cover image Jaj: A Haida Manga

Jaj: A Haida Manga

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas. Douglas & McIntyre, $29.95 (132p) ISBN 978-1-77162-353-7

Indigenous artist Yahgulanaas follows up his similarly styled Red with an eclectic comic—adapted from a mural commissioned by Berlin’s Humboldt Forum—that employs calligraphy and other flourishes to detail complex histories of Native Haida peoples encountering Europeans on Canada’s West Coast. The first European settlers arrive in the region of Maktali (present-day Victoria) seeking shelter from a storm out at sea and are depicted as working with the Haida to upkeep the land. But as the British start settling in droves, Indigenous laws protecting resources are no match for colonial greed. When smallpox breaks out in 1862, the British refuse to vaccinate the Indigenous peoples, despite known protocols and available drugs. Yahgulanaas focuses on two key figures: Johan Adrian Jacobsen (or Jaj), a Norwegian explorer sent by a museum in Berlin to collect Indigenous artifacts in the 1880s, and George, a mixed-race Indigenous survivor of the smallpox epidemic who travels to Maktali for work and to possibly meet his European father. Each sequence of the comic is a double spread, blending the dynamism of manga-style brushstrokes with watercolors and Indigenous forms into a hybrid that Yahgulanaas terms “Haida Manga.” The simple text jumps around, which can make piecing the story together a challenge. While the structure isn’t always intuitive, there is meaning embedded in the way readers must slow down and sit with the often painful visuals to understand the narrative. This experimental art object delivers a moving message. (Sept.)