Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas Interview

hummingbird-coverMichael Nicoll Yahgulanaas is creating a new graphic language which jars the familiar artwork of Canada’s First Nations by uniting classic Haida design with an Asian art influence: Manga.  Michael has dubbed this work Haida Manga – part Haida, part  Manga.

Social and environmental issues play a large role in his works, and his new book, Flight of the Hummingbird (Greystone Books), shows that the individual can make a difference; one cannot try in vain.  A very poignant story which has the ability to connect with readers of ages 5 to 95, the volume also contains essays contributed by the Dali Lama and Noble Peace prize winner Wangari Maathi.

What part of a Canada are you from/where do you live now?

I was raised and am culturally linked to Haida Gwaii, an archipelago also called the Queen Charlotte Islands and located 13 miles outside of the territorial waters on the west coast of Canada. I currently live on an island outside of Vancouver.

Were you a comics fan growing up?
I had some exposure and much appreciation for Classic comics. I always enjoyed MAD and PILOTE.

Your current book,  Flight of the Hummingbird, you’ve coined Haida-Manga — essentially you created a new visual storytelling method by hybridizing Japanese Manga with the traditional art of the Haida people.  Do I have that right?  What triggered this shift for you?  Why create sequential stories, and further, while it’s natural for you to tell these stories with your own style, what caused you to merge the styles and form a new one?

The merger is not really of style or technique but rather intent. The first intent was to signal that the lineage of my work would not arise out of a continental American root but would be grafted onto a north Pacific literary tradition. This of course would be Haida graphic and artistic practices in the Classic era and for the Japanese side,  I draw on their long standing appreciation that complexity and diversity can be conveyed in manga, or graphic literature. I felt that manga or comics could function as a non threatening vehicle to explore complex social structures like culturalism (aka racism).

You’ve been creating art for some time now, who are some of your creative influences?  I’m especially interested in learning about your sequential arts influences?What comic works have you read that really inspired this move, or perhaps this was an organic transition?

I can still remember the first time I saw Will Eisener’s amazing work. Wally Wood is also a great light. Rand Holmes taught me to appreciate the shadow and significant influence must be accorded to Hayayo Miyazaki and my great grandfather Charles Edenshaw of Massett, Haida Gwaii.

You’ve worked in your traditional art style, I’d like to know about the impact and influences that you tap into as a First Nations creator.

The classic Haida style remains the singular potent source of design influence in Haida manga.

What are you currently working on?

I am in the midst of painting the next book. RED is a 108 page color work that will be printed by Douglas & McIntyre in 2009. This work is also a 4 X 1 meter painting using classic Haida design structure in the place of classic comic cartoon gutters.

University of BC Press is also printing a book in which the first chapter will be a 14 panel Haida manga narrative that explores Haida cosmology.

Finishing a 2.5 minute piece of animation (Haida anime) called Raven’s Call. This is for web based presentation hosted by the Bill Reid Foundation.
We will begin working on another animation project with a French film production later this year.

BRAVO! is also finishing a documentary on my work  and we expect this to air sometime this fall.

I am also planning for my 2010 solo exhibit at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, a group exhibit planned for the McMichael in Toronto (June  to September 2009), the Museum of Anthropology later that year as well as an exhibit of my sculpture PEDAL TO THE MEDDLE at the National Arts Center in Ottawa this April 2009.

Do you have a website/blog that people can read, to keep up to date with you and your projects?
Yes I have three websites:

http://www.haidamanga contains a number of sequential works as well as a small internet shop of some examples.

http://www.rockingraven contains some examples of single panel work as well as extensive archive of print, video and audio medial coverage.

http://www.mny contains examples of larger scale paintings and sculpture works as well as my biography. This site is presented in a number of languages.


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