George's RunGeorge’s Run

Creator: Henry Chamberlain
Publisher: Rutgers University Press
Publication Date: May 2023

It’s hard to read George’s Run and not come away inspired. The full title is George’s Run: A Writer’s Journey through the Twilight Zone, and it’s the new book by cartoonist/Comics Grinder Henry Chamberlain, detailing parts of the life of the influential television (among other things) writer George Clayton Johnson. The book deploys a sort of stream of consciousness approach to its storytelling that breaks the walls of usual biography structure in very interesting and engaging ways, doing so to incorporate glimpses at Chamberlain’s interview and cartooning process.

The result is a book that while still informative, is also a treatise on creation and the joy inherent to an artful life well lived. At the center of the book, of course, is Clayton Johnson, a mercurial and fascinating figure whose warmth and joie de vivre Chamberlain captures well. The broad strokes of Clayton Johnson’s life are that he first broke into Hollywood with the idea for the very first Oceans Eleven film in 1960, the one that starred Frank Sinatra. Clayton Johnson subsequently joined a group of legendary creatives that shaped the Twilight Zone during the Golden Age of Television, making massive and incalculable contributions to American pop culture. From there, Clayton Johnson contributed to Star Trek, as well.

All of this, of course, would make for an interesting graphic novel entirely on its own merits, told chronologically with little deviation from the biggest, easiest to capture moments and facts. That’s all to say that Chamberlain could have just gone the standard biopic route, and this book would have still been very interesting. But George’s Run is not that type of book, and it’s all the better for it.

Brought to life by Chamberlain’s earnest and lo-fi cartooning style, George’s Run flits between ideas, never dallying long enough for scenes or thoughts to stall out or start to feel perfunctory. As goes Chamberlain’s interest in his subject, so goes the reader. We get pieces of George’s life, pieces of Chamberlain’s life, and glimpses at interviews where they interact. It all teases out a sort of ineffable creative energy, a mystery around being driven/inspired, and of turning it all into meaningful art. 

In some ways, it’s tough to write about George’s Run because it not only defies convention, but it relies on the idea that some things in life are impossible to define. In the book’s preface, Chamberlain first uses the phrase “a touch of strange.” It’s a phrase that George and his creative circle were quite taken by (it originates in The Turn of the Screw, a classic 1898 ghost story novella by Henry James).The phrase as they knew it applies to the macabre, used to suggest that something is not quite right, and if you’ve seen even a single episode of The Twilight Zone, right now you’re probably nodding, like yes of course that makes so much sense.

But in the context of this book, I also took it to mean that there is a strangeness to creation — of The Twilight Zone, of Star Trek, of George’s Run itself — and that we are often better served by relaxing and giving into the strange, rather than trying to control or understand or define it. That’s certainly what Chamberlain does here with his source material, and as a result, a sense of vital inevitability builds throughout this comic, leading to a small coincidence at the end that makes it all feel so much grander. 

Chamberlain calls Clayton Johnson a “storytelling wizard” at one point, and that certainly seems apt. I know I felt that way in reading this, as if Clayton Johnson himself somehow meant for me to find this book. I also had a personal experience that made it all the more powerful. Some years ago when I was a student, I was adrift, taking a media course at community college to fulfil a requirement, stay a full-time student, and retain health insurance through my parents. The teacher was a former television writer who’d written for Star Trek: The Next Generation…and had befriended a writer from The Twilight Zone. That writer called in to our class and spoke to us about his life, creativity, and his career for a whole hour. While I eventually forgot the writer’s name (look, it’s been a while), I have fondly remembered that particular day of class as I’ve forged my own way in creative ventures and media. 

Well, after reading George’s Run, I did some poking around — it was actually George who spoke to my class, all those years ago. So yes, I recommend checking out this book. It has so many interesting things to say about an interesting man as well as the broader nature of creativity. And who knows, you may have your own pre-destined run-in with the material.

George’s Run is available to purchase via Rutgers University Press.