May 8, 2017

The 40 Years of Comics Project - Day 803: The Halifax Explosion, 1997

https://www.comics.org/issue/875200/

Back to the random comics from the second quarter of the alphabet, and a little slice of Canadiana, today.

The explosion at Halifax in 1917 is one of the major events of Canadian Twentieth century history. As a country that was tightly linked to England but separated by such a great distance, the horrors, at least the conventionally destructive ones, of the First World War seemed very distant to citizens of the country. But this disaster, as the comic says, was "the biggest man-made explosion in the world until the atomic bomb was used in the Second World War." I can't imagine the devastation, and the comic only manages to hint at it. But it must have shown the people of the East Coast, at least, that regardless of how far away the war seemed, the possibility, or even probability, of the destruction in Europe affecting North America was high.

Though based on a historical event, one that most Canadian school children know the outcome of, the comic manages to build a nice bit of suspense as it progresses. We see heroic and foolish actions, and the course of history that inexorably draws us to the climactic two-page spread of an enormous explosion. Rather than depict the disaster from a distance (as one might see a mushroom cloud depicted in a comic), the artist and writer instead choose to place us within the inferno, able to see shards of buildings and blossoming fireballs and little else. It's a rather visceral rendition, one that puts the reader in the center of a horrific accident, and serves to make this historical promo comic, traditionally a sort of boring genre, quite engaging.

Oh, and I should mention that, yes, it's a promo comic, and was distributed with McDonalds' Happy Meals in the late 90s.

To be continued.

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