*The Annotated Northwest Passage — Best of 2007

Scott Chantler’s historical adventure series is collected into a handsome hardcover volume. It’s only missing a ribbon book marker to take its place in a family library, next to the Jack London books.

Charles Lord, a former hero living out his days managing a frontier fort, takes on a last adventure when a French rogue mercenary captures the incoming supply ship. He’s seeking revenge and some of the immense profit to be made by controlling the fur trade, while Lord’s preparing to retire and return to England. Lord must recapture the fort, defeat the villain, reconcile with his half-breed son, and disenchant his arriving nephew, who doesn’t understand how messy real-life heroics can be. It sounds like a summer blockbuster, but although fictional, the story reflects life in the Canadian wilderness just before the Seven Years War.

The Annotated Northwest Passage cover
The Annotated Northwest Passage
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As Lord seeks out allies among the native people and other fur traders, a ragged band of survivors copes with the collapse of their society, while prisoners seek escape and mercenaries seek to stay alive and profit regardless of politics. Soldiers, trackers, traders, and invaders are ever more interwoven as various members of the groups split off on their own and share ever more tragic discoveries. This adventure story has all the expected elements — strong men handle life-or-death situations in stunning natural vistas — but behind it is a more subtle exploration of culture clash. Birth, society, and experience all influence a man, but it’s still up to him to build his own character.

Aside from the thrilling action sequences, the deeper themes are those of growing up. Although adulthood happens at different times for various people, the question of when and how to “settle down”, to accept a more complacent life instead of youthful excitement and adrenaline chasing, is one everyone must face. Lord misses the more physical life he’s given up to be a leader and administrator. His struggle is the same as ours, although it takes place in an environment where life and death are more immediate.

Chantler’s art combines the best of a simplified, cartoon-influenced style with historical research. His two previous works, Scandalous and Days Like This, were also set in earlier decades, the 1950s and 60s, but here, he reaches further back to a more rural, macho time. As demonstrated in the opening chase scene, with a band of mercenaries running through a forest after the shaman, his sense of motion and panel-to-panel flow is quite impressive, which helps in building pulse-pumping action. The characters are distinctive in design, with Lord, especially, giving the sense of a once-powerful man facing age and the constraints of civilization. Chantler’s art is beautifully simple in line but immensely complex in what it’s able to convey.

New in this edition are 30 pages of the author’s comments on the work. They provide a useful glimpse into the mind of the artist in illuminating choices he made in plotting, staging, and composition, and for those of us less familiar with the history of Canada circa 1750, they also give background on how this story fits into actual events.

Lord is an old-fashioned hero, a man who does what he believes is right no matter the cost or consequence to himself. With its strong pacing, clear and impressive design, faithful portrayals of all the cultures involved in this battle, and exploration of what it means to be civilized, Northwest Passage is a modern classic.

There are preview pages available at the Oni Press website. Author Scott Chantler has a website. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher. I’m quoted on the back, because I like it that much.)


10 Responses to “*The Annotated Northwest Passage — Best of 2007”

  1. Scandalous » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] There are preview pages for available at the Oni Press website. Days Like This is the team’s previous book, about the rise of a 60s girl group and the pop music industry of that era. Scott Chantler has also created Northwest Passage, an historical adventure set in frontier Canada, and J. Torres has also written, among others, – The Complete Copybook Tales, a wonderful semi-autobiography of growing up as a comic fan. [...]

  2. Borrowed Time » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] I very much appreciate Oni trying new things: in this case, attempting to establish a format for the serialized graphic novel. However, I have yet to read one of their titles in this format that didn’t feel slight and leave me wanting more. (Northwest Passage is the best of the lot for satisfaction, in my opinion.) Certainly, at $7 for 80 pages, it’s a better deal than, for example, a $7 64-page Prestige Format DC comic (although those are in color) — but it’s not nearly as satisfying as an $8 200-page Shonen Jump manga. [...]

  3. Two Things I Wish I Could Attend » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] THREE. Author Scott Chantler has been chronicling the early days of the Canadian frontier and the Hudson’s Bay Company in his series Northwest Passage. The third volume of the series (featuring a climactic battle between Charles Lord and a band of vicious mercenaries) has just been released and is probably the most fun you’ll ever have with Canadian history! [...]

  4. Derek Stephenson Says:

    Cheers to Chantler and crew – as a Canadian History teacher these books have done wonders for getting the kids interested. Helping students to visualize the specifics of unfamiliar historical contexts isn’t easy. Most kids think, “how much adventure could beaver trapping bring?” Well, now they know – not only that but the book was a catalyst for discovering other adventurers of the era. Check out the Pierre de Troyes raids!

  5. Hawaiian Dick Ongoing Launches in November » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] It can be ordered from next month’s Previews catalog with code SEP07 1953. Scott Chantler (Northwest Passage) will be the lead story artist, with original illustrator and co-creator Steven Griffin providing [...]

  6. Best of 2007 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] The Annotated Northwest Passage by Scott ChantlerThis reissue collects the adventure series in a handsome hardcover with author’s notes. It covers the struggle over possession of a key fort on the Canadian wilderness frontier just before the Seven Years War. Chantler’s art combines the best of a simplified, cartoon-influenced style with historical research for the story of an old-fashioned hero. [...]

  7. Stupid Publisher Tricks: Women? What Women? » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] with the first book named Crogan’s Vengeance. Neat. I’ve enjoyed some of their historical fiction releases in the [...]

  8. Coming Up: Books Due in February 2010 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Chantler’s Northwest Passage (DEC09 0967, $15.99, Feb 10) makes an appearance in softcover. This historical adventure was one of [...]

  9. Tower of Treasure » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Chantler (Northwest Passage) created this all-ages fantasy adventure, first in the “Three Thieves” series. Tower [...]

  10. *Two Generals — Recommended » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Chantler has previously created some astounding historical fiction — Northwest Passage was one of my Best Graphic Novels of 2007 — but here, he expands into a real-life [...]

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