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Graphic novels that are changing the world.

ILLUSTRATE! EDUCATE! ORGANIZE! Graphic novels are fast becoming a popular and accessible tool of activism in the 21st century. Indeed, a great number of overtly political graphic works have been published since 2000: Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography (2003), Wobblies: A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World (2005), A Dangerous Woman: A Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman (2008), A People's History of American Empire (2008), The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book (2010), and May Day: A Graphic History of Protest (2012). And there are many more graphic novels--loosely defined as works that combine limited text with sequential illustrations--that are either available or forthcoming. In our attempts to revive and re-energize revolutionary organizing in the 21st century, it is important for activists to be aware of and to engage with the many graphic novels with leftist content being published today.

Here are three recent Canadian graphic works that engage with politically relevant material: Pour en Finir Avec Novembre (2011), Red Power: A Graphic Novel (2011), and The Anti-Capitalist Resistance Comic Book (2012). These works discuss respectively the politics of Quebec during and after the 1970 October Crisis, the struggles of Indigenous peoples against environmental destruction, and the efforts of modern anticapitalist resistance movements in North America. These graphic novels are not only interesting and fun to read, but they are also related to discussions on the Left about similar topics which often appear in the pages of Canadian Dimension.

Sylvain LeMay and Andre St-George's Pour en Finir Avec Novembre tells the story of four young men in the Outaouais region of Quebec who decide to form a cell of the Front de liberation du Quebec (FLQ). The French-language novel traces the men's activities in the FLQ and shows how years later, on the eve of the 1996 referendum on sovereignty, they are forced to come to terms with their failed attempt to kidnap a government official one night in November 1970 that ended with them shooting their target. Pour en Finir Avec Novembre is simultaneously a psychological thriller and a profound reflection on the politics of Quebec society at the end of the 20th century. It deals with many issues that will resonate with those interested in the politics of Quebec today.

The novel begins with the four men--John, Marc, Luc and Mathieu--huddled around a television set celebrating as the FLQ manifesto is being read on CBC. Fed up with the conservative and reactionary student movement in the province, the men decide to take action by forming the "La CeRule Montferrand." The novel then jumps forward to 1996 where Luc, now a civil bureaucrat, arrives home only to get into a fight with his anglophone and clearly bourgeois mother-in-law. Because of Luc's past involvement with the FLQ and his role in kidnapping and shooting what turns out to have been her husband, Luc's mother-in-law continues to treat him as a failure who she feels is a completely unsatisfactory husband for her daughter Louise. Through a series of flashbacks that piece together the actions of "La Cellule Montferrand," it is revealed that while Luc did shoot his would-be father-in-taw that night in November 1970, it was actually his mother-in-law who found her husband in the street and finished the job by shooting him again fatally. Amidst this strange *One is woven a number of interesting discussions about the feelings of oppression in francophone Quebec (in 1970 and 1996), the rationales for particular revolutionary actions, and the struggle to maintain political commitment with age. Unfortunately, at times the novel trivializes Marc's commitment to revolutionary socialist politics while excusing Luc's aging conservatism, and this commentary must be challenged by readers. That being said, the larger themes of Pour en Finir Avec Novembre fit well with many of the current debates concerning the tradition of dissent and student protest in Quebec today.

Brian Wright-McLeod's Red Power: A Graphic Novel speaks of the responsibility felt by many Indigenous peoples to defend the earth from colonial and capitalist exploiters. The prologue portrays Europeans as invaders: "They came from across the water. Tumbling off their ships; hungry, sick, dispossessed, adventurous, ambitious, lost and determined..." Images of Indigenous people living a balanced life with the earth are juxtaposed with pictures of cranes and mining trucks mutilating the earth in the present day. Indeed, it was not just early Europeans who were eager to conquer and plunder the earth for profit. The story shifts to focus on a modern corporate mining effort, supported by some in the tribal government, to drive many Indigenous people of the Star River community off their ancestral Lands to further guarantee corporate access to mineral deposits. The novel highlights a variety of important issues related to the ongoing consequences of colonialism and capitalism for many Indigenous groups in the Americas today.

Red Power follows the resistance movement to halt mineral development in Star River led by a number of committed Indigenous warriors. Among the warriors is Billy Moon who, as an urban Indigenous youth, leaves the city to reconnect with the land and to fight for the people of Star River. Once he is back in the community, Billy encounters in a dream the powerful spirit Thunder, younger brother of the Sun, who counsels him to accept his role as steward of the physical world: "You're here to help us and your people. ... Your people were on this land since the stars were placed in the sky. You were born to this task. It's not your choice, it's your responsibility ... your oppressor has become a real problem around here." Amidst a police raid of the warrior camp, Billy and an Indigenous woman named Shelly Two Stars form a partnership to escape with incriminatory documents of the tribal council. As the novel concludes, the two warriors are being hotly pursued by tribal police as well as external agents. Red Power: A Graphic Novel is the first installment of a continuing series. Subsequent editions would do well to comment more specifically on gender politics in warrior movements as well as to speak to the roles that urban Indigenous peoples who can't or do not want to return to ancestral lands can play in anti-colonial and anti-capitalist struggles. Nevertheless, Wright-McLeod's work raises a number of issues that readers of Canadian Dimension are interested in such as climate change, eco-socialism, Indigenous rights, and the resistance to mineral development on Indigenous lands, including the attempts to stop Tar Sands development and the Enbridge pipeline.

Gord Hill's The Anti-Capitalist Resistance Comic Book is the follow up to The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book, Hill's immensely popular graphic novel exploring the long tradition of Indigenous resistance to colonialism in the Americas. In his new work, Hill surveys the contours of contemporary anti-capitalist resistance around the world, with a particular focus on anti-globalization struggles in North America. Hill traces the important victories and defeats of anticapitalist organizing from a perspective that encourages direct-action tactics. Hill's graphic novel, then, is an important work for activists to read and discuss because it recounts the strategic lessons of a variety of contemporary events from the "Battle in Seattle" and the Summit of Americas protest in Quebec City, to the anti-Olympic resistance movement in Vancouver, the G20 protests in Toronto, and the Decolonize/Occupy movement. Hill, perhaps more than any other graphic artist in Canada today, is using the graphic medium as a tool of activism to generate important discussions about the tactics and strategies that the left uses in our resistance movements.

The Anti-Capitalist Resistance Comic is essential reading for activists today; however, Hill's work does have important limitations. Despite his valuable insight into different protest movements, Hill reproduces a crucial error of "anti-capitalist" activists today: he correctly identifies capitalism as the root of the problem, but does not provide the necessary theoretical analysis of how capitalism actually works (i.e. continually dispossessing peoples of their Lands, turning them into workers, and exploiting them through wage labour), nor does he convey a clear understanding of how such knowledge must infuse our current tactics and strategies, in praxis, to bring about a better world. Hill's work also Lacks a clearly defined gender and racial analysis and largely ignores the different ways in which capitalism is both experienced and resisted daily in diverse ways by groups such as women and racialized peoples. Instead, Hill narrowly promotes performative acts of resistance that aim to strike symbolic blows to the capitalist system. Finally, Hill eschews sustained discussion about how combative tactics are most effective when connected to long-term organizing efforts. These criticisms aside, Hill's work is at the forefront of creating accessible material aimed at engaging activists in important debates about leftist tactics and strategies moving forward.

Pour en Finir Avec Novembre, Red Power: A Graphic Novel, and The Anti-Capitalist Resistance Comic Book are just three examples of important political graphic novels that activists should be reading, discussing, and debating. As our world continues to become more visually based, and teens and adults alike increasingly and enthusiastically embrace graphic novels, activists must engage with these works and use them to spark new conversations about how we can work together to change the world.


Please note: Some tables or figures were omitted from this article.
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Title Annotation:Focus; 'Pour en Finir Avec Novembre (2011)', 'Red Power: A Graphic Novel (2011)' and 'The Anti-Capitalist Resistance Comic Book (2012)'
Author:Carleton, Sean
Publication:Canadian Dimension
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 1, 2012
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