Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Reader's Diary #1156- Willow Dawson: Hyena in Petticoats

Earlier this year I read the Susan Hughes/ Willow Dawson collaboration No Girls Allowed and found myself underwhelmed. While I liked the premise of highlighting historical women who chose to dress as men and their range of reasons, I ultimately felt that the final product felt rushed. I'd have been more inclined to read an entire book on each woman and getting a better sense of their unique, complex identities.

With Hyena in Petticoats: The Story of Nellie McClung, Dawson has overcome most of those supposed shortcomings. Focusing entirely on one person for an entire book made McClung far more interesting and combined with the artwork, which this time around felt more adventurous and detailed, raised McClung above the level of simple facts. I enjoyed it far more.

That said, when it was all over I found myself comparing it to another famous Canadian graphic novel biography: Louis Riel by Chester Brown. I still felt that Louis Riel was the superior book, but it took me a while to put my finger on why. Was I simply more drawn to Louis Riel, the person, more than McClung? Maybe, but I didn't think so. I think the clue came in Dawson's afterword. Here she writes, in non-comic form, of additional information, including the controversial fact that McClung was a supporter of eugenics, sterilizing mentally-handicapped children. I think such information would have benefited the preceding story. Brown didn't shy away from the eyebrow raising details in Riel's life and wound up painting a more complete, compelling character; and ultimately more humanized. McClung, while certainly given a more in-depth treatment than the women in No Girls Allowed, nonetheless still felt black and white, but a hero for women's rights to be sure.

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