Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Sibling Rivalry

Posted by Don MacPherson on June 9th, 2012

Crogan’s Loyalty original hardcover graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Chris Schweizer
Editors: James Lucas Jones & Jill Beaton
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $14.99 US

This is the third in what’s planned as a long series of graphic novels, and it stands out as the very best in the run thus far. It’s a testament to writer/artist Chris Schweizer’s storytelling ability that he’s able to grab my attention and never let go with these pieces of historical fiction, as history’s never been one of my greatest areas of interest. But he does an excellent job of conveying history — a small corner of the American Revolution in this case — and what impressed me more was how well balanced his approach to the subject matter is. The historical plot isn’t a matter of the good guys versus the bad guys. There are multiple sides, all with their own moral justifications for their actions. Mind you, the open-minded approach to the history wouldn’t be nearly as compelling if the whole story wasn’t built on a strong foundation of a relationship between siblings that’s thoroughly relatable. Ultimately, the “loyalty” referred to in the book’s title flows from the two central protagonists’ loyalty to their cause, to their moral centres and, most importantly, their loyalty to one another despite their differences. This is a pitch perfect graphic novel, combining adventure, drama, a sense of irreverence and a familial dynamic that allows readers to connect to the extreme circumstances of war.

In the late 18th century, America finds itself at war with Britain, as many colonists have decided they want nothing more of heavy taxation without any say over the law of the land. But there are also those who are loyal to the Crown, seeing a shift to democracy as trading one form of overbearing governance for another. Finding themselves on opposite sides of the conflict are brothers William and Charles Crogan, who happen upon one another in a forest as each makes his way on a mission. They’re forced to set aside their conflicting ideologies when the woman Will’s smitten with is abducted, but their military priorities and ethical tenets are never far from the forefronts of their minds.

Taken out of the context of the story, one could view Schweizer’s characters as rather silly. His cartooning has an exaggerated bent, especially when it comes to figures and designs. But the story never seems silly. The exaggerated approach allows the characters to be more emotive. The more extreme angles and swooping shapes add to the action and drama rather than detracting from it. His work here often reminds me a bit of that of Scott (My Own Little Empire) and, to a greater extent, of Scott (Southpaw, Ancient Joe) Morse’s art, especially in the portrayal of the native American antagonist in the latter part of the book. Of course, one can’t overlook the stunning, natural backdrops Schweizer provides throughout the book. He really conveys the untouched beauty of America in 1778. The few glimpses of civilization we see are rustic and quaint.

Also deserving credit for the attractive quality of this graphic novel — and the two before it in the series — is book designer Keith Wood. The bold, dominant color, framing and choice of fonts all make for a sharp look, and I love the way the various Crogan Adventures books display on a bookshelf lined up next to one another.

Though Schweizer’s designs and general style make the two brothers at the centre of the story seem more like teens, they nevertheless still come across as young men, innocent in some ways but it’s also clear they’ve got some life experience under their belts. While Will seems more than a little naive when it comes to women, both brothers otherwise seem clever and adept, especially when it comes to the skills they’re employing on different sides of the Revolutionary War. I appreciate how Schweizer puts the pair at odds, but he never goes so far to have the brothers wishing ill on one another. They genuinely care for one another despite the radically different choices they’ve made. The cartoonist wisely includes a great scene in which a lengthy sojourn through the woods allows the ideological enmity to fade and give way to a more youthful playfulness between Will and Charlie.

I thoroughly enjoyed the dialogue throughout the book. Though quite clear and accessible, Schweizer has played around with the syntax and slang. I don’t know if his research of the historical subject matter showed him how people in 1778 would speak, or if he’s simply approximated something to make the characters sound like they’re from the period. Either way, it was thoroughly convincing to the ear of this reader, who’s pretty much new to this period in history. It’s brings a playful pitter-patter to the dialogue, making it fun to read as well as genuine (or seemingly so).

When it comes to the American Revolution, what one usually sees from American storytellers is, understandably, a fairly one-sided view of that period of history in which the men fighting for the American colonies’ independence from the British monarchy are glorified and hailed for taking the first steps toward creating what would be a world super-power. But Schweizer doesn’t glorify any player in this drama, nor does he denounce any particular side in the conflict. More importantly, he demonstrates there were more than just two sides. The idiom “there’s two sides to every story” almost always proves to be false; there’s always more than two. The truth is made up of a polygon of viewpoints that shape the real story only when all sides are assembled. Schweizer recognizes this fact, incorporating neutral parties such as unaffiliated colonists, native American tribes and others into the mix. 10/10

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