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Journey Into Mohawk Country
posted March 12, 2007
George O'Connor, Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert
First Second, paperback, 144 pages, September 2006, $17.95
I wanted to like George O'Connor’s Journey Into Mohawk Country
far more than I did. The project offers a solid hook: O'Connor puts into comics form a narrative drawn from entries in the journals of Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert. On behalf of the Dutch West India Company, in 1634 Bogaert traveled from Manhattan Island and into what would eventually be the continental United States but at the time were lands held by the Mohawk, a powerful tribe and member of the region’s leading military power, the League of Iroquois. His mission was to restore faltering trade relationships for beaver pelts, enormously popular in Europe and therefore worthy of attention by competing French companies concurrently exploiting their own inroads into the area.
O'Connor's adaptation is respectful and solid, but it fails to transcend the material either by showing things in such immaculate, compelling detail that you feel you have a clear picture of time or by showing what it does with such dramatic force it becomes a satisfying experience as a story told. While the overall tenor of O’Connor’s take may surprise someone unfamiliar with any history of the New World that includes the various Native American tribes as the dominant or co-equal force, for others it may feel like continually waiting for the story to start. Moreover, O'Connor's cartoon style can be an impediment for those wishing absolute clarity when it comes to relationships and portraits of people and places -- it's not a style frequently used in service of such stories, and therefore has to be that much more excellently realized to communicate to a readership not always skilled in how best to read that style in effective fashion. O'Connor gets the atmosphere down, but simplicity of the cartoon work diverts attention away from the kind of accrued detail that gives such narratives weight. That Journey Into Mohawk Country
goes down so easily may actually help keep it from becoming great history, or a great comic, although the possibility that O’Connor, like Bogaert, may grow into the assignment makes me want to see more.