By Guest Contributor Ay-leen The Peacemaker, cross-posted from Beyond Victoriana
Native steampunk has been presented in many different ways and, like the comic Finder (which had been reviewed here a couple of weeks ago), The West Was Lost is another drawn tale that speaks in layers and plays with the concept of linear storytelling.
The creators Beth Aileen Lameman (née Dillon) and her husband Myron Lameman are both Native (Beth has Irish/Anishinaabe/Métis heritage and Myron is from the Beaver Lake Cree Nation) and passionate about indigenous representation in their creative projects. Beth Aileen’s past work includes her comic Fala–which is described as a Native “Alice in Wonderland”–, the urban fantasy animated series Animism, and the games TimeTraveller–about a time-hopping Mohawk man from the 22nd century– and Techno Medicine Wheel. Myron is an independent filmmaker whose previous work includes his recent documentary made with support from National Geographic All Roads called Extraction, about the Beaver Lake Cree people’s fight against the Canadian federal government over tar sands expansion on their land. He has also done the short films Blue in the Face (also working with Beth Aileen), Indigenous Streets, and Shadow Dances and Fire Scars.
The comic itself is a one-shot 24-page piece, but the story it contains weaves in and out of time, consciousness and space. The summary of The West Was Lost is probably the most linear way to describe it:
The cold north wind brings with it chaos and harsh reality when decisions are made by Nezette, who leads members of the Sovereign to rid the west of the intruding Zhaagnaash people by putting flame to oil. Nezette must confront her worst enemy: the temptation of Windigo in herself.
What struck me most about this comic is how much of it was sparsely told with very little dialogue. Nezette as the group leader is both strong and capable, but, as with any one-shot comic, it leaves you wanting just a bit more afterwards. What happens to these characters? They succeed in their mission against the Zhaagnaash, but what awaits them next?
The comic also boasts wonderful, engaging artwork, and the character designs and art are bold, colorful, and striking. This was purposely described by the creators as Native steampunk, and I appreciated how both Native and steampunk imagery wasn’t stereotyped. The layouts aren’t spilling over with a thousand gears and brass bits; there is a steampunk train that runs on water vapor (green and steamy!) and really interesting arrows they use. Additionally, the characters are dressed in understated but distinctive clothing that both emphasizes their heritage without succumbing to an overload of the “buckskin, beads, and feathers” trap.
What interesting in the response this comic has gotten about its time-jumping storyline is Beth Aileen’s emphasis that non-linear storytelling is part of Anishinaabemowin oral tradition. The purpose behind this framework is not something done for “experimental” sake, but as a new form of listening which relates to how Anishinaabe people understand their language. In response to one review, she explains how a “word is not only a single word but also a description,” and asks “Ultimately, are you curious? Do you want to know more? Listen again, and keep listening, until how to listen becomes clearer.”