April 09th, 2021
OVERVIEW: I think it's been a long while since people wrote off graphic novels as just comics for kids, but it made news in the literary world when the graphic novel Sabrina was nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 2019. That was the graphic novel selection for 489 that year. You can read a synopsis of the novel here. You can read a review of the novel here.
One of the critical elements of the novel that many readers commented on was the way the images conveyed the bleak isolation that the various characters felt in Sabrina. And, of course, that is what makes the graphic novel unique as a genre: the role the visual plays in telling the story.
PROMPT: For today's ICRN, in roughly 300 words, discuss 1) what is the impact and role of the images in Paying the Land; 2) What would be lost or gained if this were a "traditional" novel; and 3) what challenges or joys does the graphic novel present to the reader? In your reply to these three questions, please don't generically talk about graphic novels generally. Please speak specifically about this text, Paying The Land, in ways that makes me know that you've read and thought about this particular text.
4/9/2021 10:44:38 am
I think this would have not been read the same had it been written as a work of prose. The images do a lot of the work. The first book I thought of was Persepolis which I read a couple of years back. The images don't only work on the page visually to give you eyes a break, but it changes how we read the physical words on the page.
4/9/2021 10:45:31 am
The impact and role of the images play a part of daily lives for these characters. The impact and role that the images play in Paying the Land, is giving readers a good visual of what life was like living around the Mackenzie River. We get to see the characters struggle and what they have do to survive. In the beginning, one page demonstrates that they go out into the river to catch around 400 fish per day. There are also visuals of them performing physical labor and children playing together as a community. In part IV, we learn that: “Willard started an airline” (223). The picture provided demonstrates a similar image drawn to the one that Willard had created. Without this drawing, readers probably would not look up the airplane to see what it looked like. These graphics are good for the author to demonstrate information Sacco wants us to know. The next image provides us an example of what vehicles they would use if flying wasn’t an option because of pricing. Sacco wants to provide us of a visual of previously used vehicles. He also wants us to see descriptions of peoples clothing and the landscape itself.
4/9/2021 10:45:42 am
The impact of images in Paying the Land, gives the reader a visual of what is happening in the story. As important as words are, visuals and drawings puts everything into perspective and gives visual learners a chance to grasp on what is happening in the story. For example, at one point in the novel where they talked about Indian Residential schools, the drawings depicted kids getting hit, taken away from their parents, tears, and of course the joys of the children coming home to their parents. There is a choice on where the reader can pay attention to whether it be the words or the pictures. What would be gained is reading would become more enjoyable experience for people who do not enjoy reading as much. What would be lost is the traditional way of writing such as chapters, acknowledgements, paragraph form of story-telling or dialogue, etc. The joys of graphic novels is you can see how much work the artists put into the drawings. In Paying the Land, there are extreme details of the people, the background, cars, nature, buildings, and such. The people look hyper-realistic which is hard for many artists to portray without making them look weird or inherently racist which is one of the challenging parts of graphic novels. Another challenge is to choose your words carefully and making sure that you do the correct research so the readers can know and understand the story you are trying to convey. At the beginning of the novel, one of the men in the Dene people talked about their childhood and life on the res before waacking became a thing. He talks on his experience of being on the res living in harmony with nature, living with his family and working alongside the women and other children in the group. He gives us as inside scoop of what happens which is not an easy thing to do.
4/9/2021 10:45:42 am
Paying the Land. I have so much to say about this and also: so little. Bottom line? You get less nuance and loads of flat representation, conjecture and opinion when you seek information about an issue from someone not living that reality. You get unintentional bias: like two pages glossing over the very real problem of sexual abuse of our babies by “well-meaning” clergy and THREE pages of Marie Wilson’s feelings about how so many people were forced to go to the convent by their parents. The drawings were more elaborate and the story more nuanced. I DON’T CARE about how the nuns felt at that moment. That is another book for another time and maybe then, I would welcome context and have sympathy. Wilson also attested to the schools being shut down as of the early 90’s - but as Natives know? They are still up and running and here in the US in addition to state sanctioned removal despite an act that is supposed to protect our children from entering the welfare/foster system if there is a native family ready and willing. Watch Dawnland. Both my father and my oldest aunt were children removed and taught that everything about their existence was “wrong, evil, pagan or destined them for an afterlife in Hell”. So, really, I have many thoughts about the adults who would harm a child psychologically, emotionally and physically - but not much sympathy for their parent’s sending them to a convent. Our elders were forced to give their children to a system that harmed them or risk government pushback. That is a very different thing.
4/9/2021 10:46:34 am
"Paying The Land", being written as a graphic novel, draws a lot of attention to the First Nations' peoples traditions and ways of life. Instead of these things being described to us, they're shown, and often visual things make more of an impact. For example, on page 42, the drawings are very busy and a little overwhelming. But if you read the text, the drawings bring more meaning to it. They're talking about mining and "We will control resource extraction; it will not control us." But it is controlling us, especially the Dene. But the mess of pipelines on the top of page 42 expresses that frustration and confusion visually. A lot would be lost if this was written as a traditional novel. We would loose that visual representation of the native people and the struggles they face. That visual pushes the issue further than words ever could. An example of this is on the top of page 155. We see a man frozen to death and covered in snow. Reading the text, we find out this is a common occurrence due to alcohol. Alcoholism is widespread throughout indigenous communities, and the general public know this. But they don't see it. This makes us see it. We would loose the visual pain these people deal with if this were written as a traditional novel. The only thing we might gain is more text, and text that doesn't get so lost in some of the drawings. The text on some of these pages absolutely gets lost, or is easy to read out of order if you aren't used to reading graphic novels. But having the pictures is fun too. It brings me back to my childhood and picture books. I like looking at the little details in the drawings.
4/9/2021 10:48:36 am
Though true of most graphic novels, the images in Paying the Land are especially potent because of their ability to depict the gritty yet beautiful landscape. From snow-covered mountains lining the backgrounds, to pines and rocks filling the environment, these images really help to evoke a guttural, natural feeling present in much of the land in the Northwest Territories. Knowing that Joe Sacco is a journalist and reporter, in my opinion the images help add to the journalistic credibility of the piece, because they allow him to create as accurate a depiction as possible. A key tenet of indigenous beliefs is that the land should be cared for and treated with great respect, so being able see the lands for ourselves allows the audience to appreciate them in the way the Dene do. Sacco doesn’t have to rely on just words to paint a scene, rather he can painstakingly craft each and every face, which allows him to convey a greater range of emotions from more characters. That is honestly one of the biggest aspects of this piece for me, that being the ability to demonstrate emotions with facial expressions. Not only do we get accurate depictions of Indigenous peoples, but we also get a much clearer picture of their strife and can see plainly their struggles with the systematic erasure of their culture.
4/9/2021 10:48:59 am
I think the biggest impact that the images in Paying the Land had on me was that it made me slow down my reading extensively, even though it ultimately took me a short amount of time to read the graphic novel. There were so many different people that Sacco interviewed and included the stories of, like all those who were affected by the assimilation schools and the generations that followed. By having the reader slow down their reading experience, he is able to talk about the generational impact the assimilation schools had on the natives without losing the reader with heavy facts and information. Another impact is that the images help to hit home the effects of the fracking and oil industry on the land and those who lived in the bush. I remember one section vividly towards the end of the discussion on the oil industry where Sacco was comparing himself to the industry as he himself was kind of acting as one (he talked about how he was going in to extract something which was similar to the oil industry on the land) and there was an image he had a fracking rig in his skull and he was drawing the comparison between him and the industry. This image impacted my thinking greatly, and it helped visualize what point he was trying to make about the extraction of something from those who could not avoid it.
4/9/2021 10:49:27 am
I thought that Paying the Land was a very interesting way to get information across in a unique and engaging way. I have not read many graphic novels in the past and my attitude towards them was that they were largely for entertainment. It was interesting to read a graphic novel that wasn't for the purpose of entertainment and strictly for informational purposes. I felt engaged throughout my entire time of reading the book. I almost don't want to say that I "read" Paying The Land because there wasn't much to actually read on each page. I spent most of my time looking at the pictures that helped to move the story along. I thought the pictures of the various people that were interviewed on the subject of the Dene tribe. Something that I felt that I was missing was more description of what was happening to the tribe and the advancements that the oil companies. I felt that there was a bare minimum of descriptions for the sake of it being a graphic novel. I think the author got his points across and described the scene adequately; but obviously the artwork was the focal point of each page. There were some aspects of the story where I wondered why I needed to be looking at pictures of peoples faces when I could be reading more of what people had to say. I felt like I was more engaged when the book talked about the livelihoods and culture of the Dene tribe. I felt like the images helped solidify aspects of culture that I have not seen before. I lost interest during the second or third part in the book when it mostly focused on the oil companies and treaties that were made and broken over the years. I felt like the images were a little bland and I didn't look at them for as long as I probably should have.
4/9/2021 10:49:46 am
Were it not a graphic novel, I think that Paying the Land would be very dry and difficult to get through. I think that representing the people that were speaking did a lot ot bring the story to life. We were able to read the quotes but also see and feel the context, the emotion, the humanity behind the stories that Sacco was sharing. I think that the depiction of the Dene people, particularly the frustration and determination pictured in their faces, did a lot to contextualize the story beyond flat text. Especially given the degree to which Indigenous people are often stereotyped as being stoically tragic figures, imaging the realities of their struggles and triumphs was important.
4/9/2021 10:51:11 am
I think my answers to the first two questions connect with each other. The images guide this story but they also serve as our way of walking in this world and seeing things from that perspective. On pages 20 and 21 the pictures on the bottom of each page show us how this group got together to catch up in July. If this were a traditional novel, I think readers could have struggled to place themselves in the setting and context of the story. It’s written on page 21 that “People got together to catch up…” and obviously, if this were a traditional novel that particular statement could have been described to us with great detail and imagery. Sometimes, however, it’s more impactful to literally show us the scene through art and images. Page 123 is another example, where the role of this image is to show us how she was crying. The following pages show us the fear the kids felt while being thrown onto this plane. It’s more powerful to visibly see it than be told or shown in a work of prose.
Brittany Ann Oppenheimer
4/9/2021 10:51:30 am
If you look on pages 112 and 113, there are very good examples of how "Paying The Land" shows us the impact and the roles of these images. For example, on page 112, it is explained to us that one of the characters was tossed out of a window when he was three or four years old in order to escape his fathers abuse. When he got older, he decided to drink and learn these behaviors from other children when he was too young to understand. This, led him to fist fights due to all the drugs and the alcohol. In these pages, the images show us the pain the main suffered through his eyes (through images) and that as a child, he was trying to be protected. The way the characters are drawn here feel "shaded down" in a sense. It's hard to describe, but everything hear was meant to be shaded darker, as if to say this character has been through hard times. The same can be said for how the characters are positioned, how they are arched. Especially on page 112.
4/9/2021 10:51:41 am
It's interesting because before reading "Paying the Land", I hadn't read a graphic novel with such a copious amount of text/factual information before. The novel is text-heavy and explains a lot of specific processes, events, or ideas. For example, when the novel explained fracking, there were some great visuals to go along with the technical process that was being described. The visuals assist the reader in understanding whose perspective we are getting by inserting a box image with the speaker's face throughout images of the story they're telling or the topic they are discussing. The visuals of the characters are distinct from one another and show the diverse range of people Sacco spoke with. There is a stark difference if one juxtaposes the images we get in the beginning of the novel when we learn about Dene culture/living with the images throughout most of the rest of the book that depict the corporate destruction of both the environment and a group of people. Some of the images are heartbreaking, like the one we see on page 123 of the mother weeping as she realizes what has happened to her land/her people. The art also depicts how the characters interact with each other and what their emotions while they're speaking. For example, when the kids are bullying Eugene, we see the aggressive, angry look on their faces as they shout racial slurs.
4/9/2021 10:52:09 am
In Paying the Land images are used to enhance the reader’s interaction with the story being told. The piece, excluding the images, is really an interview about the relationships between the Dene people, the Canadian government and the land that both these entities had to share. Through the images, the events and stories talked about in the piece are brought to life, giving the reader further insight into the plot. For example, much of the piece is told from the perspectives of different individuals as they struggled to maintain their identity as a people and the land they held as a birthright. Many of these people are shown in the present day telling these stories, as the backdrop shows their past selves actually participating in these events. Through this, readers are really able to separate the perspectives of past and present and form a more complete picture about the story as it unfolds.
4/9/2021 10:52:40 am
Paying the Land, I felt had great historical significance. By making the story into a graphic novel is a stroke of genius. The illustrations show how the Dene lived and survived. If an sixth grade history student was having trouble reading a textbook or having trouble reading. The graphic novel could help them understand what they are reading.
4/9/2021 12:23:50 pm
I find that the inclusion of images in the graphic novel is appreciated but not necessary. I do think that books are a superior form of storytelling but the use of images helps give the audience an idea of the setting and the characters as descriptions can only do so much. Of course nothing will be lost without them as it all attributes to the ability of the author. For joys, it can be refreshing to actually see something other than text as it helps break up the pace somewhat in a way to not become boring or monotonous. That would be a benefit to including these images although it would not be detrimental to the reader to not have them as their retention would not be effected.
Leave a Reply.
Torda and the 489s
We'll use this space for synchronous and asynchronous work this semester. Q&A discussion board is housed in February archives of this blog. I check it weekly.