April 11th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 15
Shootout at the Bellevue Café
The Frank Slide Interpretive Centre's fifth comic book installment hot off the press
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
Anna Kroupina Photo
Monica Field (left) and Joey Ambrosi show off the cover of the fifth and latest comic produced by the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, Shootout at the Bellevue Cafe.
Pass Herald Reporter
The story of the 1920 deadly shootout between police officers and train robbers in the Bellevue Café has all the makings of an exciting mystery crime thriller fit for Hollywood screens, but the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre has taken this gripping event and turned it into a visual piece that both entertains and educates: a comic book.

Using historical resources and materials available at the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, the centre's manager Monica Field and interpretation-education officer Joey Ambrosi planned out and wrote the story line as factually as possible and, from there, collaborated with professional comic book artist Claude St. Aubin to illustrate the narrative.

The Shootout at the Bellevue Café takes readers to August 1920 in Bellevue when three robbers mugged a Canadian Pacific Railway train at gunpoint. One of the robbers escaped to the United States, but the other two remained around Crowsnest Pass and were eventually spotted at the Bellevue Café. What followed was a tragic "wild west"-like shootout that ultimately left three police officers dead along with one of the robbers, while the other escaped, wounded, to find refuge in a small cave in the Frank Slide. Both robbers were eventually located and arrested but to find out how, you'll have to read the comic.

With three officers killed, the shootout in the Bellevue Café was the worst loss of police life in Alberta history until the 2005 Mayerthorpe shooting, where four policemen were killed.

The idea behind this project is to get people, and particularly children, educated and excited about local history. That's why each of the comics tell the story from the perspective of either a child or a character that may appeal to children.

"We want kids to get enthused about history and I love it when you see the flicker in kids’ eyes that they get it," says Ambrosi. "As a historian, I want to be able to get history out to people so beyond kids learning history, we want to promote our local history. It's local history, it's factual, it's fun and it's easy to read. There are all kinds of reasons for reading a comic book. This is very good history in a very simple format."
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In this case, the story is told through the eyes of Orestes Serra, a young boy who lived near the Bellevue Café and witnessed some of the events that unfolded.

Serra was a real person who, in his later years, would come by the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre to share his stories and historical knowledge with the staff. In fact, he provided many intimate first-hand details of the Bellevue Café Shootout.

"He knew lots about the local history and always came up to tell the story about the shootout at the Bellevue Café because he was on the street when it happened," says Ambrosi. "His house was really close by, so when he heard the shots, he came running out, the bad guys were coming out of the café, the police were getting shot and he actually saw it."

For Field, this particular story is one close to her heart.

"Orestes Serra was a good friend and he used to come here all the time to tell this story," she says. "When we were thinking about another comic, I thought, ‘Orestes deserves this.’ It was his quintessential story. Not that he didn't have others. He had millions of stories, but this one was so immediate to him."

The 16-page Shootout at the Bellevue Café comic is the fifth installment in the Interpretive Centre's series based around local Crowsnest Pass history.

Since 2009, they have brought to visual life the stories about the Frank Slide, Charlie the mining horse, the Hillcrest Mine Disaster and the shooting of Constable Lawson.

If you're a fan of superheroes, the name Claude St. Aubin will immediately conjure up images of incredible beings, including Captain Canuck himself, and other extraordinary characters in the DC Comics, Marvel and other supernatural universes.

St. Aubin has illustrated all five comics to date and over the years, Ambrosi and Field have come up with a useful system of working with the artist and have developed ways of working around his busy schedule.

As soon as they are informed of when St. Aubin will have some free time to work on the Interpretive Centre's comics, they immediately get to work developing a storyline.
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"First of all, we discuss what we're going to do next. It's a pretty open relationship between everybody, so we come up with an idea and decide on it, then brainstorm on who will be telling the story," says Ambrosi. "We have lots of material here at the Interpretive Centre from our displays so Monica is usually the one who will assemble the written material and we'll talk about how the story should go."

Knowing that he has 16 pages to fill, Ambrosi begins to divide the story up and with Field’s input, draws up several simplified mock versions of the comic. Ambrosi's visual interpretation of the comic then goes to St. Aubin and, between the three of them, they begin to refine the visual aspect of the images.

Field, Ambrosi and other Frank Slide Interpretive staff members assemble images and photos of historical landmarks and pieces that make up the visual components of the comic. For historians like Field and Ambrosi, it is imperative that the historical integrity of everything from colours to architecture remains intact.

They painstakingly make sure that each corporal uniform has the correct amount of stripes, that the rims on cars are historically accurate or that pieces of money are authentic. So much attention is placed on detail that you simply cannot mistake that the comic version of Main Street in Bellevue is precisely that, Main Street, Bellevue.

St. Aubin uses these references to complete his illustration of the comic in pencil, which then goes back to the interpretive centre for feedback and, once satisfied, Ambrosi and Field send it back to him for inking.

The final step is to colourize the work, which, since the fourth comic, Ambrosi has taken upon himself to do.

"It's fun and it's great to have that continuity. I'm really good at that," says Ambrosi. "It's quite a time-consuming process, but it's a lot of fun because you can see your work when it's done."

Field and Ambrosi first discovered St. Aubin through his work on the 2005 comic The March on Fort Whoop-Up about the formation of the North-West Mounted Police. After visiting him at his home in Raymond, Alberta, to pitch the idea, Field learned that he actually loved Canadian history.

"It was just a matter of luck for us that we had seen that 48-page comic book about the North-West Mounted Police and thought, ‘Wow, this guy is really good.’ We liked his style," says Field. "He's a very soft-spoken and nice guy, and he gets so much excitement out of this stuff."

Each of these comics, including the brand-new release, are sold for $3 at the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre, the Crowsnest Museum, Crockets Trading Company Inc., the Kootenai Brown Pioneer Village in Pincher Creek. They are also available in local schools and the Crowsnest Pass Municipal Library.

Already, Ambrosi and Field have nailed down the theme for the next comic, this time told from the perspective of a dinosaur named Black Beauty. The story will follow Black Beauty since she was a hatchling to when her skeleton was discovered near Cowley in the early 1980s and, finally, to how she became one of the best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons in the world, currently on display at Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.
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April 11th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 15
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