Archive for February, 2010

Strokes of Genius-Red by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

Red by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

Even before beginning to read Red: A Haida Manga by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas for the first time, it made me nervous. The inside flap of the book proclaims loudly, “…Tragic and timeless, it is reminiscent of such classic stories as Oedipus Rex and Macbeth.” To compare Red to any classic may be considered blasphemous on two accounts; first, it attempts to elevate the Haida manga graphic narrative form—which at this time has existed for several years at most—to that of a two thousand year old literary history. But second, not only does the comparison not do justice to the grandeur of works by Sophocles and Shakespeare, nor does it do justice to the grandeur of Red on its own terms. On the other hand, perhaps we should just be forgiving and consider this marketingspeak.

Red is fresh, it is vital, and it is new. But what is Haida manga? “Manga,” translated from the Japanese, means “comics.” Long before North American artists were experimenting with the form or were translating manga into English, the Japanese—men, women, and children alike—were reading graphic narratives that were tremendously thematically diverse. From erotic comics to sports stories to ancient Buddhist tales, manga mirrored Japanese societal interests as much as, if not more than, their Western comics equivalents.

What does Red have to do with manga? In an interview with The National Post, Yahgulanaas described his contact with Japanese visitors to Haida Gwaii during the time that he gave tours of the area. This was his first introduction to the term manga. It could be argued that the fluidity of line in Red is stylistically similar to manga, though the artist’s cartoony quality could equally be compared to many Western artists. Regardless of the technical similarities that can be drawn between Red and manga, the concept of “Haida manga” is a powerful one. It suggests a cultural fusion and a new and innovative approach to comics storytelling. To a certain extent Red delivers the goods in this regard. Continue reading ‘Strokes of Genius-Red by Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas’

Guiding the Complete Idiot

I just finished reading The Complete Idiot’s guide to Creating a Graphic Novel (Alpha Books, 2004) by Nat Gertler and Steve Lieber. There are a lot of books out there that speak to the art and the craft of making comics, but few are so systematic. This book covers all aspects of comic art production from the initial brainstorming stages, to self-publishing vs. soliciting an established publisher, and beyond. There is plenty for a novice to learn in this book. The breakdown of information is clear well organized, and there is a lot of humour in the book as well!

One point that was very well communicated in this resource, and which is consistent with statements made by many, many artists and writers of graphic novels, concerns the time commitment involved in creating a graphic novel. From the first sketches and thumbnails to having a completed project, you can count on investing about ten hours per page. Do you have that kind of time?

Some detailed information on using Photoshop for lettering was included in the Guide, though I have a hunch that perhaps InDesign has made inroads as the industry standard for at least some graphic artists working in comics publishing these days.

Apart from this one very minor detail, I suspect that the vast majority of the information in this book remains current, and I strongly recommend it for anyone considering venturing into the world of comics publishing.

I scraped together some quick notes from the book and have included them below: Continue reading ‘Guiding the Complete Idiot’

“Teaching” Graphic Novels

Last year, I was invited to attend a one-day workshop in Vancouver on the subject of graphic novels. The workshop was sponsored by the Educational Resources Acquisition Consortium (ERAC), an organization which, up until recently, was fully funded by the provincial government. ERAC serves as a one-stop shop where teachers from across British Columbia can search for educational software, video and print resources that have been vetted for classroom use, and which may be purchased by teachers at a discount through the organization.

I was fortunate enough to have been referred by my supervisor to attend this session. She knew that I am passionate about comics, since I had been granted permission by Chris Olivieros (the publisher of Drawn & Quarterly) to include excerpts from Chester Brown’s Louis Riel) in a BC First Nations Studies 12 course being developed in both print and online formats for high school distance education students.

The reason that the ERAC executive had chosen to invite me and two other participants to their offices concerned a general lack of familiarity with graphic novels amongst the staff. This was a chance for us to educate them about the range of forms that graphic novels can assume, toward the end of the group’s establishing criteria that could apply towards determining which graphic novels might be suitable for classroom use.

On the one hand, the day served as a great excuse to share knowledge and bring samples of a variety of works to show to a genuinely attentive audience. But what does it mean to “teach” a graphic novel? Obviously some teachers are doing it. And in spite of the constraints of the classroom, I am certain that some teachers are doing it well. I have also seen how a teacher can bastardize even Catcher in the Rye–I’ve done it myself, not knowing how else to go about the task of “teaching” the novel. And the last thing that I would wish on any student is for a teacher to suck the life out of everything good and true about graphic novels, through treating the subject poorly in the classroom. Continue reading ‘“Teaching” Graphic Novels’

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