Haida Stories Get New Life


Vancouver Province


September 26, 2004

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas brings Raven into present.
(Photo: Ric Ernst)

Japanese anime and art bring trickster Raven into 21st century context

The Word on the Street
Where: Library Square, CBC Plaza
When: Sunday, September 26, 2004, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Tickets: Free

How does a tale well-told transform into one well-read? First Nations artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas came up with a unique way of meeting the challenge of making oral culture contemporary.

He calls it Haida Manga, after the Japanese graphic novel and animated film genre.

"I never wanted to use the word 'comics' because they are, generally speaking, simple mainstream stuff designed to entertain adolescent males suffering from hormone toxicity," says Yahgulanaas.

"Manga, on the other hand, reaches every sector of Japanese society - it's 40 per cent of the nation's publishing.

"It comes from between North America and Asia and compares nicely with my stuff, which can be pretty weird."

A great example of that "weirdness" is found in the Rocking Raven series, based on an ancient Haida narrative titled Raven Who Kept Walking.

The most recent edition in the series, Red White: A Lousy Tale perfectly captures the ebb and flow of a story of the trickster Raven up to its usual ne'er-do-well goings-on.

In the story, Raven visits a distant in-law, Cormorant the great fisher, and the two go fishing. Cormorant has great luck, the braggart Raven none. That is, until he steals Cormorant's voice and claims the motherlode for himself. Married to Yahgulanaas' artwork, the story takes on visual, psychological and emotional elements that would be absent in a straight re-telling or a poor Western text translation.

"When you hear these stories, they are bizarre, twisted, complex tales with so much emotional depth and also humour, laughter and everyday life in them. To have a much more honest vision of native society, all of these elements need to be encompassed. Red White: A Lousy Tale aims to do that."

The Japanese certainly think so. When Yahgulanaas and fellow members in the non-profit Bark Design Collective showcased at the Tokyo Design Week, the group took seventh place out of 100 nations. Later this month, he heads off to Korea for a graphic novel convention.

It's ironic that he may have a major publisher in Asia before Canada.

To see Yahgulanaas create Haida Manga on the spot from larger traditional designs, check him out from noon - 4 p.m. today.