When you think of comics, you may think of superheroes or lovable scruffy dogs. But Rebecca Roher says comics are not only pulpy and light. Roher is a cartoonist, illustrator and educator. Comics, she says, can be used to start conversations about serious topics.
“People are maybe more open to a comic, while other forms of communication might be too difficult,” she says. “It’s a narrative that helps with telling a serious story and dealing with a serious topic. Comics distil ideas to their purest essence.”
Roher is a Nova Scotia College of Art and Design graduate who now makes her home in Toronto. She started looking at the art of comics about six years ago. She has since used the medium to educate people of all ages about such things as abortion, women’s bodies and dementia, among other things.
She says she’s always been interested in real stories. Which is why, while in Dawson on an art residency program this last August, she was drawn to the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in First Nations summer exhibition called Finding Our Way Home, held at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre. The exhibition was about residential school survivors, the affected generations that have followed and the work being done to heal. One of the items on display was the K’änächá Scrapbook Project, which is a compilation of residential school memories that was created by a group of survivors in the Klondike.
“The scrapbook was powerful and heartbreaking,” she says. “It’s an important story and there’s lots we don’t know about. There was something there for me and I felt compelled to work through it.”
Roher says that questions such as what does reconciliation really mean and how do we actually change things, drove her to create a comic based on the scrapbook.
“Drawing the story in comic form was a way for me to work through all of this,” she says. “In order for me to understand things, I incorporate a visual project into my brain, work through it and then let people see it.”
Roher drew her cartoons on an 8×12 paper, then folded it into eight pages: a front and back cover, with six pages in between. Before leaving Dawson, she left it with the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre. It’s called the Dawson City Scrapbook.
So far, reaction to the idea of the project has been positive. Georgette McLeod, a Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in citizen, thinks Roher’s comic is another way to help keep the reconciliation efforts and healing in the community alive.
“It’s another element in getting the message of this stark history across, facing it, and healing in different forms. It’s still hurtful to lots of people, and it’s important to continue the discussion in different ways,” says McLeod.
Roher says she was grateful to have had people around her that gave an honest response while she was creating her comic.
“I was very open to criticism – it made it better,” she says.
She feels like she has only skimmed the surface of a very important topic and is still waiting for more feedback from the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in to make sure that she has appropriately covered all the points.
“I want the feedback,” she says. “I don’t want to put words in someone else’s mouth.”
For more information on Rebecca Roher’s work, go to www.rebeccaroher.com