Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas challenges native stereotypes through illustrative story telling. The stories of the trickster Raven, as told by Yahgulanaas, are what most people would call comics, and they are fun, humorous and sometimes rude. Yahgulanaas takes traditional Haida stories and turns them into manga (Japanese-style comics). He has dropped the traditional rectangular boxes and voice balloons associated with the North American comics of Marvel and DC. Instead, he has developed a flowing style that uses a bold line stretched almost to the breaking point – a motif strongly associated with Haida art – to link the images in the narrative.

For the past two decades, besides developing his unique visual style, Yahgulanaas has spent most of his time working with other Haida people to prevent their homeland, Haida Gwaii, from being logged.

After briefly studying art in Vancouver in the mid-1970s, Yahgulanaas returned to Haida Gwaii to assist acclaimed painter, carver, and printmaker Robert Davidson on a significant totem-pole commission. While occasionally participating in other such projects, he spent much of the 1980s and ‘90s dedicated to public service and political activism. For a period, he was an elected chief councillor for the Haida, and he also sat on numerous committees, negotiating jurisdictional disputes between the Haida and various levels of government. “I was working with other people in the community on issues related to the land, social justice, offshore oil, and gas transport, these sorts of things,” he says. By 2000, however, he felt he could return full-time to his art-making. “What’s really good about it is that the art is informed by that experience,” he says. “The exploration of the edge.”

Yahgulanaas began creating pop-graphic narratives, riffing on traditional Haida stories and painting techniques, and quickly developed the distinctive art form for which he is most widely known. “I started off trying to do comic books because comic books are about accessibility,” he says. Karen Duffek, MOA’s curator of contemporary visual arts, adds, “Michael brings together his own version of the language and imagery of Haida painting with the mass-circulation and graphic aspects of Japanese manga.” A trickster-like sense of humour contributes to his work’s appeal, Duffek observes. Yahgulanaas’s books include Flight of the Hummingbird, A Tale of Two Shamans, The Last Voyage of the Black Ship, and Hachidori, a bestseller in Japan.

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas will exhibit in several shows this year: Continuum at the Bill Reid Gallery, in a group show at the McMichael Canadian Collection in June and the Museum of Anthropology in the fall. He is currently occupied with installing his works Coppers from the Hood and Pedal to the Meddle at the Glenbow Museum in Calgary. Pedal to the Meddle will also be displayed in the National Arts Center in Ottawa in April. The next major Haida Manga production is a full color hard cover called RED and will be published by Douglas & McIntyre later in 2009. RED will be exhibited in Vancouver in 2009 and again in Calgary in 2010. A Bravo! Documentary on Michael and Marianne Nicolson will be broadcast in the fall of 2009. Currently his Haida Anime Flight of the Hummingbird is featured on Youtube. Michael and his nephew Chris Auchter have just finished a second animation work which retells a Bill Reid story and will be broadcast later this spring.

Yahgulanaas lives on Bowen Island, British Columbia.