Tragically Hip frontman Gordon Downie and Canuck comix auteur Jeff Lemire joined forces to create this graphic / musical collaboration, based on the story of Chanie Wenjack, who died just before Halloween, 1966 trying to escape a Residential School for Native children.

Profits from this 2015 work go to the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.

The project has been performed as a live concert, and also exists as an animated film:

Title: Secret Path
Authors: Gordon Downey and Jeff Lemire
October 18, 2016

ISBN-10: 1501155946
ISBN-13: 978-1501155949

Available from Amazon.uk, Amazon.com, Amazon.ca.

Premise:

An Anishinaabe boy faces freezing temperatures and impossible odds trying to find his way home from the Residential School where he has been sent.

High Points

Lemire uses a limited colour palette and a fine attention to detail to communicate the story of cultural eradication and the emotions of the characters. Lemire’s characters stare back at you from the page.

Low Points

How does one approach this subject matter? If Secret Path fails to mention sexual abuse, it’s leaving out a horror that was all too common in the Residential Schools. In mentioning it, in so short a short text, it overshadows the broader injustice which the schools represent.

The Scores

Originality: 5/6 The story comes from recent history, but the creators of Secret Path have created something new that will bring the uncomfortable facts of that history to a broader audience.

Artwork: 6/6 In addition to my earlier comments, I also call attention to a clever and disturbing use of Halloween masks in one section.

The ability to communicate the horror of abuse without being overly graphic or exploitive is remarkable.

Story: 5/6

Characterization: 5/6 Characterization is simplified but effective. Chanie— “Charlie” —will haunt you.

Flow 6/6

Overall: 5/6 The illustrations and original songs work well together. The soundscapes packs a powerful punch, especially when combined with the graphics. The songs recently scored Downie a Juno Award for Songwriter of the Year.

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