Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas’ graphic novel, Red: A Haida Manga is 120 pages of visually stunning and evocative hand-painted artwork. The book has aspirations to be great—being likened to Sophocles and Shakespeare as a tragedy— but unfortunately is often confusing due to big concepts being restrained in a small book. The vivid colours tell and support the plot where narrative is scarce. Any direction the reader is given in this quick read is through laconic dialogue between characters.

Following the acknowledgements in the book, Yahgulanaas adds that “Red is more than a collection of bound pages, something more than a story to be read page by page.” He concludes that the story’s presentation is to “defy your ability to experience story as a simple progression of events.” And then you turn to the next page: there all the black punctuating waves that interject upon the images on the pages are shown to compose larger Aboriginal characters. This is an “aha” moment felt by looking at the collected artwork that has toured galleries as accompaniment to the hardcover release of Red in 2009. When reaching this page, the book’s huge scope becomes apparent. Here Yahgulanaas’ concept is attainable to the reader and can be followed without faltering.

Yahgulanaas doesn’t hesitate encouraging you to destroy the book to piece it together again on a surface to reproduce the larger story image. “I welcome you to rip the pages out of their bindings. Follow the layout provided,” Yahgulanaas suggests. However, one would need two copies of the book to complete the mural. The skillful art easily justifies owning a copy of the graphic novel in any art book collection because it’s easy to lose 10 minutes examining one scene.

It is unfortunate, however, that Red: A Haida Manga exhibition is not following the recent paperback release. It is in a show in which Yahgulanaas’ concept achieves its full realization. The fragmentation that the story succumbs to by being produced in book form sometimes detracts from Yahgulanaas’ aspirations.

Red: A Haida Manga is available Douglas & McIntyre publishing for $19.95. More info on Yahgulanaas’ art at

By Graham McFie 


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