Sunday, November 11, 2018

The True Story of the Nez Perce War

Relentless Pursuit #2 (Slave Labor, May 1989, $1.75)
"The Battle of White Bird Canyon" Writer and Artist: Jeff Kear, Letters: Kevin Cunningham, Publisher and Editor in Chief: Dan Vado, Art Director: Scott Saavedra.

What a strange little comic! It's especially strange that this was published by Slave Labor, which usually trafficked in cartoony humor books a la It's Science with Dr. Radium and Samurai Penguin. But it's an excellent experiment, and a stretch for Vado—"different from anything else I had ever published." It'd make a good companion read to William Messner-Loebs's Journey and Chester Brown's Louis Riel.

The miniseries told the "true story of the Nez Perce War of 1877," and this 24-page issue focuses on the battle of White Bird Canyon in Idaho Territory, which catalyzed the war on June 17, 1877. The comic vacillates between prose and illustration, and cartooning, and Kear's artwork is aptly realistic, wonderful for black and white.

The Nez Perce initially held the line, causing Captain Perry and his men to suffer losses—and to fall back to Mount Idaho. The Native Americans then moved to the far shore of the Salmon River, and one-armed General Howard returned with 400 soldiers and 100 volunteers. The soldiers took an entire day to cross the river, and Captain Whipple led a force to Looking Glass Village, which they destroyed.

The war is not a bright spot in American history. The Native Americans were fighting a forced removal that violated the 1855 Treaty of Walla Walla. Kear's comic treats the subject with respect and seriousness, and it's wonderful that this was published in serial form; today it'd be a graphic novel.

Letterer Cunningham is not actually credited in the comic. But the copy I have was signed by Cunningham, who also penned in a lettering credit on the inside front cover. The illustrated prose portions are typeset, and the cartoon sections are lettered well. Kudos, Cunningham.

Availability: This series has not been collected. That should be remedied. We recommend William Messner-Loeb's Journey, available in two volumes, and Chester Brown's Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography.

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