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’