A graphic novel commissioned for the Mining Centennial is complete and will be printed in time to be handed out to every grade school student in the valley.Colleen Little, a Drumheller native and previously an interpreter at the Atlas Coal Mine, was asked by the Atlas in November to create a comic book based around a number of tales from Drumheller’s mining era, titled Wildfire Chronicles after the brand of coal the Atlas produced.
“It was a good experience for me, because I care so much about the stories,” said Little, 26 and now a substitute teacher in Australia. “I don’t know if I could do that with just any story.”
The novel covers strikes, mining disasters, miner’s anecdotes and pivotal points in the mining life in Drumheller from 1911 until the early 1960’s. Little describes it as a drama with funny shorts before the different chapters.
“It’s all about the turmoil and ups and downs of mining life, things that can go wrong and things that can go right. And the shorts are comic relief because it can sometimes get heavy.”
Program director at the Atlas Coal Mine Kelly Eddy said Little fit perfectly into working on this project, because of her experience at the mine and her valley roots.
“I’m impressed with how she showed the stories through pictures, it really showed how much dedication she has to her own community,” said Eddy.
Eddy says the comic book will reach a wide audience, as 1,300 copies will be handed out free to Kindergarten to Grade 12 students in Drumheller at all the schools. They’ll also be sold to the public.
“She definitely exceeded our expectations, we thought it was fabulous.”
Atlas executive director Linda Digby says the graphic novel is a journey through time, “kinda like Magic School Bus meets Drumheller mining history,” but she wouldn’t try to define the work.
“She takes a fresh approach which is appropriate for the medium,” Digby said. “This wasn’t something we had been thinking about, it was just one of those ideas that came into my head.”
The Atlas applied and received funding from the Drumheller Family Fund through the Royal Tyrrell Museum Cooperating Society to make the comic book a gift to students.
Digby said the Atlas sought to reach school aged residents in a new and refreshing way.
“A lot of what the centennial is about is telling stories in a new way, and one of our major goals was to connect young people with our fascinating history in new ways. Our past will become something the kids will know and a part of their vocabulary,” said Digby.
“Every year, more and more of these stories get forgotten.”
The comic book Wildfire Chronicles will go to print shortly, with expectations to hand it out to schools before classes end in June.