The Loxelys and the War of 1812.
Written by Alan Grant, Illustrated by Claude St. Aubin, Coloured by Lovern Kindierski
I secretly love when I am surreptitiously enticed to learn an element of history by a well told comic story, and here the history is brutally obvious to the reader but the enlightenment is disguised brilliantly in a lovely story of one family’s encounter with the traumatic imposition upon their normal lives that is war.
When one says 1812, the Napoleonic wars from 1803 to 1815 are more prominent in people’s minds, apart from those in Ontario I suspect, and the 1812 Overture by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to remember the defeat of the invading Grande Armée of Napoleon is a fine piece of music.
For most Americans who are familiar with the War of 1812, it’s another war against the British and the occasion for the composition of the national anthem “The Star Spangled Banner.” But in 1812, America declared a pointless war on Canada. Yet are not all wars inherently pointless? And this is a clear message to this work, that war is a killer of people and a destroyer of families. There were trading issues due to Britain’s war with France. American merchant seamen were being ‘pressed’ into British naval service, and the British supported the Indians as an obstacle to American expansion. And no doubt there were expansionist ambitions.
Living in the Niagara peninsula, the Loxely family consists of three adult couples and a a host of children. Reminiscent of the Sullivans, we see a family go to war, with father Aaron, son Matthew and son-in-law Pierre all joining the fight against the Americans. We also see the brutality meted out to civilians, and thus another son, George, goes to war.
The harshness of the war is well portrayed. Although some battles such as that of Detroit are played out well, one also sees the the impact, and the death of a babe in arms and a general give a clear anti-war message.
The death of the Canadian General Brock is lamented, but instills strength and not fear, and his subsequent funeral is beautifully drawn on a two page splash, with the spectre of the general permeating the funeral cortège, and it is exactly how comics can portray stories in ways unique to the medium.
The fierce brutality of American forces, rampaging, sacking and stealing in the Niagara Peninsula, their apparent portrayal as just greedy for land, is juxtaposed with the reality that atrocities of war were committed by both sides, and the explanation of how the taking of River Raisin became an American battle cry with militias and Indians fighting on the side of the British.
This is a lovely element of the book, the viewpoint is varied and we also see through the eyes of Eliza Loxely and hear of acts of bravery such as that of Laura Secord, while an attack on the homestead of the Loxelys themselves sees George join the Indians in their fight, as his only way to seek revenge and thus we get to see another angle of this war.
The colours in the comic seem very clear. There are lovely contrasts and although it is not gaudy, there is a crispness to the colouring that is pleasing and an impressive ability to gently weaken and strengthen block colours is really impressive.
St. Aubin’s artwork, the fine line work, is really neat and accurate yet portrays movement and a sense of physicality that some historical comics can lack. There is no woodenness, but the clarity suits the historical element here, I wondered if he felt he adjusted his style somewhat from the superhero work he has done previously. The lines seem stronger and more defined, while I was pleased to see the use of cross-hatching and hatching line work to repeatedly portray an area of darkness or detail on say a river, which made it feel distinctly like a comic in a pleasing way.
The technical side to the comic is one that I thought should be explored, and so, thanks to Alexander Finbow of Renegade I was able to ask Claude St. Aubin about this. His response:
‘When I was approached to do the project, Alexander and I went over his goals and expectation on the visuals of the book. Especially, the fact that the book would end up in schools here in Canada in different provinces and cities.’
‘We went with a style that would be understood by school boards and other interested parties that would pick up the book and want to read it. I avoided straight comic book style because Iwanted to make sure that the approach would be understood by avid comic readers and the general public that do not read comic books. Kind of neutral ground so most readers would find their reading of the novel interested on the subject more than the art itself. The message needed to come across to anyone picking up the book. It is a GREAT story very well written with finesse and very well researched.’
‘You need to know that a lot of Canadians have heard of the War of 1812 between the Canadas and the U.S.A. but do not know very much about it. ‘To be honest, I didn’t know much except what I had learned in high school a long time ago, and even then I did not pay too much attention then. Doing the project helped to solidify a lot, doing research for as accurate details and reading other works on the subject gave me that opportunity to learn more on it while drawing the book.’
‘ Technically, I did what I call a line art or “linear” of the page with panels, layout and page composition pretty tight. Once Alexander reviewed each page and gave me the go ahead with or without changes, I went to ink.’
‘ When pencilling, I used a mechanical pencil with “HB” lead. When inking, I used mechanical pens of different sizes (rapidograph type), pen nibs (mostly Hunt 107), brush= Windsor Newton #2 with Windsor & Newton black waterproof ink.’
As wars go, the thousands who lost their lives in this war may not seem significant to armchair statisticians yet the portrayal of the real impact on these good people is palpable and vivid, while the disastrous outcome, that of the Indian peoples with Tecumseh’s Indian confederacy in tatters, and the end of the idea of an independent Indian state had a much wider effect, what with the North Indian peoples pushed west, and further west by Americans.
As I say, I did wonder if he used a heavier ink or pen, over a finer pencil, or if he altered his work style perhaps and I think it is clever of the team at Renegade to take into account the nature of their potential readership.
There is an excellent historical section to the comic, giving more details and a sample of the play that was created to be performed by school children. It is a delightful package, and the quality of production, the nice boards and wrap are top notch. As a regular comic reader with an avid interest in history, I have to say it is a beautiful piece of work.
A 99c PDF preview is available from the Renegade website; http://www.renegadeartsentertainment.com/the-loxleys-and-the-war-of-1812