Haida Artist Hits it Big in Asia


Vancouver Province


April 6, 2007

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas painting Haida Manga in Aichi, Japan

Haida artist Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, also known as the Haida Manga Guy, has won a commission to have one of his designs placed on the bags of Wal-Mart-linked stores in Japan.
(Photo: L. Rieb)

MANGA: Large retailer Seiju buys design to grace shopping bags

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas is a bird of many feathers.
Formally trained in classical Haida design, the Vancouver resident has taken his considerable artistic talents along new paths with his unique form of "graphic narrative" called Haida Manga, essentially part-Haida and part-Asian.
He takes Haida design and narratives and transforms them into socially relevant art. The object is to advance the Haida design traditions "to combat the simplistic narratives perpetrated about indigenous people of the Pacific Coast."
He is already a big hit in Japan and Korea where manga - Japanese for comic - is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year business.
And greater commercial success may just be around the corner.
Seiju, a large Japanese retailer with a major shareholding from U.S. retailing icon WalMart, wants to mount Yahgulanaas's Hachidori, hummingbird design from one of his books with the English words "I do what I can" on its non-plastic, reusable bags.
Yahgulanaas says he doesn't know how enriching it will eventually be but is hopeful it will be enough for him to carry on his personal campaign of taking the Haida art tradition out to the rest of the world and not just in the traditional style.
He says the story is actually Ecuadorian and tells of a fire in the forest.
All the animals bolt except for the hummingbird that flies to the river and returns to drop his tiny water on the fire.
He said the other animals ask why and the reply is: "I do what can."
Social and environmental issues are a big driving force in his life, Yahgulanaas says.
Word of his Japanese success is starting to spread and other Asian countries are sitting up and taking notice of the man from Haida Gwaii and his ability to successfully design from the two traditions.
When you consider that 40 per cent of any publication in Japan contains Manga content it is easy to see why Yahgulanaas is already a big hit in Japan.
One thing is for sure, Japan certainly knows about the "Haida Manga guy," as he refers to himself.
Recently, an hour-long television interview in Japan with former United States vice-president Al Gore wrapped up with the showing of Yahgulanaas's paintings.
Another collaboration hit the top-third on Amazon Japan.
"I am getting interest from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao and will be doing two books for the North American market," he says.
He spends about four to six hours every day working.
"I work in bursts and work quickly," he says.
For more information on Yahgulanaas's work, check his website at: http://mny.ca.