Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lewis & Clark

by Nick Bertozzi

As much as I enjoy learning and reading about history, I am pretty ignorant of much of American history, mostly because I'm Canadian.  For example, I knew that Lewis and Clark were two guys who traveled to the West, and who made first contact with a number of Aboriginal nations, but I didn't know much more than that.  Enter Nick Bertozzi's graphic novel, which renders their story in a palatable package.

In Lewis & Clark, Bertozzi shows these two famous and revered explorers as real people, and while he condenses both their journey and much of the historical context that surrounds it, he manages to deliver a chronicle that captures the sheer difficulty of their mission, and the substances of their character.

Meriwether Lewis was selected by Thomas Jefferson to find a river route across the American continent to the Pacific.  Lewis chose as a partner his old friend William Clark, and after a lengthy period of procuring resources and men, they set off.  The land they traveled through belonged to a variety of Aboriginal nations, with their own political agendas and varying degrees of understanding the extent of America's intent to expand into their territory.  With the help of some guides and translators, including the famous Sacagewea, they eventually reached their goal and returned home.

The book shows many of their difficulties, not the least those caused by Lewis's disagreeable personality.  There are a number of scenes that do not portray him in a very positive light, although Clark, as the calmer, more thoughtful leader, comes off very well.

Bertozzi's made very good use of the larger, almost European-sized pages of this book to put together some expansive double-page spreads.  He often uses the space on the page to suggest the length of the explorers and their companions' trip, set against the imposing Rocky Mountains.

This book belongs alongside some of the more accomplished recent Canadian graphic novels The Klondike, Louis Riel, and Northwest Passage, all of which deal with the encroachment of European civilization on the continent's West, and which form the nucleus of a sub-genre of cartooning that I am enjoying a great deal and am happy to support.

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