The Orphans train - BD

From 1854 to 1929, hundreds of thousands of abandoned or orphaned children left the East Coast of the United States to be sent to families in a largely rural and underpopulated American West. Behind great philanthropic speeches, and despite all the good intentions that may have motivated the project, we are witnessing the tearing of siblings, the denial of the past of children, often placed in families which consider them at best as labor. cheap work.

Unaware of the scale of the phenomenon, two brothers and a sister will find themselves embroiled in spite of themselves in this misadventure that will turn their lives upside down: they unwittingly participate in the greatest displacement of children in the history of mankind! A little-known subject that this comic manages to popularize brilliantly.


As the New York orphanage cannot care for all of the children in its care, a relocation program is underway to the western states. There, farmers are to adopt and educate these doomed children in eastern towns. Among them, two brothers, Jim and Joey, as well as their little sister Anna, will live this painful adventure of the displacement of children. To accompany and keep them, we find an old philanthropic bigot, but without any experience of children, an unscrupulous young dandy, and a young orphan who provides almost the bulk of the care of the children. From station to station, the orphans are distributed to more or less reliable families and the little siblings only seek to escape. Along the way, they meet Harwey, a mischievous rascal who has managed to get kicked out by his foster family in hopes of finding a richer one.

Our opinion

This first volume of the "Train of the orphans" sets the scene well by exposing the vices of this gigantic displacement of children, sometimes organized with good intentions. We see the overcrowding of orphanages, parents abandoning their children, the care taken not to leave them any trace of their past life, the divided siblings, the inability to ensure a real follow-up of children in care, human trafficking. human beings, the many reasons pushing families to take care of a child: to make him work, to replace a deceased child, for sexual desire… The immense margin between the good intentions of the project and the practical realities is very clearly exposed to unveil this human drama!

The dialogues offer an effective immersion, between the sustained language and loaded with references of Ms. Goswell and the flayed language of young children. Xavier Fourquemin's graphic style has a little cartoonish air that accentuates the features and brings out "on every head" the spirit and character of children.

This comic therefore poses a good warm-up while waiting for the release of the sequel, it already puts in parallel, via black flashes, the misadventures of the orphans and their difficulties thereafter in investigating their origins. A work of investigation and memory that took shape in the 1980's and that can be found more fully explained in the dossier that completes this comic.

File on the Orphan Train Riders

This comic book also includes (at least for its first edition) a file on the trains of orphans sent from New York to the western states from 1854 to 1929. In a few richly illustrated pages, this file allows you to learn about this little-known historical fact, but which nevertheless remains the greatest displacement of children in the history of Humanity! In fact, an estimated 250,000 children are displaced. The file is succinct, in a clear style, which makes it accessible to everyone without any difficulty. However, this simplicity does not make it fall into caricature either, and the author manages to show the various, sometimes contradictory, motivations of the multiple actors in this vast enterprise. Indeed, orphan trains were organized for reasons of social Darwinism tinged with Christian philanthropism, but also for "simple" socio-economic reasons. Thus, the initiator of the project, Reverend Charles Loring Brace, steeped in Darwinism, believed that it was enough to extract these children from their corrupting environment to make them good citizens. It is with a deeply philanthropic idea and full of hope for the future of these orphans that he sets up this project with the support of the railway companies which sometimes provide free rides. But from a pragmatic point of view, it is clear that this solution suited many people: for New York the children sent to the West were a less financial burden, for the farmers of the West it was an extra cheap labor, as for the railway companies it was for them a way of participating in the settlement of the West which should ultimately make the opening of new rail lines profitable ...

The dossier also evokes the memorial work and the research work carried out around this subject, from a music group singing on this theme to the founding in 1986 of the Orphan Train Society by Marie Allen Johnson, then that of the National Orphan Train Complex in Kansas, and the Opelousas Museum in Louisiana.

A very beautiful file therefore, knowing how to be simple while providing the essential elements and making the reader want to look further. A very good example of the possible link between comics and history, a nice demonstration of popularization through comics!

Screenplay: CHARLOT Philippe

Design: FOURQUEMIN Xavier

Colors: SMULKOWSKI Scarlett

Editions: Wide Angle

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