Pocahontas: Princess of the New World

Written by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky Sandra Smith (trans.)
Review by Bethany Latham

This graphic novel begins in colonial Virginia as young Matoaka, daughter of chief Powhatan, becomes a woman. She is wed to a young warrior, but when a chance encounter throws Captain John Smith in her way and she saves him from death at the hands of her tribesmen, she is given a new name: Pocahontas—“shameless whore.” Her friendship with Smith results in rejection by her tribe. She is later kidnapped by the English, converts to Christianity, changes her name to Rebecca, and eventually meets and marries John Rolfe, traveling to England with him.

The blurbs call this an “interpretation” of Pocahontas’s story, and creative license is heavy. Even the translation of Pocahontas’s name stretches credulity; scholars note it was a childhood nickname that was probably due to a playful nature, rather than a sexual pejorative, and certainly not given her in connection with Smith. Yet this version of Pocahontas’s history is effective in highlighting a sense of displacement with both her tribe and the English. All parties are refreshingly dimensional—there are good and bad characters in both camps. The illustrations are three-color: black, white, and a goldenrod yellow. Hatched shadows are used to add atmosphere and highlight characters from backgrounds. Many panes wordlessly illustrate transitions in Pocahontas’s life (Matoaka to Pocahontas to Rebecca Rolfe) entirely through expressions and body language—dialogue is unnecessary. Having Pocahontas, en route via ship back to Virginia, see and be horrified by, essentially, a vision of modern-day New York, is an odd choice of conclusion, doubtless meant to represent foresight that her people and their way of life would be subsumed by white civilization. Overall, this graphic novel is creative in conveying its interpretation of Pocahontas’s life, an interpretation more colorful than the novel’s illustrations.