Posted by Don MacPherson on July 1st, 2012
The Loxleys and the War of 1812 original hardcover graphic novel
Writer: Alan Grant
Artist/Cover artist: Claude St. Aubin
Colors: Lovern Kindzierski
Letters: Todd Klein
Historical essay: Mark Zuehlke
Editor: Alexander Finbow
Publisher: Renegade Arts Entertainment
Price: $19.99 US/CAN
I’ve been meaning to sit down and write this review for a couple of weeks now, but July 1 — Canada Day, the anniversary of Confederation — seemed like a fitting time to write about a graphic novel focusing on a key period in Canadian history. What drew me to the book wasn’t so much the connection to my homeland’s past (and my need to learn more about the War of 1812), but rather than reputations of the various creators involved in its creation. Perhaps what piqued my curiosity the most was the fact that although established, mainstream Canadian creators such as Claude St. Aubin and Lovern Kindzierski participated in the book, the publisher recruited some top talent from beyond the Great White North, such as longtime Batman and Judge Dredd writer Alan Grant and Todd Klein, the most heralded letterer of the past couple of decades. Together, they’ve put together a professional package that informs and entertains, though its value definitely lies with the former aspect. Initially too saccharine for my taste, the book eventually and appropriately takes on a harsher tone in the second act. What struck me the most about the book was how dedicated it is to one perspective, casting the Americans firmly in the role of villains — so much so I expect the book’s appeal south of the 49th parallel will be quite limited.
On a quiet farm in the British colony of Upper Canada, the Loxleys live quiet but fulfilling lives, with three generations living under the same roof, and before long, a fourth will be on the way. But the serenity achieved through hard work and faith is shattered when America declares war Great Britain and sets its sights on the conquest of the Canadas. The men of Loxley clan set off to join efforts to repel plans of invasion and plunder. Members of the family soon find themselves engaged in historical conflicts, following great men into battle. War, of course, comes at a great price, and the family pays that price time and time again, begging the question: how will it weather the storm?
Claude St. Aubin’s artwork was clearly developed in the context of the super-hero genre, but that doesn’t mean he “dresses” his characters in skintight apparel. There’s a convincing look to the clothing and settings. His work here reminds me of a mish-mash of the styles of such comic artists as Chris (Tom Strong) Sprouse and Erik (The Savage Dragon) Larsen. It tells the story clearly, and despite the many characters involved in the story, he handles the last cast of characters quite well. The most impressive visuals he delivers are those depicting larger moments and a broader scope of events, notable among them a double-page spread featuring the funeral of a revered military man.
Kindzierski’s colors are bright and crisp, though he tones the colors down for civilian clothing, making it seem a little drabber, which comes off as fitting. Bright blues and vibrant greens dominate the book, conveying sky and lushness of nature, respectively. But the frequently bright look sometimes feels out of place. This is, after all, a book about war, but the colorist leans toward rich, bright tones throughout the book. Klein’s letter forms are, as always, sharp and clear, though I was surprised to find a noticeable lack of cursive put to use in the book. The tone of the narration — in the form of a diary kept by two of the Loxley women — boasts an educated tone, and a more flowing approach to the lettering for those captions, and for the letters the men send home, might have reinforced a sense of the historical.
As I was first making my way through the graphic novel, it felt a bit too Little House on the Prairie for my taste, and I wondered by a book about a war was so… soft. Grant picks things up in the second act, though, apparently a reflection of the slow build to real conflict. Still, there’s a measured, careful tone for the most part when the creators deal with the notion of war and it affects the title family. It’s clear this book is meant for a broader audience and was likely designed as an educational tool for children. There’s still death and destruction, but this isn’t Sgt. Rock or a Garth Ennis war book either. While Grant eventually got me interested in his title characters after the first act, there’s also a certain degree of predictability to what happens to these Forrest Gumps of Canadian history.
After I bought the book, I was a little disappointed to see the whole thing wasn’t a graphic novel, that writer Mark Zuehlke provides a much more detailed, non-illustrated account of the history of the War of 1812 (which, by the way, began that year but wasn’t limited to that year) as something of an appendix. It’s a little more than 50 pages long, and it’s not what I was looking for. Fortunately, I soon discovered the 112 pages of the main graphic-novel section of the book felt more than sufficiently like a complete graphic novel, so Luehlke’s supplementary material didn’t come off as filler. It’s pretty dry, but it’s really meant to be purely factual items to provide a greater understanding of the historical backdrop of Grant’s story.
One of the most striking images in the book is a painting dividing the graphic novel itself and the non-fiction account of the war itself in the back of the book. It’s a vision of the White House ablaze, with the Union Jack and Stars and Stripes in the foreground. It sums up one of the underlying thrusts of the story: this was a time the Americans were trounced. Of course, the facts don’t necessarily bear that out; the script makes it clear both sides had their victories. But the Americans are also depicted as being uncivilized, unscrupulous and even barbaric at times. It’s hard to know how much of it is fact and how much is a matter of perspective. The Canadians and natives are portrayed as being ethical and honorable to the point of incredulousness, and the Americans as being greedy and hungry for territory they don’t need. It’s certainly an interesting change of pace, as Americans have been predominantly cast as the white knights of history throughout pop culture. It might make this something of a tough sell to an audience beyond Canadian borders. 6/10
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