Monday, 24 October 2016

The Outside Circle by Patti Laboucane-Benson, art by Kelly Mellings

In this important graphic novel, two Aboriginal brothers surrounded by poverty, drug abuse, and gang violence, try to overcome centuries of historic trauma in very different ways to bring about positive change in their lives.
Pete, a young Aboriginal man wrapped up in gang violence, lives with his younger brother, Joey, and his mother who is a heroin addict. One night, Pete and his mother’s boyfriend, Dennis, get into a big fight, which sends Dennis to the morgue and Pete to jail. Initially, Pete keeps up ties to his crew, until a jail brawl forces him to realize the negative influence he has become on Joey, which encourages him to begin a process of rehabilitation that includes traditional Aboriginal healing circles and ceremonies.
Powerful, courageous, and deeply moving, The Outside Circle is drawn from the author’s twenty years of work and research on healing and reconciliation of gang-affiliated or incarcerated Aboriginal men.

About the Author and the Illustrator

Patti Laboucane-Benson is a M├ętis woman and the Director of Research, Training, and Communication at Native Counselling Services of Alberta (NCSA). She has a Ph.D. in Human Ecology, focusing on Aboriginal Family Resilience. Her doctoral research explored how providing historic trauma healing programs for Aboriginal offenders builds resilience in Aboriginal families and communities. She has also been the recipient of the Aboriginal Role Model of Alberta Award for Education. She lives in Spruce Grove, Alberta.

Kelly Mellings is an award-winning art director, illustrator, and designer. His work has appeared in comic books, magazines, apps, museum exhibits, and online games, and his clients include Microsoft. He is the co-owner of the acclaimed illustration, animation, and design firm Pulp Studios. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta. 


Edmonton Journal

Here's What we Thought...  What Do You Think?

For this group of lifelong readers a graphic novel posed an intimidating first and our reactions were mixed.
For many of us, the comic book appearance signaled that the book was intended for a younger audience; it was difficult not to think of it as childish or simplistic.  We knew when we chose the book that we probably needed some help in understanding the genre and Lynn kindly provided an article from the U of A, Reading Lessons: Graphic Novels 101 by Hollis Margaret Rudiger, as a basic guide. Still even with that information, the questions still niggled… “Is this serious literature?  Is this literature?”
There were several false starts – I signed the book out of the library three different times and somehow couldn’t manage to face it, while my usual daily reading continued without interruption. There were several re-reads. And many re-thinks. Those are probably signs of a good book club selection!
Our Concerns:
With the popularity of this genre, will quality of language be eroded or lost?  We found the quality of the text very poor and heavily pedantic.
Does the format of the genre force the reduction of complex issues into simplistic presentations?

Our Kudos:
This very accessible book for reluctant readers deals with serious contemporary problems.
It is emotionally powerful. The art work depicting those emotions is skillfully and sensitively done.
It presents hope to those in despair.
The power of spirituality in healing is demonstrated.

The Outside Circle led us to examine: our relationship as Canadians with our own indigenous people; what we have learned through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and the current efforts to achieve some kind of reconciliation. Indigenous people were forced to be separate and apart from the mainstream of Canadian society. Now an understanding and a relationship that might have developed naturally will take much sensitivity, commitment and time to foster.

Check out Ben's thoughts and recommendations regarding graphic novels in the comment section

Please join our conversation by adding a comment.

1 comment:

  1. Here's what i think about graphic novels as literature.

    •Graphic novels require their own set of literacies. Sometimes this is called visual literacy. Which frames do you read next? How quickly? What are the cues for pace and tone? This takes time to pick up, and some graphic novels make better use of these cues than others. Often when people first read graphic novels they may miss these cues. They read too fast. They read the text, but don't "read" the images, frames and letters.
    •Lots of people talk about how a story might be better suited for a movie than a book. Or sometimes you read a book and think to yourself "I don't know how you could pull this off on a movie screen." The same is true with graphic novels. It's an entirely different medium than books, even thought they both have text and pages. Some stories fit more naturally in the medium, just like some stories are better as books or movies.
    •You're right that some graphic novels use lower level language. But not all. And i suppose this is the case for books too. It depends on the audience. Also keep in mind that sometimes the language is less involved because it uses many other narrative devices to tell the story. If you set the pace with the frames, and tone with the lettering, bubbles and images, then your text can afford to be more terse.

    David Mazzuchelli is one of my favourites. He makes such good use of the medium. I'll be honest, I don't think that The Outside Circle does a great job of it. It's ok. But i don't think that this story really fits the medium, and i don't think that as a whole it uses all the devices that are available to tell the story in the best way.

    Check out this article on how David Mazzuchelli uses visual linguistics in his work. Mazzuchelli used to write superhero comics (his daredevil stuff is really good), but he moved away from that in his independent stuff.