Friday, January 3, 2014

The Journal of the Main Street Secret Lodge

by Steven Gilbert

I'm always on the lookout for interesting historical comics and graphic novels, and when I saw this show up at the store where I shop, I was intrigued.  The book, by Steven Gilbert, who apparently built a bit of a name for himself in the Canadian independent comics scene in the 90s, is set in the town of Newmarket (now basically just a suburb of Toronto) at the end of the 19th century.

The title is a little bit misleading, as there is no Main Street Secret Lodge in evidence, but we are given an interesting look into a place at a time where society was going through rapid change.  At the centre of this book is a story called 'Cold Cold Ground', which follows a pair of bank robbers, a man and a woman, who have come up from the States.  They attack a Northern Outpost, drawing away Captain Gilbert (presumably an ancestor of the author), so that they can rob a bank on Main Street.  That robbery doesn't go well, and there is a fair amount of bloodshed.  As the robbers flee, things get even worse for a small family we are introduced to earlier.

This story is bookended by some random information on crime in that time (there is a lengthy essay on how people used to rob hotels), and portraits of 'billiards' girls in the nude.  In the middle of the story are a couple of pages about the growth of the railroad, and throughout the book are large pictures of scenery and establishing shots.

Gilbert is a strong cartoonist with a deep love of cross-hatching, and the place he is portraying.  His publisher, from what I can tell, is a comics store in Newmarket, and it's clear that this unconventional book is a passion project.  I enjoyed it, and would gladly return to the journals of the Main Street Secret Lodge, if given another opportunity.

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