To tell a big story that resonates, you need to fit it within the framework of a smaller story. This is what Patti LaBoucane-Benson does in “The Outside Circle” as she addresses the Canadian government’s treatment of its own native people though the journey of one brave man. When you embark upon the process of building up a graphic novel, you make various choices along the way. One critical decision is setting the right tone and that is tied in with what kind of work it is set to be. It can be a little of A, B, or C, and ultimately it will be mostly one kind of graphic novel. “The Outer Circle” is chiefly an educational work with lots of room for artistic expression. It is a tale with many facts to bring forth. In this regard, Kelly Mellings does a great job of balancing what must be said with finding a way to say it in the most compelling way.
“The Outside Circle,” by Patti LaBoucane-Benson and Kelly Mellings, is a story of flawed and vulnerable characters who seem resistant to change and yet hunger for redemption. We explore what led Pete, an Aboriginal Canadian, to succumb to a life of crime and violence. One of the most compelling pages shows Pete after he’s being rewarded by the gang with a tattoo. Pete has just committed a crime worthy of acceptance by the gang members. However, the tattoo reveals the pain and sorrow of Natives under the Canadian government.
Pete must lose everything before he can regain his own dignity and sense of purpose. After a fight that turns deadly, Pete is sent to prison and his little brother, Joey, is placed into foster care. The act of Joey entering foster care mirrors the plight of Canada’s Aboriginals. The government’s solution had always been to separate the native-born children from their families and have them placed into foster care and go to special residential schools. These residential schools turned out to be run-down and poorly kept. The children were often neglected and sexually abused. The last school of this kind closed in 1996.
But a strong spirit may rise above the worst trauma. Pete is deemed worthy of a second chance and a good candidate for the prison’s “In Search of Your Warrior” program. It is the journey that Pete embarks upon that informs the rest of our story. Pete must find ways to break the patterns of violence and self-hatred. This is a moving story told with compassion through words and pictures. And it proves to be a excellent source of information and hope, another great example of the power of comics and graphic novels.
“The Outside Circle: A Graphic Novel” is a 128-page trade paperback, in full color, published by House of Anansi Press.