Quebec celebrates democracy with graphic novel ‘1792’ – Toronto Star

Blais served as historical sounding board for the four artists to ensure that while each comic was creative, it was also accurate and credible.

“I gave them many images of paintings from the middle of the 19th century and I was there to answer their questions or to stress certain details. I could tell an artist to have their characters smoke more because, at that time in Lower Canada, people smoked like chimneys,” Blais said.

“I noted that the hats worn by the French Canadians at the time were either red or blue, but never another colour, or that they wore the sash, which was a defining feature of the clothing of the period.”

The four moments — that first vote; the debate between the French majority and the English over an official language; a persecuted critic of the British colonial regime; and the demand for political reform that preceded rebellion in Lower Canada — can all be traced back one way or another to 1792.

Magali Paquin, who co-ordinated the work over the last two years, said there were 112 candidates who applied to work on the project. A jury helped whittle them down to a group representing different styles, generations and regional backgrounds.

“We wanted a panorama of what the comic world is like today 225 years after the first comic,” Paquin said.

The best known of the artists is comic veteran Réal Godbout, who treats the demands of political reformers in 1834 and the 1837-38 Lower Canada rebellions. His piece illuminates not only the political debate and optimism of Louis-Joseph Papineau’s Patriot Party, but also the desolate agony when the rebellion is brutally put down.

The others include VoRo (Vincent Rioux), who handled the excitement and energy surrounding that first democratic election in 1792, and Vincent Giard, who brings to life the long-forgotten injustice suffered by Pierre-Stanislas Bédard, who was elected in 1792 and was jailed for publishing “seditious” material critical of the British regime in his French-language newspaper Le Canadien.

Giard knew of Bédard before the project but said he became an expert after spending more than a year studying old paintings, newspapers, books and other documents, and also travelling to Quebec City on several occasions to get a feel for the streets and buildings where the story played out.

“Usually I do poetry and science fiction. It’s certainly my first work of history. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of Christian (Blais),” Giard said, adding that everything, down to the hairstyles and curse words of the day, was researched.

For Vanessa Lalonde, the only female artist, the book is her first published work. She recounts one of the first debates of the newly elected assembly — to decide the official language of business — but does it through the eyes of the children of the politicians engaged in the debate.

After a fight erupts between the French and English children, one asks if the two warring sides will ever find common ground, which is a humorous nod to today’s ongoing language fault lines.

“As long as we’re not stuck in the same fight in 225 years,” one young girl says.

“I hope not,” another says.

During a panel discussion at last month’s Montreal Comic Arts Festival, a high school history teacher arrived with his lesson plan to show that he had already employed 1792 as a tool to teach his students the political history of Lower Canada.

“Our challenge was not only to interest comic book readers in history, but to interest history buffs in the promising and powerful medium of comics to transmit atmosphere and bring characters and emotions alive,” said Paquin.

“Just with that,” Blais said, “we have reached our goal.”

En Scène is a monthly column on Quebec culture. Email: awoods@thestar.ca

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