- Mining the Story
Is it a good idea to write a news story as a graphic book? Cumulus Press's 2007 offering EXTRACTION! Comix Reportage gambles on "yes" to tell four stories of global mining practices. Each story pairs an investigative reporter with a comix artist to explore the practices of Canadian mining corporations in Sipakapa [sic], Guatamala (Goldcorp); Mont Laurier, Quebec (Nova Uranium); Kashipur and Orissa, India (Alcan); and Fort McMurray, Alberta (Syncrude, Suncor, Shell). The first three chart journalists' visits to communities affected by mining and recount interviews, confrontations, and personal reflections. The last reportage creates a fictional speaker to tell its story.
For a book of 128 pages, it offers 31 of apparatus, including a foreword, an introduction, an epilogue, a glossary, contributors' bios, and acknowledgements. The introduction, foreword, and epilogue all strike on the theme of how hard it was to put this book together, and it is not too difficult to imagine the challenges of coordinating the efforts of 14 contributors. David Widgington writes in the foreword
Our approach to comix journalism...raised many questions and provided us with significant challenges. The resulting four comix reportages certainly meet our expectations and probably surpass them, although once the decision was made...to proceed with EXTRACTION!, its very prospect at the time inhibited all expectations.
The results may surpass the editors' inhibited expectations, but the book's apparatus seems to be working hard to manage readers'. In the epilogue, Marc Tessier explains that "the salary the artists and the staff received, compared to professional rates, covered the cost of only a couple of comix pages. To ask our contributors to draw twenty pages and make changes every step of the way was a huge deal." All of this metadiscussion gives this reviewer the sense that the finished product didn't live up to the hopes of its creators.
This sense may be the result of the labor- and cost-intensive collaboration involved in the book's production, but these factors may also mean that the graphic book is not the genre best suited to investigative journalism. There is very little action here for the artists to capture on the page, and the stories are incredibly complicated, stretching back decades. When Dawn Paley accompanies a representative of the Sipakapa [sic] community to Goldcorp's Annual General Meeting in Vancouver to speak about opposition to the mining project, they ask CEO Kevin McArthur if Goldcorp will respect the results of the local consulta that found clear opposition to the mine project. Eventually, they extract a clear "no" from him. However, and unsurprisingly, this changes nothing in terms of company policy, and the piece ends with a rather limp resolve to continue fighting for justice. Similarly, even though Alcan pulls out of the Utkal Alumina International Limited bauxite mining conglomerate in India, the company continues to supply the mine with technology and claims at the 2007 AGM (Associated Grant Makers) that it "does not hold any legal obligations to pay damages" to villagers displaced, arrested, and even shot for their opposition. Tessier writes that, "To make these stories emotionally resonant, we as editors, moved to emphasize the people on par with the journalistic content.... A human visage has so much more depth, beauty and dignity than any ordinary map." True, no doubt, but even when the artists have the opportunity, as in the above climactic moments, to show more than interviews, there is too little room for context, history, and an understanding of the people involved. Despite the traumas inflicted on the affected communities, the stories do not have space to represent those traumas in such a way that the reader experiences their tragedy. This reviewer is left wondering if these stories would have been told more effectively as documentary films.
The section likely of most interest to readers of petrofiction is the fourth and final section, "From the bottom of the pit," which explores Alberta's bitumen mining industry. This comic, though, which depicts a soapbox speaker gathering a crowd as...