Graphic Novels That Are Changing the World

Article excerpt

ILLUSTRATE! EDUCATE! ORGANIZE! Graphic novels are fast becoming a popular and accessible tool of activism in the 21st century. Indeed, a great number of overtly political graphic works have been published since 2000: Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography (2003), Wobblies: A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World (2005), A Dangerous Woman: A Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman (2008), A People's History of American Empire (2008), The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book (2010), and May Day: A Graphic History of Protest (2012). And there are many more graphic novels--loosely defined as works that combine limited text with sequential illustrations--that are either available or forthcoming. In our attempts to revive and re-energize revolutionary organizing in the 21st century, it is important for activists to be aware of and to engage with the many graphic novels with leftist content being published today.

Here are three recent Canadian graphic works that engage with politically relevant material: Pour en Finir Avec Novembre (2011), Red Power: A Graphic Novel (2011), and The Anti-Capitalist Resistance Comic Book (2012). These works discuss respectively the politics of Quebec during and after the 1970 October Crisis, the struggles of Indigenous peoples against environmental destruction, and the efforts of modern anticapitalist resistance movements in North America. These graphic novels are not only interesting and fun to read, but they are also related to discussions on the Left about similar topics which often appear in the pages of Canadian Dimension.

Sylvain LeMay and Andre St-George's Pour en Finir Avec Novembre tells the story of four young men in the Outaouais region of Quebec who decide to form a cell of the Front de liberation du Quebec (FLQ). The French-language novel traces the men's activities in the FLQ and shows how years later, on the eve of the 1996 referendum on sovereignty, they are forced to come to terms with their failed attempt to kidnap a government official one night in November 1970 that ended with them shooting their target. Pour en Finir Avec Novembre is simultaneously a psychological thriller and a profound reflection on the politics of Quebec society at the end of the 20th century. It deals with many issues that will resonate with those interested in the politics of Quebec today.


The novel begins with the four men--John, Marc, Luc and Mathieu--huddled around a television set celebrating as the FLQ manifesto is being read on CBC. Fed up with the conservative and reactionary student movement in the province, the men decide to take action by forming the "La CeRule Montferrand." The novel then jumps forward to 1996 where Luc, now a civil bureaucrat, arrives home only to get into a fight with his anglophone and clearly bourgeois mother-in-law. Because of Luc's past involvement with the FLQ and his role in kidnapping and shooting what turns out to have been her husband, Luc's mother-in-law continues to treat him as a failure who she feels is a completely unsatisfactory husband for her daughter Louise. Through a series of flashbacks that piece together the actions of "La Cellule Montferrand," it is revealed that while Luc did shoot his would-be father-in-taw that night in November 1970, it was actually his mother-in-law who found her husband in the street and finished the job by shooting him again fatally. Amidst this strange *One is woven a number of interesting discussions about the feelings of oppression in francophone Quebec (in 1970 and 1996), the rationales for particular revolutionary actions, and the struggle to maintain political commitment with age. Unfortunately, at times the novel trivializes Marc's commitment to revolutionary socialist politics while excusing Luc's aging conservatism, and this commentary must be challenged by readers. That being said, the larger themes of Pour en Finir Avec Novembre fit well with many of the current debates concerning the tradition of dissent and student protest in Quebec today. …