Last year I attended a panel at New York Comic Con called “Telling a Story With Imagined Pictures,” where various creators of nonfiction comics talked about their work. One of these was the artist George O’Connor, who worked on Journey Into Mohawk Country, an account of one Dutchman’s trip from Manhattan further into New York State in the winter of 1634. I later picked up a copy of the graphic novel from First Second Books’ table. I recommend dropping by if you see their table at a con; they usually have good sales like “Buy 2 and get a 3rd for free” and the books are priced down to $10 on top of that.
George O’Connor is the artist of the book, but the writer is an interesting case. All of the text is taken straight from the journal of Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert, as translated by Syracuse University Press. So there is no narrative flourish, no need to create riveting text. The text is simple and plain, and what happened, happened. The story is not boring and has its moments of levity, and moments of historical interest.
Where there is flourish and room for creativity is in the illustrations by O’Connor. With such a simple, bare-bones narrative to work with, O’Connor must fill in the blanks, connecting journal entries into a continuous story and speculating on what the travelers might have felt and what little inconsequential things could have happened that were not important to be noted in the journal but still add flavor and context nonetheless. There’s an extended “spiritual” sequence toward the end with no text from the journal that is probably all bunk, but it adds an emotional arc that is otherwise lacking from the dry journal entries. Overall, the illustrations might add a bit of fiction to the novel, but they are appropriate and do not take away from the basic character of the original journal.
At the Comic Con panel O’Connor spoke of the research he did, and it shows. The clothes are period-appropriate and the snippets of Mohawk culture we view are “authentic,” vastly different from the claptrap we’re usually fed by our popular culture. These are the Indians I remember from my fourth grade textbook, and I would recommend this as essential reading for anyone studying the rich history of New York State.
Journey Into Mohawk Country
written by H.M. van den Bogaert
illustrated by George O’Connor
color by Hilary Sycamore
published by First Second Books (New York, 2006)