Canadian Publisher Ad Astra Comix Launches Original Graphic Novel “The Beast” Exploring Alberta’s Oil Sands & Corporate Advertising
Ad Astra Comix is pleased to announce the release of ‘The Beast: Making a Living on a Dying Planet’, its fifth publication and first original title. Produced in partnership with Dr. Patrick McCurdy at the University of Ottawa, ‘The Beast’ explores the way advertising shapes our perceptions of the Alberta oil sands, the climate and the Canadian economy.
From environmentalists to oil sands workers, this book has something for everyone to chew on. Driven by economic uncertainty to work in Alberta, protagonists Callum and Mary struggle with doing good while making a living. While Mary flourishes doing oil sands advertising, Callum is dying of the exposure he’s paid in. Their crossed paths to success push them into conflict with each other and ultimately with themselves. Along the way, the book explores the advertising cliches that define oil sands discourse in Canada, from ‘Fort MacMurray is Mordor’ to ‘Diluted bitumen is good for the planet, actually.”
‘The Beast’ is a 112 page black and white graphic novel with six full colour ads that satirize real images produced by environmental NGOs, energy companies and grassroots oil sands supporters – yes, they’re real! Written by Hugh Goldring and illustrated by Nicole Marie Burton, ‘The Beast’ was released in February, 2018 and will launch on Earth Day – April 22nd, 2018.
‘The Beast’ is available through Ad Astra Comix’s online store, on Amazon and through AK Press in the US. Review copies available upon request.
MEDIA CONTACT: Please send correspondence to adastracomix at gmail dot com, addressed to either
If you like beautifully written and impactful graphic novels, if you care at all about social issues, and you have the tiniest spec of curiosity about the impacts of Canadian colonialism and its lasting impact through generational wounds, YOU NEED TO READ THIS BOOK. Yes, I just went all caps. And yes, I genuinely think that ‘The Outside Circle’ deserves it. It is complicated, powerful, and undeniably insightful in ways that linger long after you have turned the final page.
Title: This Outside Circle Author: Patti LaBoucane-Benson Illustrator: Kelly Mellings Publisher: Anansi Publication Date: May 2, 2015 Genre: Graphic Novel, YA Fiction, Fiction
But let me start with a disclaimer. This graphic novel is not for the faint of heart, and likely not altogether suitable for young children. The social issues touched upon include gang violence, drug use, poverty, incarceration, abuse, and the systematic destruction of families and cultures. It needs to be read, it needs to be discussed, but it is best suited to older teens and adults. And while the subject matter isn’t the lightest, the presentation is such that it is easily approachable by students, scholars, and independent readers alike.
The style and colours in this book made a tremendous impact on me, and I had to read it through several times in order to appreciate the depth of the details and nuance. I enjoyed the ongoing transformation of masks throughout, the tattoo motif, the circle series, and the repetitive use of smoke and fragmentation. I also found the variety of panels and page layouts to be engaging, and I really appreciated the break from tradition western aspects and transitions. The layering of Aboriginal and pop-culture iconography was beautifully done, and the balance created through the imagery made it easily understandable despite my limited understanding certain cultural motifs. The result is a fast paced, engaging, and visually appealing experience.
I was instantly, and irrevocably, wrapped up in Pete’s journey from the very first page. The very meta nature of the opening page of story, showcasing a storyteller, expounded further by the narrator stating ‘let me tell you a story’ had me going daaaamn. I know it doesn’t sound super amazing in a review, but the layers in the book are so very meta, and I like meta – especially when it comes across without feeling at all pretentious! Now add in the integration of key documents on residential schools, the Bagot Commission, the 1867 Indian Act, and some painful and startling statistics; I couldn’t look away. I cried during the family mapping exercise (if you haven’t figured out by now that I am a crier, where the heck have you been?), and cried even more at Bernice’s funeral and when Ray came to visit Pete in prison.
I am in love with how everything came full circle in the end, and I know that this isn’t always the case in the real world. But it was really was a touching and uplifting way in which to end this story. But more than anything, I am in love with how LaBoucane-Benson actively invites readers to become part of the narrative and to become part of the healing process.
Would I recommend this book? HELL YAAAASSSS! Especially to Canadian junior and senior high school teachers and librarians. ‘The Outside Circle’ is impressive, empowering, massively educational, and yet ultimately a story of hope. It is incredibly efficient in breaking down stereotypes, helps readers to understand and identify injustices present in Canadian society, and humanizes issues that too often reduced to statistics. This is an absolute must read!
This is a guest post by Jessica Macaulay, a censorship-fighting school librarian that continually advocates for diversity and equality in collection representation. She is an unashamed comics geek and advocates for their inclusion for readers of all ages and levels, and is dedicated to changing the student and parent perception of what school libraries are and should be. Hop on over to Minimac Reviews for more reviews of books and comics like this one.
Pamela Jayne Holopainen.
Amanda Sophia Bartlett.
Delores “Lolly” Whitman.
Elizabeth Mary Dorion.
Bea Kwaronihawi Barnes.
Lisa Marie Young. Leah Anderson.
Helen Betty Osborne.
Danita Faith Big Eagle.
Amber Marie Buiboche.
These are a few of the too many indigenous women missing and murdered across North America.
Projects like Walking with Our Sisters commemorate and raise awareness of missing and murdered First Nations women and girls. This project began through social media as an attempt to value to the lives of missing and murdered indigenous women as well as raise awareness for the posthumous ‘violence of silence’. Here, social media has proven a powerful tool for amassing histories and sharing stories, like that of Cree woman Helen Betty Osborne, who had hoped to become a teacher, but was kidnapped and murdered while walking down the street in La Pas, Manitoba.
Title: Betty: The Helen Betty Osborne Story Author: David Alexander Robertson Artist: Scott Henderson Published: Highwater Press, 2015 Specs: 30 pages, B&W, softcover AgeGroup: For grades 9+ ISBN: 978-1-55379-544-5 Price: $16.00
In the age of hashtag revolutions, social media can be a powerful tool for sharing histories and directing action. But it is a double-edged sword. At the same time that it is a vehicle for sharing love and honour, digital media also helps to spread hate.
It is a simple thing for the analytical mind to pry open the panel of oppression and see the whizzing cogs and grumbling gears of race, class and gender working mechanically to produce social relations. How neatly our familiar intellectual frameworks structure our understanding of human life! There is a reassuring consistency with which these lenses are employed, reducing the world’s complexities to a comfortable, mechanical pattern. Useful as it is, the cold-blooded methodology that sees the operation of capitalism, patriarchy and racism in all things fails to capture the essential ambiguity of our humanity.
It is this ambiguity of the human experience that Kate Beaton has captured in her recent series, Ducks. Threaded beautifully into starkly political themes of environmental destruction, corporate recklessness and workplace safety are more explicitly human experiences: isolation, camaraderie and the moral complexity of survival in one of the world’s deepest wounds. The essential humanity of surviving in such a profoundly dehumanizing environment defines this painfully nuanced piece.
Humanity is a dangerous concept, but an important one. It is too often emphasized by exclusion, used to demonize some people to serve the ends of others. Still, it is too important an idea to abandon. When the easy tautologies of political analysis fail us, it is the idea of our shared humanity that helps to explain what makes people hang together. For students of struggle, insights into this frustratingly elusive element of history are precious.
Like generations of easterners, Kate Beaton left her home town of Mabou, Nova Scotia to make a living in the scabrous sprawl of the tar sands. With few economic prospects at home and the promise of good pay, thousands have followed its siren call into the maw of destruction. ‘Ducks’ recounts Beaton’s experiences working on one of these sites, centred around the deaths of hundreds of ducks in a tailings pond near Fort MacMurray, Alberta.
There are no easy truths framed by these panels. An action by Greenepeace that clogs a tailing pipe endangers the lives of workers on site. A sex worker finds herself frightened and cornered in a work site bathroom. Kate Beaton discovers that working in the tar sands comes with a persistent skin rash. Her equipment is covered in dirt, even indoors. Workers die on the job.
The comic is shot through with death: the ducks, a man falling from a construction crane, others killed in an accident on the highway. In the last case, Beaton hears the dead men were Cape Bretoners and seeks out another islander to see if she knew them. Even halfway across the country, the threat to home is real.
Beaton exposes a vein of callous indifference in her subjects. Men grumble about traffic on the highway on the day of the accident. Workers joke through an announcement on the death of the crane operator. The corporate response to the duck deaths is a scarecrow and some noisemakers. But for every example of inhuman indifference there is a counterpoint of dignity or sorrow.
There is the memory of home, too, in gentle jibes about Newfie Roundsteaks – a teasing nickname for baloney. A man shares photos of his children at home. The lethal crash is framed in terms of the phone call to the families. When Beaton confesses she hates it there, her coworker response captures the essential truth of the situation, and the strip. No one wants to be in the tar sands, watching the planet die. But they don’t have much of a choice.
Kate Beaton is not always a political artist – she is not even always serious. But in framing a part of her own experience, she has given expression to an often difficult truth. We survive in the little acts of kindness, in shared experiences and frustrations that complicate our day. Though we may grow numb or compromised, at the end of it all we are bound together by our common humanity and our ability to find beauty – and absurdity – in even the most trying situations. That is a political lesson than captures an intangible truth outside the reach of cold analysis. How we apply the lesson is up to us.
Thank you to everyone who participated in our Indiegogo campaign to re-release “100 Year Rip-Off: The Real History of British Columbia”.
We successfully raised enough money to cover most of the printing costs! Which is fine by me–as we raised $500 more than I was expecting.
This means 100 Year Rip-Off will be getting back from the printers in September, and will be ready to distribute and sell at retail shops across Canada.
From the bottom of my heart, I thank each and every one of you for your generous support. As comic books rise in popularity and cultural relevance, it’s work like 100 Year Rip-Off that show us a long tradition of using comic books for education and social change.
I hope you all enjoy your copy/copies as they arrive at the end of September. For those of you who ordered larger numbers or are receiving a map in addition to the comic, be on the look-out for a larger shipping parcel. For orders outside of the U.S. and Canada, your shipment may be slightly delayed–but should arrive nonetheless by the end of September, as promise.
For those of you interested in keeping in touch, please follow me online!
I apologize for the lack of updating on the website–crowd-funding actually left me feeling a little exhausted. Hopefully content will be flowing at a normal pace really soon.
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/AdAstraComix?ref=hl
Twitter Account: @AdAstraComics
Cheers everyone! Thank you once again, and have a terrific long weekend!
100 Year Rip-Off, A People’s History of B.C. to be Re-released After 40 Years Canada’s Oldest ‘Graphic History’ on Record Highlights Stories of Working Class and People of Colour
July 20, 2013
Canada’s oldest recorded comic book history is coming back from the dead after more than 40 years—if it gets a little help. On the anniversary of B.C. joining Confederation, specialty comic book publisher Ad Astra Comics is launching a 40-day fundraiser for the comic book “100 Year Rip-Off: The Real History of British Columbia”. The campaign, which aims to raise a modest $800, will help to cover the costs of re-mastering and printing the comic for the first time in over four decades.
“100 Year Rip-Off: The Real History of British Columbia” is a blue-collar comic book history of the first 100 years of B.C.’s confederated history. Written by the late Robert Simms and illustrated by artist and current B.C. resident Bob Altwein, 100 Year Rip-Off was originally produced as a one-time 8-page broadsheet, accompanied by a counter-culture newspaper.
Ad Astra Comics, in consultation with Altwein, has digitized and re-mastered the work and provided complimentary additions to the content, including a map and glossary addressing the finer details of the original work. The text remains un-altered.
“100 Year Rip-Off is a graphic history that almost slipped into oblivion–right at a time when comic books and ‘graphic history’ comics in particular are reaching a peak in popularity,” says Nicole Marie Burton, campaign coordinator and founder of Ad Astra Comics, a micro-publisher that specializes in political and historical titles. The project is headquartered with the publisher in Toronto.
A quality printing of the re-mastered work means that 100 Year Rip-Off can get a new lease on life–and that means a new generation of readers will be able to benefit from these little-known stories of the province’s history.”
That history, according to 100 Year Rip-Off, includes a number of episodes in which B.C.’s residents were given the short end of the stick–as the name indicates. It documents, through meticulous research, the seizure of lands from B.C.’s First Nations alongside the banning of Indigenous cultural practices like the pot-latch. It progresses by chronicling the often-volatile history of labour struggles within the region, from the formation of B.C.’s first unions to the province’s recurring threat of a Winnipeg-style general strike. History enthusiasts will take interest in the detail of the text, while comic book lovers will enjoy the ‘School House Rock’ style of illustrations, so indicative of the contemporary comic and cartooning scene of the 1970s.
Burton points out that young activists may take interest in the rendition of the 1938 ‘Sit-downers Strike’ that took place at the Vancouver Art Gallery and in the Georgia Hotel–an action very reminiscent of the recent Occupy Movement.
100 Year Rip-Off is a standard-sized comic book of 30 black-and-white pages. Participants in the project’s IndieGoGo campaign can contribute for as little as $7 and get their own copy of the book mailed to them. Larger contribution packages include buying a bundle of comics at a reduced price–perfect for schools, unions, book stores, and special interest groups–along with a poster-sized version of the comic book’s reference map, which has been added to this specially re-mastered edition.
“The project is about revitalizing and popularizing the working class history of this province,” explains Burton. “But it is also celebrating the creative work of the comic itself, which in turn has become a part of our history.”
For more information, please visit the “100 Year Rip-Off” IndieGogo Campaign Page:
Some of you may have heard of the historic Canadian Supreme Court ruling this week – which spelled victory for a struggle as old as Canada itself.
In a ruling closely followed by Canada’s Metis community, the Supreme Court determined this last week that Ottawa has not lived up to their end of the bargain made through the Manitoba Act of 1870. This was the agreement that quelled the uprising of the Red River Metis community, made Manitoba a part of Canada, and in turn said that the federal government would set aside land for the children of Red River.
Section 31 of the Act, the court ruled, was to “give the Métis a head start in the race for land and a place in the new province. This required that the grants be made while a head start was still possible.”
Many Canadian readers know where I’m going with this, let alone fans of graphic novels, because it is still one of the most acclaimed graphic histories and graphic biographies to date. I’m referring, of course, to the man who led the negotiations: a Metis man by the name of Louis Riel.
Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography Author & Illustrator: Chester Brown Published: 2006 by Fantagraphics
Chester Brown released Louis Riel to almost immediate critical acclaim. Here was both a piece of Canadian history brought to life, and a genuine masterpiece of stylized art. When I first picked up the book, I disliked the art style despite respecting its quality and consistency throughout the book. I’ve just never been into minimalist drawings… not until recent re-thinking, anyway. But a friend of mine brought up a good point the other day: Chester Brown literally had all of 3, maybe 4 pictures of the man with which to draw an entire book about him. Sound difficult? I think it was… and I’m not sure if the minimalism was the result of solving that problem, but it does in a way that doesn’t seem like defensive measure.
The work of biography is just as artful as the illustration. Here is a sequential portrait not of a one-dimensional populist leader, but a man with conflicts–material and mental–who became larger than life. The book displays his natural inclinations as a leader with as little judgement as his delusions that he was a messenger of God. The best biographies are arguably those where you are certain of the author’s admiration for their subject–but you’re not quite sure what it is they find the most fascinating.
Despite minimalism, there are also wonderful details, like puffs of air in pictures where there is snow on the ground, and brackets around text when depicting that the language spoken is other than English.
I think I’m a little late in convincing many Canadian readers that this is a book worth owning- what I would recommend
is for readers outside of Canada to pick up this title- Chester Brown is a wonderful artist and writer, and in the process they can learn a little about Canadian history and one of its distinct cultural groups.