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Rockin' with Haida Manga

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  • Robert V. Schmidt
    Indian Comics Irregular #118 Haida Stories Get New Life, read the headline in the Vancouver Province (9/26/04). Japanese anime and art bring trickster
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 1, 2005
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      Indian Comics Irregular #118

      "Haida Stories Get New Life," read the headline in the Vancouver
      Province (9/26/04). "Japanese anime and art bring trickster Raven
      into 21st century context," it continued.

      An article in another Vancouver publication, the Sun, explained what
      the first article was talking about. Dated 10/4/03, this article is
      worth quoting at length:

      These are not the powerful, shamanistic images of artists such as
      Bill Reid or Robert Davidson. But neither are they the
      all-too-common media images of Indians living lives of poverty and
      pain on reserves or in inner cities. The stories of the trickster
      Raven, as told by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, are something
      different. For one thing, they're not images carved into
      cedar--they're drawn on paper. They're what most people would call
      comics, and they're fun, humorous and sometimes just plain rude.

      In one episode, for example, a pompous Raven gets his comeuppance
      when he's served dried salmon softened in urine. In another, Raven
      gets to be a hooker and wear fishnet stockings and high heels.

      For Yahgulanaas, the reverence with which native art and artists
      are treated is the flip side of thinking of natives as lazy drunks.

      He believes both stereotypes are limiting--and both deny the
      essential humanity of native people.

      "I look at our community today and I see that people are ignorant
      generally about the humanity of indigenous people. Frequently,
      Indian people are seen in simplistic, superficial ways," he says.

      "We're either dirty savages, drunken Indians, or artists. It's all
      phony. It's a Canadian myth. I think these comic books act as a
      vehicle to open it up more. We haven't yet been described as
      regular people."

      Yahgulanaas takes traditional Haida stories and turn them into
      manga--Japanese-style comics. He has dropped the traditional
      rectangular boxes and voice balloons associated with the North
      American comics of Marvel and DC. Instead, he has developed a
      flowing style that uses a bold line stretched almost to the
      breaking point--a motif strongly associated with Haida art--to link
      the images in the narrative.

      He's also reluctant to use the word comics to describe what he
      does. In part, that's because we tend to associate comics with a
      form of visual story-telling consumed by children in North
      America--then abandoned as those young readers grow older.

      Namely, the clich├ęd crimefighter:

      Like much of the world of manga, Yahgulanaas' narrative universe is
      a richer one than the simplistic good-versus-evil stories found in
      mainstream comics. In Tales of Raven, you won't find a superhero
      with rippling biceps and a million-dollar smile waiting to save the

      "When people read these stories, I want them to see all aspects of
      us--that we have rude stories that are entertaining and that raise
      questions for everyone," he says.

      Yahgulanaas's conclusion:

      He believes telling Haida stories in manga is perfectly in keeping
      with Haida tradition--adapting it to the modern world.

      "This is not superhero land. It's more of a reflection of who we
      are as a people unsure of what to do. The stories are morally
      ambiguous," says Yahgulanaas, who moved to Vancouver 18 months ago.

      "They're not 'sacred Indian monumental art' or whatever its viewed
      as. They're graphic narratives. They're meant to be fun."

      To see and learn the latest about Yahgulanaas's work, visit his
      website at http://www.rockingraven.com

      Rob Schmidt
      Blue Corn Comics
      To subscribe to Indian Comics Irregular,
      go to http://www.bluecorncomics.com/ici.htm.
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