EXTRACTION! Ad Astra's comic book journalism tackles mining justice

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

It's an old "analog" idea that's gaining new credibility in the digital age: comic book journalism. Ad Astra Comix is breathing new life into the genre as it prepares for its second publication, EXTRACTION! which examines what the company calls "the criminal activities of mining companies" in North America.

"There's a certain human element delivered alongside the narrative and the art," notes Nicole Marie Burton, one of the three co-owners of Ad Astra, which launched in 2013.

The Ottawa-based collective -- who also work as illustrators and graphic artists in their other lives -- launched their business in 2013 to promote political and social justice issues through the comic form.

"[This type of] journalism has been around since the 1960s," said Burton. "There was one comic book artist who tried to cover the Democratic National Convention and the police riots in Chicago back then through his illustrations."

There are many other examples, including Joe Sacco's Palestine and Quebec's Guy Delisle (Pyongyang, Burma Chronicles, Jerusalem).

"This form gives more room for nuance and when you see the [panels] illustrating an interview, you can get context depending on what's drawn behind the person being interviewed," Burton adds.

The Panel is Political

EXTRACTION! is a followup to a 2008 comic of the same name and subject matter produced in 2008, in Montreal. There were only 500 copies. Burton happened to find one back in 2010 at a comic shop there and was entranced by it.

"It's hard to find such a Canada-specific political comic book," she said. So along with two of her co-owners she created Ad Astra (slogan: The Panel is Political) to go deep into issues that mainstream media don't seem to be covering.

Several journalists featured in the first edition agreed to provide their work and research for the second edition, collaborating with comic illustrators. Award-winning journalists such as Dawn Paley, Petr Cizek and Sophie Toupic are featured along with acclaimed artists such as Jeff Lemire, Alain Reno, Carlos Santos and Ruth Tait.

Though the work is not "prepaid," everyone is offered a few copies of the book and royalties.

"Canada is home to more than 60 per cent of the world's publicly traded mining companies," says Burton, who adds that the actions of these firms have had a deep and lasting impact on local communities, many Indigenous, and often result in environmental devastation.

"We understand that issues of social justice are intimidating and depressing," admits Burton. "Using the comic book form, we are chronicling how some of the poorest people in the world are standing up to the richest and most powerful entities."

The aim is to get EXTRACTION! into the hands of activists, students, reading groups, environmental organizations and community groups.

"We are encouraging activist groups to purchase the books at 50 per cent off and to sell them for full price at fundraisers. We know these books sell well at political events."

'The Canada we don't look at'

Ad Astra just finished a crowd-funding campaign, raising just over $3,300 to cover editing, printing and shipping costs for 1,000 copies.

In addition, the collective has inked a deal with AK Press in the U.S., a global anarchist book publisher.

Ad Astra relies on "people power," says Burton.

"It's hard to find funding for mining justice work and it would be hard to sell this book in a regular comic shop. So, we needed to crowdfund and offering things like a custom-made two-page comic about a mining issue of the donor's choice if they donated $500."

Burton calls mining a form of "modern Canadian colonialism" in which mining companies are the focus of dozens and dozens of lawsuits concerning worker and human rights abuses and environmental neglect.

"We are considered the 'gentle neighbour to the North' but we are also infected with unbridled capitalist greed. This is the Canada we don't look at."

Ad Astra will continue to cast its comic book eye on many more issues.

"We have several projects we'd like to publish," said Burton. "For me, its about DIY. If you see something in the journalism landscape that you feel should be covered then you should try to support that or make the content you want to see."

Pre-order EXTRACTION! here.

June Chua is a Berlin-based journalist who regularly writes about the arts for rabble.ca.

Like this article? rabble is reader-supported journalism. Chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story...

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all. But media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our only supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help.

If everyone who visits rabble and likes it chipped in a couple of dollars per month, our future would be much more secure and we could do much more: like the things our readers tell us they want to see more of: more staff reporters and more work to complete the upgrade of our website.

We’re asking if you could make a donation, right now, to set rabble on solid footing in 2017.

Make a donation.Become a monthly supporter.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.