Catherine ponders a disturbingly possible war between the US and Canada in We Stand On Guard.
The first time I read Brian K. Vaughan was for my graphic novel class, when I picked up Pride of Baghdad the summer before the fall semester that I was going to be taking the class in. I remember being unable to put down the tale of the Iraqi lions and the animal kingdom of Baghdad in a post-US, post-Saddam airstrike Iraq. This was not the case with We Stand On Guard, which was released last week (5/4/2016) in a hardback trade edition that featured some extra (and very fascinating) artwork in the back—the graph-paper accompanied drawings really tugged at me because I appreciate the relatability. In fact, part of the reason this wasn’t done on Wednesday (Sorry, JG,FE! <3) was that this was an extremely difficult read for me. The plot wasn’t difficult to understand, the art wasn’t complicated—the art, in fact, was probably my favorite part about this graphic novel because it was so visceral—but rather it was the implications and the thought train that Brian K. Vaughan (Writer), Steve Skroce (Artist), Matt Hollingsworth (Colorist), and Fonografiks (Lettering & Design) invite readers to ride along with them on.
The first page of this graphic novel contains the opening lines to the Canadian national anthem. I assumed it was the national anthem just because it seemed like a natural opening for a graphic novel about Canada, but just to confirm my beliefs, I asked the group of friends that I associate with the most to quote me the first lines of the Canadian national anthem – I assumed they’d know it, because they’re Canadian (duh). The responses I got were varied: they knew the lines, one of them quoted it in French, and one of them chose, instead, to give me the opening lines to the American national Anthem.
This, this gesture is exactly what terrifies me the most about We Stand On Guard because people like my Dad are getting to the point in their lives where they’re going to be at the height of their social power. Why does this bother me, exactly? When I was in 4th grade, my Canadian teacher was not very amused when my father took a map of North America I had drawn out of my backpack and relabeled Canada to be “The Future Northern States.” Maybe this is a generational trait, or maybe it’s because my father has always had an off-brand sense of humor, but it’s still something that has stuck with me all of this time. I feel like Vaughan and his story come from a place that shares this similar fear. What exactly starts the war (a war that leads to an invasion and Nazi-like labor camps) between the United States and Canada is something that you’ll have to find out for yourself, but trust me, friends, it is a very, very, very believable motivation: fear. Reading We Stand On Guard was well-timed, too, because over the last couple of days, two of the three remaining Republican candidates for the Presidential Nomination have dropped from the race and have left Donald Trump as the only remaining nominee.
I’ve kept pretty quiet about this whole election thing so far this season because, quite frankly, the infighting between parties and within parties has already reached a really uncomfortable level of mob-like frenzy—and we still have six months until the actual election. So, calm down, people, please. Anyways. If you’ve been paying attention to any kind of news outlet, I’m sure you’ve seen the circus that has been the races so far, and I’m sure you have a decent grasp on how terrible of a choice that Donald Trump would be to hold the office of President. Trump, I think, would be the kind of President who would greenlight the kind of military action that We Stand On Guard narrates. The strike squads, the labor camps for the Canadian population deemed too dangerous to live and too important (for some reason) to kill, and the torture. I think the torture was probably the hardest part for me to read because it is too believable to cast aside as just fiction. Sure, our technology isn’t quite there, but it’s close enough that it bothered me. And the water crisis that plays a part in the narrative of the story? Also close enough to becoming a reality that it requires more thought.
Vaughan’s story works in great concert with the visual team to present a story that hits too close to the actual political climate of North America. Their team of freedom fighters is a ragtag group of, well, people. And with everything going on in the world right now, I can’t help but echo the sentiments of one of these “terrorists” (dubbed so by the occupying American military) as he delivers a monologue to be broadcast over the underground radio after a successful raid against the Americans that results in the death of one of their group:
“Bon Dieu, j’espère que certains d’entre vous voyez ce que je vois.”
Or, for us English-speaking people,
“Good God, I hope that some among you see what I see.” (Thank you for the translation, Craig.)
Pretty dark, eh? | Catherine Bathe