Graphic novels are often an effective format for presenting difficult and complicated issues and stories. The combination of written and visual storytelling allows for a way of delivering information with an immediacy and clarity that may not be possible in other media. Indigenous authors and artists have recently been taking advantage of this format to create important work for all ages. During this time of social distancing, many of these are available as eBooks from the Ottawa Public Library.
A groundbreaking work in Canadian Indigenous comics, Senator Patti Laboucane-Benson's award-winning book The Outside Circle (only available in English) was born from her PhD research on historic trauma and more than twenty years of work and research on healing and reconciliation of gang-affiliated or incarcerated Indigenous men. A Métis from the Treaty 6 territory in Alberta, she is currently the Government Liaison and the first Indigenous woman to hold a leadership position in the Senate. Here she is in conversation with Piya Chattopadhyay on TVO’s The Agenda discussing, among other things, her work with the Stan Daniels Healing Centre in Edmonton, Alberta.
David A. Robertson, a member of the Norway House Cree Nation from Winnipeg, is a prolific award-winning writer of over 25 books across a variety of formats and audiences. His work also often discusses historic trauma and its effect on current generations. The series 7 Generations: A Plains Cree Saga (first two volumes available in French here) follows Edwin, a troubled young man who turns to his ancestors to guide him towards a better future. Sugar Falls: A Residential School Story (only available in English), is a fictionalized biography of residential school survivor Betty Ross, an Elder from Cross Lake First Nation. Another series, Tales from Big Spirit (Nation Big Spirit, d'hier à aujourd'hui in French), profiles Canadian Indigenous heroes throughout history. David’s love of comics started at a young age, as he discusses here during a visit with the CBC to Maxx Collectibles in Winnipeg.
Cole Pauls, the creator of Dakwäkãda Warriors (only available in English), visited the OPL last fall for a comic-making workshop at the Nepean Centrepointe branch. Cole is a Tahtlan comic artist, illustrator, and printmaker from Haines Junction, YT. In Dakwäkãda Warriors, he has created an allegory of colonialization and an exploration of the Southern Tutchone language, but also featuring cyborg sasquatches. Although this book is not available in eBook format, you can access his monthly comic Pizza Punks online, which he talks about in the CBC interview found here.
Another graphic novel series for teens is A Girl called Echo by Katherena Vermette (only available in English), the story of a lonely 13-year-old Métis girl who travels back in time to experience Indigenous history firsthand. Katherena is an award-winning Métis writer from the Treaty One territory in Winnipeg. In addition to graphic novels, she had also written poetry, fiction, picture books, and an award-winning short for the National Film Board.
Jay Odjick is an artist, writer, and television producer from the Kitigan Zibi Anishinabe community in Quebec. In addition to illustrating two Robert Munsch books and teaching at the University of Ottawa, he has created an Indigenous superhero in his graphic novel Kagagi (only available in French), which is now also an animated series on APTN.
Finally, artist and author Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas has developed a truly unique genre of graphic novel, the Haida manga, combining Asian influences with Haida iconography. His first work in this genre, Red (only available in English), is an epic tale of revenge that evokes Shakespearean tragedy. Not only a graphic novel, this spectacular work consists of 108 pages of hand-painted illustrations that can be arranged into a five-meter-long mural. The original paintings are currently on a multi-year exhibit tour. A short film based on the work can be found here.
Blog post contributed by Mandy from our Rideau branch.
Discover these and other Indigenous graphic novels from the OPL’s collection with the following lists: