Search

Graphic Novelty²

Tag

Cree

Roughneck

Roughneck is a beautifully told standalone tale of a brother and sister’s quest to reconnect with one another and their cultural identity written and illustrated by the talented Jeff Lemire.

The story opens in the fictional small town of Pimitamon in northern Ontario, Canada, which means “crossroads” in Cree. This detail is important as it is symbolic for the theme of the story and recognizes the heritage of the main characters. We meet Derek Ouellette, a hulking former NHL player, who was kicked off his professional team for excessive violence on the ice. While he is a local legend, he is always on the defense for he is often baited by antagonistic men, eager to brag that they fought with the drunken brawler.

Derek has the support of Ray, a former childhood friend now turned police officer, and Al an older man who manages the ice rink in town. He will desperately need their help when his sister Beth comes back into town as she is addicted, pregnant and on the run from an abusive boyfriend. The siblings reconnect after many years apart, as teen-aged Beth had ran away when Derek left to join the NHL. When Beth’s drug addiction issues come to a head, Al lets the siblings use his hunting cabin out in the bush, so Beth can detox. Alone for the first time in years, Derek and Beth reminisce about their childhood with a Cree mother and a drunken white father. Tragedy in their family shaped them into who they are now as adults, but both want to break free of the violence and despair that engulf them, thus the symbolic crossroads from earlier comes into play.

Lemire handles the storyline of Derek and Beth’s Cree heritage with grace and respect. The sibling’s began to appreciate their heritage and take some steps in reconnecting with their mother’s family. The reality of native families becoming disenfranchised from their cultural heritage, is mirrored in the excellent book The Outside Circle, which also deals with First Nation individuals whose circles of community were broken which led to fragmenting generations of people with no connection to their tribe anymore. The ending is open to interpretation, and while I at first looked at it one way, re-reading it I see a more melancholy but poignant way of concluding the story.

The artwork is trademark Lemire, with sketchy and minimalist lines. Most of the story is in black and white with overlays of blue wash, which effectively shows the icy coldness of Canadian winters. There will be an occasional splash of red, showing the blood that Derek beats out of others. When the story has flashbacks to the sibling’s youth, more color is introduced, but with soft water colored hues. He captures the feel of small towns with their varied local inhabitants, and showcases the beauty of rural landscapes.

I enjoy much of Lemire’s work for Marvel, DC & Image, but it is his stories in Essex County and Roughneck that truly show his skill as an outstanding storyteller.

-Nancy

Lemire, Jeff. Roughneck, 2017.

 

Advertisements

The Outside Circle

Powerful. Heartbreaking. Educational.

Pete, a young man of the Cree Nation of Canada, lives with his mother and younger brother, Joey, in the city of Edmonton in Alberta. Pete is involved in the drug trade and angrily rejects his girlfriend when she tells him of her pregnancy. But he is protective of his brother, and later his mother, when he discovers his mother beat up again by her drug addicted boyfriend. The fight between these two men escalates, with Pete shooting the strung out man, and being sentenced to jail for the murder. Social Services sweeps in and takes custody of Joey, with the mother resignedly signing away her rights. Joey struggles in foster care, eventually running away to go back to his old neighborhood, and getting recruited to be part of Pete’s old drug gang.

While incarcerated, Pete continues with gang affiliations and violence, until he receives a beat down that sends him to the prison infirmary. A kindly parole officer has him switch prisons and gives him an opportunity to be part of a program geared towards rehabilitating First Nations men in prison. He and several other men meet at the Healing Centre and are sponsored through the program by Violet, an older First Nations woman who has conquered her own demons. The group starts each meeting with a Purification Smudge, and weeks go by as step by painful step she leads these men through the Warrior Program. The men learn how the colonial system of Canada deliberately broke the bonds of family ties among the Aboriginal tribes, sending children to schools that were designed to reeducate and Christianize them. The government took away thousands of children from their families, breaking the circles of community and fragmenting generations of people with no connection to their tribe anymore. Pete’s eyes are opened to how he can change his ways, and be a good influence to Joey, breaking the cycle of hopelessness that many feel. His story of redemption and making amends is a compelling testament to finding healing and being proud of your heritage.

The author, Patti LaBoucane-Benson, is of Métis heritage and is Director of Research, Training, and Communication at Native Counselling Services of Alberta. The story she shares, which mirrors many of the same issues that Native Americans have faced in the US, is one that more people should be aware of. The artist, Kelly Mellings, captures the characters (especially the facial expressions) and story arc perfectly. Page by page, I was sucked into the story that had a good narrative flow, with background knowledge added into the pictures for clarification. The illustrations beautifully show the symbolism, ceremonies and traditions of Aboriginal culture. No matter what your cultural identity is, family connectedness and knowing we are all part of our community should be an aspect of our lives.

-Nancy

 

Outside+Circle+2
LaBoucane-Benson, Patti & Kelly Mellings. The Outside Circle. 2015.

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑