure that you still see these attitudes in the army, police and in sports. These institutions can take these feckless young men and turn them into beasts. 

Certainly it is starting to change because my generation are parents now. Ideally, we're teaching our children something a bit less restrictive. But I'm sure we'll fuck our kids up in some way. And as for sports and masculinity... it doesn't seem to have evolved that much to me. Look at all these steroid Hulksters in baseball. 

Actually... maybe the best case is sexuality. The day that an athlete in a team sport can come out of the closet comfortably is the day there's been some evolution. Hockey is still in pre-historic mode. You look at all the aspects of the game and business. No sport (okay... maybe baseball too) has been more unwilling (until this year) to change their rules and business practices. The incestuous nature of hockey (players become coaches, managers, owners) has prevented the sport from growing up… or something like that...

Nathaniel G. Moore is TDR’s features editor.







TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

All content is copyright of the person who created it and cannot be copied, printed, or downloaded without the consent of that person. 

See the masthead for editorial information. 

All views expressed are those of the writer only. 

TDR is archived with the Library and Archives Canada

ISSN 1494-6114. 


We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts. Nous remercions de son soutien le Conseil des Arts du Canada.